31 January meeting of Living in Hackney Scrutiny Commission. Photograph: Ed Sheridan.

The news that Metropolitan Police officers do not receive ‘John Lewis-style customer service’ training has been greeted with surprise by Hackney councillors.

Hackney and Tower Hamlets are to be the testbeds for a groundbreaking pilot on the part of Sue Williams, the Met borough commander for both boroughs.

According to Williams, police officers will receive training in “how to deal with difficult people and challenging situations” in the pilot programme, which they do not currently receive as standard.

The results of the research will then be shared with the College of Policing.

Williams said: “I know it sounds a bit weird, but when you go to work for John Lewis, the first thing they do is give you customer service training – how to talk to people, how to deal with conflict. We don’t teach our police officers that.

“This is really important to me. Giving officers some talks about body language, how to talk to people, how to read situations, how to prevent things escalating out of control. I think that’s a really exciting piece of work to be doing.

“We absolutely do diversity and equality training, but the bit we don’t do is customer service training – how to deal with difficult people, conflict resolution, how to read body language.

“You don’t necessarily have to slap on handcuffs in every encounter if you get the body language right and you get the right reactions from people.”

The current learning and development programme for police officers is a four-stage process.

Prospective candidates are given a grounding in “ethics, values, attitudes and behaviours”, and given first aid and officer safety training.

Officers are also educated in professional standards, race and diversity, basic technology applications and social/community issues, after which a grounding in the law and community policing are delivered in the final two stages.

Cllr Sharon Patrick (Lab, Kings Park), who chaired the 31 January meeting of the Living in Hackney Scrutiny Commission, said: “It’s a surprise that police officers don’t receive customer care training or how to react with people.

“That might explain a lot of problems, and perhaps they’ll know how to react to people when they’re feeling frightened or aggressive.”

Performance artist Ayo Wrote, who was giving evidence to the panel, added: “I’m 24 now, and have been stopped and searched by police about three or four times.

“Speaking on the fact that police officers don’t get that extra training, that’s a massive deal.

“Everyone’s human at the end of the day. If there were certain steps to make police officers more conscious of emotional awareness of people in general, I think that we would have a better community.”

Williams was speaking as part of a council review into exploring the response to an escalation in levels of serious violence beginning in late 2017.

The borough commander will also be exploring using social media platforms to engage with young people, and also intends to work with the coroner for the area to demonstrate to communities that police and coroner’s courts are independent from one another.