The Unforeseen Risks of Public Access

One of the challenges of business ownership that often gets less attention than something like data loss is combatting the risks brought on by operating in a physical space with customer interaction. For good reason, we spend a lot of time considering how to negate the impact of things like data loss, but the physical realities of running a business can be just as harmful.

As business insurance experts point out, accidents and legal claims are commonplace for small business. Small problems can be become huge problems rapidly. Thus, it’s of strategic importance that business owners carefully take the steps needed to protect their physical assets, and to ensure all interactions with customers are safe and productive.


Safe Access

This is a basic foundation for a company that’s interested in making employees and customers alike enjoy their experience. If the space customers have to access is unsafe and makes them feel uncomfortable, what they’ll ultimately decide is that you don’t care about them. Whether or not the products and services you offer are standouts, your reputation will suffer.


Things you need to consider to keep clients safe include:

Walkways outside: Pedestrians stay safe when they have access to clear signage, and walkways that safely interact with roadways. For your employees, there’s value in encouraging them to get outside for their health, but they should be sure to do so in a safe way.

Aisle spaces: If customers and employees are not able to easily move through your company space, even when carrying items, you have a problem. Obscured spaces are a recipe for injuries.

Cleanliness: Dirt lurks, even when unseen. Make sure the places that hide dirt in your offices are regularly disinfected so that you’re not causing illness.

Temperature: We’re all on a budget, but if your employees are so cold they can’t focus on their job, or your customers are so warm all they want is to leave instead of getting to know your product offerings better, that’s bad news.


Property Damage

A lot of the situations that fall under property damage are somewhat unavoidable. Despite that though, there are a significant amount of situations that business owners can take steps to prevent. Understanding the common way property damage occurs is the first line of defense to prevent it.


To deter those who would otherwise be tempted to vandalize your property or steal from you, the key is make it as difficult as possible for them to do so without being caught. Ensure that every portion of your property is under video recording. Keep all areas well lit so that it is difficult to hide activity.


Additionally, keep your space neat so that it’s easy to recognize when something is amiss. Lastly, make sure that if you are robbed or vandalized, you report it immediately.


As we’ve noted before, keeping assets safe is one of the most important things you can do in the interest of managing finances. Unchecked crime is crime that is likely to recur.


Violence Against Your Employees

It turns out, the customer isn’t always right. Sometimes customers are the reason your employees are in uncomfortable or even dangerous situations. When you operate within a physical workspace, and your employees are interacting with the general public the odds are they are going to encounter individuals who are less than polite.


There is a unique breed of customer that attempts to get what they want through intimidation or manipulation. Sometimes, they want more product for less cost. Sometimes, they’re unhappy with the service or options offered to them. Sometimes, they’re just unhappy, unkind people.


There’s value in formulating a plan that employees can utilize when dealing with verbally or physically hostile customers. The better prepared staff is to deal with them, the more likely they’ll be able to either diffuse the situation, and prevent actual harm.


Remain professional: One of the most valuable things employees can do in the face of an angry customer is to remain a picture of ideal customer service. The tenants of customer service are the most likely behaviors to calm an individual down. Employees would do well to remain calm, polite, and empathetic.


Explain: If a customer is unhappy with an aspect of their interaction with your company or the products your company offers, and it’s based on some type of misunderstanding, be sure to bridge the gap in the customer’s understanding. Unless one is in an extremely dire situation, lying is not a smart tactic. Instead, utilize honesty so that everyone is on the same page.


For example, Michael Roennevig writes for the Small Business Chronicle, “If a customer is complaining about an issue that's covered in any contract you have with them, respectfully refer the customer to the clause that supports your position. Then, politely explain that it was their responsibility to review the terms and conditions of your relationship before entering into any agreement.”


Act: If a client refuses to calm down and is increasingly hostile, it’s time to act. Politely ask them to leave. If they don’t, contact the authorities.


As with vandalism and robbery, if an individual progresses to the point of harassment make sure to report it. In industries where client violence is especially prevalent, crimes are often not given the appropriate attention.


“About 30 percent of nurses do not report violence because they believe acts of violence are part of the job, they fear repercussions or they believe assailants are not responsible for the violence because of their mental states,” write the healthcare professionals at Duquesne University.


This is just one example, among many, of how it would be better for employees and clients alike if there were better plans in place, and more transparency across the board in relation to customer-related violence.


We know that brick and mortar experiences still matter to the success of an organization. Sure, the popularity of online shopping is surging, but companies that are creating innovative in-person experiences are winning.


The key to ensuring that it is a productive, profitable move is to take the time to think through the possible risks a physical property with public access might include. Running an organization always comes with a level of risk, given the fact you can’t control everything. Despite that though, those who suffer the fewest consequences of risk are those who make a point of stopping it in its tracks.


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