Customer (un)friendliness.

Customer friendliness is high on the agenda of many Retail companies. But what if the customer is not friendly, or even aggressive? There are 600 of these incidents every day in The Netherlands, meaning this is a real problem. This has been reason enough for Praxis, a large Dutch DIY chain, to train their employees in handling aggression. In 2014 the training was heavily revised in collaboration with Faculty of Skills and Crime Control, says Head of Personal Development Merel Vollenberg.

praxis rond

In this case study Merel Vollenberg, Head of
Personal Development at Praxis, will talk about the training ‘Handling aggression’ that was established and executed in collaboration with Faculty of Skills and Crime Control.

Why an aggression training?

Frustration and aggression occur on the floor at Praxis as well. Solving these situations in a positive way is part of customer orientation, according to Merel Vollenberg. That’s why Praxis looked for a collaboration with the Belgian Crime Control and Faculty of Skills. ‘We want our employees to turn aggression into something positive. Or at least to be able to guarantee their own safety and that of our customers and colleagues when things do escalate.’


‘Making sure your staff is defensible against aggression and violence, so that their safety and that of other colleagues and customers is secured, is also a large part of being a good employer.’


You’ll only become skilled from practice

Handling aggression is a skill, and Vollenburg feels that putting the learned skill into practice is the best way to improve your skill. ‘The 70-20-10 model is widely known: we occupy 10% of our time with formal learning, for example, driving lessons. But if you only had lessons, you will not be a perfectly skilled driver. You’ll get there in the other 70% of the time: by practicing. By driving regularly you will refine that skill and keep it at the right level. If you don’t, the skill will fade away. This is why we expect forklift drivers to drive a forklift frequently, salesmen to have much contact with the customer and managers to converse with their employees.’

Preferring not to put it to practice

There is a paradox in training how to handle
aggression: you’d prefer the employees never having to put the skill to practice, as it would mean that they are confronted with a lot of aggression. ‘So the question is this: how will your employees become skilled in behaviour they will, hopefully, never or rarely need? By ensuring that this is incorporated into the 10%. You can influence, organise and direct it as an employer.’

Blended training

The aggression training at Praxis used to be a traditional training: a classroom training of one day. This isn’t optimal, according to Vollenberg, as there is no time for frequent application, spread over time. ‘This is why we chose to use a blended aggression training. It offered us the possibility to spread out the training over a longer period of time, with more frequent practice.’ Praxis has chosen Crime Control’s substantive expertise and Faculty of Skills’s usability.

Own learning objectives

The training starts in the first week with a general welcome, and the participants could watch some videos. So, very accessible. Crime Control assessed two intake exercises. ‘Not saying it was either wrong or right,
but to suggest areas of improvement.’ Therewith, the participant gets some grip on his or her own learning curve and learning objectives. The first weeks are focused on frustration-aggression and instrumental aggression, and it moves on to assault prevention in week three.

A certificate within six weeks

The classroom training happens in week four. ‘It consists of half a day of intensive practicing. The participants were in direct contact with the trainer too.’ All components of the training are mixed and repeated in week five, and there is a final exam with theoretical questions and video exercises in week 6. ‘Those who pass the exam, receive a certificate. Those who fail, receive feedback from the trainer and then they can improve their scores in a resit. Almost all of them pass.’

How are the participants assessed?

‘There are videos in the exercises where you can see an aggressive customer, and the participants react to it via their webcam. The participant therefore reacts to what he or she has seen and will receive feedback on that reaction. For example, did he or she use the different components of the sandwich-method?

With yet another method we look for listening, acknowledging and solving the problem on the part of the participant. Each of these skills can be scored as ‘absent’, ‘moderately present’ and ‘present’. This leads to a large number of assessments on distinct skills.’


Very happy

90% of participants passes in one go and the
average score on the final exam is an 8,9. ‘We haveachieved these results together and we are very happy with that!’ concludes Vollenberg.

  • Trainee
    Review: 10
    “This program seems to be quite logical at first, as in the way we are expected to respond. Still, it's nice to get a guide and be able to practice so that when you're in the store you're more confident in yourself and the responses you give.”
  • Trainee
    Review: 9
    “It is explained very clearly what you need to do and it is repeated often so you remember it well.”
  • Trainee
    Review: 10
    “It is a good and easy system. also it is interesting that you yourself respond through the webcam.”
  • Trainee
    Review: 10
    “I found it very clear. Fine explanation and also the role play via recording I personally found very nice. It takes away much of the tension.”
  • Trainee
    Review: 9
    “I found it a nice app to work with, and nice that I could do a number of exercises each week instead of everything at once”

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Nikki Suikers
Commercial manager
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