Call centre staff being stalked and abused, says bank boss

1 month ago 31

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Research shows front-line workers in all industries, not just retail, are seeing more abuse

Call centre staff are facing a rising level of customer abuse ahead of Christmas, the boss of online bank First Direct Chris Pitt has said.

One of his staff was stalked online, he said, while others had been barraged with abusive complaints.

It comes as research shows front-line workers in all industries, not just retail, are seeing more aggression due to Covid, Brexit and stock shortages.

An open letter condemning it has been signed by 50 business leaders.

They included the heads of Nationwide, Sainsbury's, Marks & Spencer and the Post Office.

Mr Pitt told the BBC's Today programme the vast majority of First Direct's customers were "brilliant most of the time".

But he said that some became "abusive, swearing, and quite personal" when they felt complaints had not been resolved.

"In one example they actually found the rep on Facebook and rang them up and told them they knew what they looked like and where they worked," he told the BBC.

"We've also had a customer who failed security and had to do an extra verification. That customer then rang up over 150 times over the next couple of hours and was abusive to everyone they spoke to."

In July, First Direct faced complaints from customers about long call waiting times. It apologised and promised to hire more call centre workers.

According to new research from the Institute of Customer Service, 60% of customer service workers have experienced hostility in the past year. And nearly half of those who had faced abuse said customers were becoming more aggressive because of stock and staff shortages.

Jo Causon, chief executive of the Institute of Customer Service, told the BBC: "Workers are saying that people are becoming more aggressive, and there is a huge concern that actually this is going to get worse as we build up to the pretty challenging Christmas period.

"It is across all industry sectors, in contact sectors, we're seeing it in frontline staff."

She said staff and product shortages caused by global supply issues were a legitimate concern, but added: "There's an important difference between you and I as consumers getting a little bit frustrated, and some of the abusive behaviour that we're seeing."

'I've been sworn at, spat at'

In September, Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam, Olivia Burke, urged the government to adopt a bill making verbal and physical abuse of frontline workers in the course of their work a specific offence.

Such a bill exists in Scotland but there are no plans yet for one in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

She quoted one supermarket worker in her constituency as saying: "Abuse is a regular occurrence unfortunately. I've been sworn at, spat at, pushed, had trollies rammed into me, had grown men tell me they will rape and kill me."

First Direct said its management would listen to more of the calls it received to ensure it tackled "key questions and issues that the customers have". But Mr Pitt said the bank would close the accounts of highly abusive customers.

The BBC has contacted the Home Office for comment.

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