One of my best friends had to deal with a creeper at work today. She's a rather attractive young woman, and gets unwanted attention on a fairly regular basis, maybe once every couple of weeks, when she's working in her retail/customer service job.

Today she was stocking a shelf and noticed a man standing a little too close and staring at her, and in usual customer service mode she asked:

Can I help you?

To which he responded:

Yeah, I was just distracted by your hips and expletive deleted

This is obviously way out of line and most people would know better...

She often tells me about dealing with creepers when she's at work. My usual response is to recommend having them thrown out of the store. More, or less, tell your boss and ask them to have the customer removed. She's hesitant to do that, because there's only so often you can call the police to run off obnoxious customers before it starts to look bad for the business.

She can't be openly rude either, because that puts her job at risk.

I'm at a bit of a loss as to what to recommend... It seems wrong to have to simply "deal with it" and walk away.

Is there a customer service appropriate way to tell customers they've crossed the line?

  • Were your friend and the creepy customer alone at her workplace? Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 7:11
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    Just to clarify: did the deleted expletive refer to bodyparts of your friend he liked or was he mainly trying to insult her? Difference being: would he himself think he's complimenting her? Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 12:31
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    @AllTheKingsHorses even if they were things he liked, it's still too much. This is not some club or hookup meet
    – Emery
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 18:43
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    @Emery Sure thing. I just assumed that the answers would be different if the customer was already aware himself that he was rude. I guess in that case an answer in the vein of "Hey, you're being rude" would be somewhat beside the point. Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 20:45
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    Apart from all the answers you get about about how you (she) should react, it's time to discuss this with your (her) colleagues and agree on a common course of action.
    – user10085
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 12:20

6 Answers 6


I'll omit the shpeel about how to escalate the matter, since that has been covered in other answers. You can certainly do that, but if she threatens to call security as a threat and the individual calls her bluff and no one comes to escort them out, that's only going to make them feel more powerful. I would only flaunt security threats if they can be followed through.

One method I've seen others use that has been handy is to have a manager or coworker on board to assist targets of harassment. Here's an example:

*Mary is at the register when a customer approaches her

*Customer starts making inappropriate remarks that make Mary feel very uncomfortable

*Mary calmly signals a coworker who is aware of the harassment she receives (if verbal cues are necessary, asking a coworker "Bob, could you take over this register for me for a moment? I need to take care of something in the back" can be effective)

*The coworker takes Mary's place at the register (or whatever other duty she is performing), and Mary goes to the back of the store (or some other off-limits to customer) location until the individual leaves

The key in this situation is for Mary to not give the customer the time of day. Do not indulge them. The role swapping with another coworker should be done calmly and naturally, as if it would be happening even if the customer were not being impolite.

My experience is that it's important to have a team looking out for you, and to take care of each other when you can. Telling the individuals at fault that "they're being inappropriate" is exciting for them. They want you to want them to leave. They want to feel like they're in power over you. Having you tell them to stop, and not being able to follow up on having them removed by the police, only empowers their behavior because they're getting away with it. It's much safer to have coworkers that will have her back, and I think she should talk to the people she often works shifts with about doing such.

Edit: I also just wanted to add in that calmly and promptly removing yourself from the situation without acknowledging them or showing any fear of them isn't as much fun for them, and they are less likely to return to do it again.

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    I really like this answer. I've been harassed before; sometimes the person's intent is to get under your skin. It's impossible to know the intent of someone who's been there for 5 minutes, but if that's their intent even saying, 'that's not appropriate' will give them glee. They know it's not appropriate, even if they pretend not to. Have management on your side, and if not, then have other team members. If your friend isn't sure whether they'd be on her side or not, she doesn't need to make it about harassment or legal issues or anything so no one can argue definitions with her.
    – Emery
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 18:57
  • Sorry, -1 There's too many assumptions in this answer: is exciting for them. They want you to want them to leave. They want to feel like they're in power over you.
    – user10085
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 12:18

Places where I have worked are zero tolerance for this, and wording such as "You are no longer welcome here. Leave now before I call security" would be much firmer. Yes, it is escalation, but it gives a very direct message.

Your workplace may have to decide where the line is, and below that you can provide a customer service appropriate way to respond, but in my opinion, the scenario you have described means the customer has forfeited the right to be a customer and is now just an offensive individual and should be ejected.

