Managing unreasonable behaviour by customers

Most customers behave respectfully and responsibly when engaging with the Department of Customer Service (DCS) and our agencies.

In a small number of cases, customers may behave in ways that are concerning and difficult to manage, despite our efforts to assist.

This statement applies to all DCS staff, except the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal and the Information and Privacy Commission. 

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Our expectations

This Statement sets out our expectations of staff to effectively:

  • identify unreasonable behaviour by customers
  • know the key actions to take
  • have the confidence to take the appropriate action
  • escalate instances of unreasonable behaviour to the appropriate team within DCS.

This Statement sits alongside any divisional or agency policy and procedures that provide detailed guidance for dealing with unreasonable behaviour by customers. 

Our approach

At DCS, we have no tolerance for behaviour or events that may impact the safety and wellbeing of, or cause injury to, our staff. This includes psychological injuries that may arise from dealing with challenging or unreasonable behaviour by customers.

If a staff member feels, at any point, a customer is behaving unreasonably, they must advise the customer that their behaviour is unacceptable, and that they will be ending the contact.

We expect staff to escalate the situation to their manager to find a way to continue to assist the customer while minimising their impact on staff.

Our key principles

  1. We treat everyone with respect. It is the behaviour that is the challenge, not the person.
  2. We ensure customers continue to be able to conduct their necessary transactions with DCS and our agencies.
  3. DCS and its agencies support the health and wellbeing of anyone seeking services, information or transaction from DCS. Staff and people undertaking work for DCS, have a right to be in a physically and mentally safe environment in which to work or conduct their transactions. This includes staff working from home, or in the field for DCS or our agencies.
  4. Individuals who threaten the physical and /or psychological safety and wellbeing of any person will be reported to the appropriate body.
  5. We provide support to staff to manage the impacts of handling unreasonable customer behaviour.

Unreasonable behaviour by customers (UBC)

The NSW Ombudsman sets out five basic characteristics of behaviour by customers that can be defined as ‘unreasonable’:

  • unreasonable persistence is where excessive or unwarranted demands are made by a customer for the same outcome or about the same issue
  • unreasonable demands are requests made by a customer that are outside the responsibility and/or ability of staff to action
  • unreasonable lack of cooperation, where clear direction has been provided by staff but the customer refuses to accept this direction and continues to engage with staff
  • unreasonable arguments are when a customer uses ungrounded or illogical ideas to warrant further action from staff
  • unreasonable behaviours range from socially uninhibited displays, to aggression, threats and violence.
  • Customers whose behaviour is unreasonable may display one or more of these characteristics. Our staff response to this behaviour needs to place their safety, the safety of their team and that of other customers above other concerns.

Not all difficult customer behaviour presents concerns for safety or the need to be actively managed. Escalation to the team manager is required if there is any uncertainty about the best and most appropriate way to assist a customer.

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