Policies on dealing with abusive customers in call centres

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2019 Energy Service Group Conference
26 February 2019
Carried as Amended

Conference notes that many energy members work in call centres and operational centres where they take calls from operational colleagues and customers. While most callers are reasonable, there is always a proportion that are unreasonable and some who are extremely abusive. In workplaces with generally high levels of stress, this can be intolerable.

People who deal with customers and clients by telephone may experience aggression and verbal abuse. The Health and Safety Executive’s definition of work-related violence includes verbal abuse and threats as well as physical attacks, and employers have a legal responsibility to reduce the risk of any form of violence to staff. Within the NHS and many other organisations that deal with the general public on a daily basis normally on a face to face interaction there is a zero-tolerance policy towards abusive and violent behaviour that is perpetuated against any member of staff.

This however does not appear to be the case when a call centre agent is faced with dealing with a customer is who using abusive or offensive language to that member of staff on the telephone. A report by UNISON carried out in 2016 called UNISON Calling showed that 78% of respondents to a survey said that they had been sometimes subjected to abuse during a call with a customer and 31% of those surveyed advised that the help they had received to deal with an abusive caller was poor. The stress levels felt by call centre agents who deal with customers such as these are noted to be higher and this in turns leads to higher levels of sickness within the call centre putting pressure on other employees.

The zero tolerance policies that are used by many public sector organisations threaten a member of the public with prosecution for any action that is taken against a member of staff. However, this is not the case in many energy companies with few penalties being used against customers who feel it is their right to use at times very derogatory or offensive language because they happen to be speaking a person on the telephone. If the same conversation was happening face to face it is highly unlikely that the same actions would be taken by that customer.

Therefore, Conference calls upon the National Service Group Executive to:

1) Carry out research across branches to see how companies deal with abusive customers and what support there is for staff affected by dealing with these customers;

2) Promote and share best practices and ‘name and fame’ those employers who implement and operate Zero Tolerance policies in their call centre;.

3) Provide bargaining support to branches where there is not a policy in the company so that one can be negotiated;

4) Work to update the UNISON Call Centre Charter with new emphasis on dealing with these customers and the consequences of not having such a policy.