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By Jo Causon, CEO, The Institute of Customer Service

I wrote a few months ago about a new campaign launched by the Institute – Service with Respect – in response to the worrying rise in instances of hostility being faced by customer service staff throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. I’m encouraged to see that so many of our members have supported the campaign to date; sharing in our belief that the abuse of customer-facing staff is unacceptable and should not be tolerated.

However, there is still a long way to go. Our research has shown that over half of all customer-facing employees have faced hostility through this crisis, as frustrated customers continue to kick back against increased restrictions, from the wearing of face masks to curfews and social distancing. Through both our research and our All-Party Parliamentary Group meetings, we have had concerning reports coming out of all sectors – with instances ranging from being shouted and sworn at to, in extreme cases, physically assaulted.

More worrying still, is that this problem is not isolated to face-to-face interactions. Customer service professionals working in contact centres are also reporting instances of hostility when dealing with customers over the phone and online. When we consider the challenges already faced by these employees in trying to support customers effectively whilst working from home, the emotional and psychological impacts of this sort of behaviour can be severe, and it must be taken seriously. Our customer service professionals deserve respect and protection from abuse.

After all, these are the very people who have been working tirelessly throughout the coronavirus crisis to keep the nation running. From retail workers to bank staff and transport operators – they have been on the frontline, ensuring we have been provided with vital services and support when we needed it the most. What’s more, as we look to rebuild our battered economy, service professionals will be at the heart of recovery efforts. With 80% of the UK’s GDP generated by the service sector, maintaining and nurturing efficient and effective service will be crucial to rebuild from the crisis, and ensure the nation can continue to compete on the global stage after leaving the European Union.

With the support of many of our members, we are calling on the Government to do more to protect these vital workers by introducing a new, standalone offence for those who assault customer-facing employees. Several MPs from across the political spectrum are also helping push for this. But this is not a job for the Government alone. Organisations must also play their part; stepping up to ensure their people have the level of support and training they need to handle the challenging and ever-growing requirements of their role. This is not only the right thing to do, but a business necessity. Employee satisfaction levels are intrinsically linked to business performance – plus, our research shows customers are increasingly beginning to take notice of the treatment of staff by others. In an increasingly challenging economy, many just won’t engage with a brand whose employees they see as treated poorly.

As the challenges brought on by the pandemic continue to unfold, it is vital for both our society and economy that Government and businesses show customer-facing staff they are a valued part of our nation. This starts with providing a safe working environment, free from abuse.

For more information about the campaign, visit our ever-evolving campaign page.

Jo Causon

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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