By Jo Causon, CEO, The Institute of Customer Service
After a year of campaigning to raise attention of the lack of protection afforded to customer-facing staff, I’ve never lost my capacity to be shocked by stories of customer abuse. Those raised on Wednesday in Parliament by Oliva Blake MP, were especially graphic, reminding me of the importance of our campaign to achieve Service with Respect. Olivia’s descriptions of the brutal threats to kill and sexually assault, as well as physical assault suffered by public service workers, preceded her presentation of a Bill to simplify the legal process, iron out inconsistencies and encourage law enforcement to proactively investigate and support complainants against perpetrators.
I am delighted that Olivia’s Bill will see its second reading early next year, and I hope that with the support of our Service with Respect campaign backed by 178 signatory employers and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Customer Service, that it will become law in the future.
The battle however is far from won; specific legal protection for the 60% of the UK’s workforce who are in direct customer facing roles will provide another layer of protection, but will not offer a complete defence from abusive customers. That can only come from eradicating such hostility from our society across every business sector. Tolerance of implicit and explicit threat has no place in effective customer service. It is therefore important that we train our teams to recognise and know how to respond to such threats.
Olivia’s speech referenced early findings from research we will share more widely next week, this shows that nearly half of those abused fail to report such incidents. Why? Well, often it is because they feel their report would make no difference, the abuse is too common and too widespread to tackle. That is not acceptable. We owe a duty of care to our colleagues to not only believe them, but most importantly to back them.
This is not just a matter of compassion, it is a commercial imperative. According to our research, the average victim of abuse takes more than a working week off work every year due to stress or physical recovery. That a job can lead to such levels of mental and physical distress is appalling, presenting not only a duty of care for employers but acting as a huge drain on productivity. Thankfully, hundreds of UK employers are already taking this seriously, backing not only our campaign, but also investing in effective support and training of their front-line staff and managers.
Our service workers deserve not only our support, but our respect – Wednesday’s Parliamentary Bill was a significant step forward, but our journey is far from over. I hope you will continue to champion with us as we help to reshape both the law and UK society.
If you have any examples of abuse – along either footage or colleagues who are happy to be interviewed on TV/Radio about their experiences, please send us a message.