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If you are reading these columns regularly, then you will already know how vocal I have been about the need to safeguard service professionals and how pleased we were to get some breakthrough 20 months ago with an amendment to the Sentencing Bill. Although clearly this is not enough. Service workers are a vital part of our society and economy and deserve respect and recognition for their work.

That’s why I was so deeply concerned by the recent news that violence and abuse towards UK shop workers has increased threefold since before the pandemic, reaching 1,300 incidents every day. This jump is alarming and shows that we have a long way to go to create a culture of Service with Respect.

The impact of this abuse is not only on the individuals, co-workers and families who suffer it; it has significant financial and societal repercussions for businesses and the economy as a whole. When you consider the mental and physical toll of these experiences on the health and happiness of our people and the knock-on effect on productivity and performance, you start to appreciate the scale of the issue.

Recent figures suggest that as many as 71% of customer service professionals struggle with their mental health due to abuse, and our own research shows that 20% have taken sick leave in the last six months.

While the headlines often focus on our shop workers, this is not an issue that affects only the retail sector. It is a widespread problem that touches virtually every industry and many roles, from call handlers to road workers, from bank staff to frontline engineers. In fact, more than a third (36%) of workers across all sectors have experienced hostility in the last six months. Yet only 44% of those impacted reported the incident – a statistic that reflects the core of the issue.

For me, the rise in abuse is inherently linked to the lack of consequence – which has led to a growing narrative of societal breakdown. Abuse is clearly something many still think they can get away with. This is despite the change in legislation in June 2022, which the Institute campaigned for, which brought in harsher penalties for the abuse of public-facing workers.

However, it is now clear that these offences are not being recorded adequately – something we are working with businesses, the police, the Home Office, and Ministers to address.

How can we turn the tide?

The first part of tackling this issue is having visibility of it. This means better reporting and monitoring so that we can identify the patterns, causes, and solutions. Without this, it will be impossible to curb the scourge of customer abuse. Reporting is also essential for holding perpetrators to account and can serve as a powerful deterrent to safeguard service workers.

Through our longstanding Service with Respect campaign, which businesses can sign up and support, we have been advocating for change and raising awareness of the importance of service quality and customer satisfaction. We will continue to push for this and other measures to improve the service landscape – and we will continue to research and report on the abuse faced by our service workers.

But we cannot do this alone. Businesses also have a responsibility to equip their staff with the tools and training they need to respond to and report abuse. Strategic investment in technologies like body cams and facial recognition, as well as comprehensive training for staff, can make a difference.

By acting now through reporting and investment, we can not only do right by our businesses and the economy, but – perhaps more importantly – by our staff and the victims of abuse. They are the ones who make service happen, and account for more than 60% of the workforce – and they deserve our respect and gratitude.

Jo joined The Institute as its CEO in 2009. She has driven membership growth by 150 percent and established the UK Customer Satisfaction Index as the country’s premier indicator of consumer satisfaction, providing organisations with an indicator of the return on their service strategy investment.

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