The right to feel safe and supported in the workplace has been a prime focus for the Institute of Customer Service since July 2020 when the Service with Respect campaign was first launched. Abuse of staff, whether in a face-to-face environment or working in a contact centre, is clearly unacceptable but unfortunately has become the reality for a proportion of the workforce. And with nearly 80% of UK employees working in customer-facing roles, the reach of the campaign is enormous.
Davies clients have responded to what has become an increasing challenge with a broad range of effective actions such as:
- Reducing or eliminating the triggers for customers which are likely to cause frustrations and can boil over. This can be achieved through a range of activities such as better communication, improved/targeted service, and actively listening to customers, then responding accordingly.
- Delivering better training to staff to firstly spot the warning signs of a customer’s emotions escalating and managing the conversation accordingly
- Warning customers that abuse of employees will not be tolerated. However, if this tactic is used as a general warning to all customers prior to any sort of contact, then there is some evidence to suggest that it might inflame those customers who were not actually feeling frustrated in the first place.
Of course, with the best will in the world, we cannot escape the realities of life and for some customers, day-to-day frustrations can easily spill into conversations with their bank or financial service provider. This can have a significant impact on the agent and responsible employers out there are working hard to deliver the right support for their employee (and suitable consequences for the abuser) to reduce and even remove the likelihood of repeated behaviour.
We have been proud to work with Lloyds Banking Group for many years now and their approach to this challenge has been both effective and proportionate. We were lucky enough to talk to three Lloyd’s employees at the forefront of tackling agent abuse within the bank: Performance Consultant, Heidi Whiffin; Delivery Manager, Gavin McShane; and MOT Senior Team Manager, David James.
How are Lloyd’s Banking Group cracking down on agent abuse?
Whilst the over-riding aim is to always provide a world class customer experience it is equally important that our colleagues are treated with care and respect. A workforce that feels safe, secure and valued will be better placed to support our customers during the most basic enquiry and also the most complex.
Support comes in many shapes and sizes which reflects who we are as an organisation. Whether that be through our various communities (LGBTQ+, Women’s Network, Disability Network, Mental Health Advocates, Family Network, Menopause to name a few) or coming together to provide help during the current cost of living crisis, the Group is committed to making it a great place to work.
– Heidi Whiffin, Performance Consultant
What tools do you provide agents with to help manage abusive customer interactions?
All customer service professionals in Lloyds Banking Group should be treated with respect and dignity at all times. Unfortunately, however such unwelcomed behaviour does exist, and it’s important that here in Customer Contact we support our colleagues by providing them with the relevant tools to handle such occasions. It is really important to us as a business that colleagues come to work in a safe environment. Outside of the support available from Line Managers and the refreshed Abusive Customer Referral process, the business can support through our Validium Employee Assistance programme, the Your Resilience online space, Mental Health Advocates across the Group and the Mental Health Library.
– Gavin McShane, Delivery Manager
Did you change how you tackled agent abuse during the pandemic?
During the pandemic we refreshed our guidance to colleagues on how to deal with situations where customer behaviour became abusive or threatening. Whilst every effort would be made to diffuse and resolve the situation, ultimately if the behaviour persisted or was sufficiently serious, the customer account could be closed.
– Gavin McShane, Delivery Manager
Are there any initiatives or partnerships that have focused on this issue, which you are particularly proud of?
In 2015 Lloyds Banking Group launched its very own vulnerability specialist team called Moments of Truth. This was driven by the Group identifying that it would benefit from a smaller specialist team that deal with vulnerability on a regular basis therefore gaining expertise in dealing with vulnerable needs. The team deal with a variety of calls from Bereavement to Domestic & Financial Abuse. Support for colleagues in this team has been vital whether that be specific vulnerability training to help them understand the day in the life of a vulnerable customer or specific support for their own wellbeing. To support the evolution of Moments of Truth we have worked in partnership with a variety of specialised charities that we have been able to learn from and refer our customers to (such as Grief Encounter, We are Digital, and Surviving Economic Abuse) these partnerships have been invaluable for the team.
During the years we have recognised that there are so many different vulnerabilities and that not only our customers but also our colleagues will be affected at times. It’s important we keep talking about vulnerability and promoting our service so that customers and colleagues are aware of the support available.
– David James, MOT Senior Team Manager
Although the forecasts would suggest some increased vulnerability (especially financial) for the immediate future, we know that with the right staff support, training and processes that businesses can be well placed to deliver the right customer assistance for the foreseeable future.
If you need some support in managing and reducing agent abuse in your contact centres, then please get in touch.