Tuesday saw new legislation providing greater protection to frontline service professionals from customer abuse come into effect. This comes after two years of campaigning and off the back of your support, for which we are very grateful.
In the face of an employment crisis where the UK is experiencing the most persistent post-pandemic drop in employment of any G7 country, the change in the law may be only small comfort to organisations suffering shortages on the frontline. That is underlined by our latest research showing a rise in the number of reports of customer hostility in the last six months.
The unwinding of Covid staffing measures, in particular the turmoil at airports and across the hospitality industry, continues to sting and attract criticism that job cuts were too deep and that political support for rehiring and reskilling has not gone far enough.
Taking a step back, I can’t help feeling that many are failing to follow their words with actions, and that our economy is at risk of becoming trapped in a Catch-22 situation; with staff shortages triggering abuse that leads to further staff absences, resulting in further frustration.
Unlike in Joseph Heller’s novel, I believe this Catch-22 does have a solution. Looking for mid-to-long term solutions, rather than short-term fixes is key. By investing in service-supporting technology, combined with proper training and qualifications for service professionals, we can make it safer for our colleagues by getting more customer interactions right first time, cutting off the sources of stress that typically trigger abuse.
This is about pragmatic actions to reflect that our jobs centre on human emotions. Effective customer service is critical in both the good times and the bad, offering the chance to lock in loyalty and boost business outcomes through rain and shine. Arguably it has been the reductions in our ability to offer effective service through limited access to teams, systems and face-to-face contact that has contributed to heightened customer frustration. So while we can do little about external sources of customer stress such as rising prices and worries over the war in Ukraine, we can invest to ensure that every instance of customer interaction is a source of comfort and reassurance.
Sadly, it looks like the current inflationary economy will be with us for many months, inevitably leading to anger and frustration from customers, misdirected at service professionals. Rather than wringing our hands, we should ensure the new law works as a deterrent – supporting it by adopting a zero-tolerance approach to hostility and ensuring employees are trained to handle difficult situations.
I hope that when we look back on this week’s change in the law, we see it as a turning point where a shift in attitudes led to a marked reduction in instances of hostility. To paraphrase Yossarian, from now on we’re thinking only of our customers.