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    I would only suggest saying this if it can be followed through on. If someone is truly wanting to harass an individual, they'll only feel more powerful if you threaten them with security and don't follow through. It escalates their behavior, in my experience. OP has suggested that the business is reluctant to call police so I'm not sure how well it can be followed through on.
    – Jess K.
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 16:08
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    I'd discuss this approach with management first. Some weak managers completely misunderstand "The customer is always right" to mean that "we can't do anything to potentially irritate a customer." Understanding management's level of support will be critical to either doing this or looking for a new job. Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 18:12
  • "there's only so often you can call the police to run off obnoxious customers before it starts to look bad for the business" - this comment hints OP's friend already has a comfortable way to kick out rude customers, but is struggling with the times they would prefer not to force them to leave - Perhaps include another suggestion for what to say in that situation
    – Jesse
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 1:57
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    I'd tempted to say being known for a zero tolerance policy towards this sort of thing could actually be very good for the business.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 9:42

Firstly, it is great that your friend realises that there are some cases where it is necessary to leave and seek the manager/police. However, for the times that she would choose otherwise, I would say that telling the customer to stop that kind of behaviour is the appropriate customer service way to deal with this.

Your concern about it feeling wrong for her to have to deal with it and walk away is most certainly valid. It is her workplace and nobody should be required to accept harassment. That being said, there are plenty of wrong ways to deal with customers like this.

I have worked in a restaurant and med-tech position both occasionally dealing with customers. From this I learnt (and I think its a common understanding) that as an employee, we do not have to just accept this, but when dealing with it, we should try to do it in a professional way that is not going to damage your or the businesses reputation.

So the goal of her response to a customer like this is to get them to stop their behaviour while minimising the risk of them storming out/getting upset as your friend remains calm and professional. To do this it is important that her response focuses on the behaviour that was exhibited, and not the offender themselves. Focusing on this makes it less personal and so they will be less likely to feel attacked. A simple:

Please refrain from using comments like that with the staff at X

is one example of a response that tells the customer that the comment was not okay, but also is shutting down the interaction as quickly as possible with (relatively) low risk of escalation.


As an immediate reaction, I’d recommend...

This is a department store, I am the shop assistant, you are a customer. Please behave as appropriate.

< Delivered with firm stand, no smile, slow and rhythmic speech, eye contact, still head and face apart from slowly nodding to the rhythm of the words >

(Please feel free to correct me with the English terms, if necessary).


Metaphorically speaking, the customer in OP’s example acted as if the “background scenery” (context) was a movie in which such behaviors always lead to gratification, or a hookup-guide from the 70ies ;-)

The idea of the above response is to bring back into awareness the real “background scenery”, thus highlighting the mismatch of context and behavior.

Psychologically, this technique aims at stimulating self-corrective processes occurring when a mismatch of behavior and context comes into awareness - shame.

In contrast to calling out the behavior (“This is a sexist remark!”) or defining the person by this behavior (“creepy pig!”), this technique tends to create less resistance and leave a door open for returning to normal. Self-corrective processes tend to be more effective and generative.

Of course, there might be cases when talking time is over, and other measures are to be taken.

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    Overall nice answer.. and although it is clear you already know this, I would like to re-affirm for others looking at this answer that: Even if you work in a bar/club where such behaviour is maybe more likely to occur, it is not expected for you to put up it.
    – Jesse
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 13:17
  • @Jesse yes, absolutely! gonna edit.
    – michi
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 14:33
  • Depending on the local culture I'd suggest a phrase like "This was not flattering, and I'm not interested.". This passes a much clearer "NO", as it does not leave an opening for the guy to respond with "So.. what time do you leave your shift?". It undertones the message that what the guy did was inappropriate, which while being a disadvantage, might reduce the chance of a bad reaction (the phrase is not lecturing him).
    – Mefitico
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 5:18

What your friend has to do is up to her and to her boss. She should talk to her boss so he can answer the question.

What the customer did is wrong and should never be tolerated, but neither should the "smaller" offences. What to do in which case is something she has to ask her employer.

She might be not the only one in the store that has to deal with it. Talking with her employer might result in a general approach for the employees in case of a sexist or racist comment/action from a customer.

  • 1
    This doesn't really seem to answer the question.
    – Erik
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 13:05
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    @Erik, the answer is that she should talk to her boss so he can answer the question
    – J_rite
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 13:33

First off, management should be notified every time this occurs, even if after the fact.

Second, the wordless "icy glare" is effective. Awkward silence works wonders.


failing that, a stern "MAY I HELP YOU" with a frown and glare works wonders as well. Add an eye roll for added effect.

Don't react in any way that shows that you are flustered or upset, that only feeds them. However, anything that conveys bored, mildly irritated, or shaming is quite effective. You want to show displeasure and boredom, not fear, revulsion or outrage. It's the best way to deal with them.

If you feel the least bit in danger, call security immediately.

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