Stop Customer Abuse and Empower Agents with 2 Simple Tips

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Sam’s behavior cost us employees, his abusive phone language sent more than one female trainee running out of the office in tears, never to be seen again.

I was working on a support team that had as many women on it as it had men.  We had one customer Who I will call Sam.  Most of the women on the team would dread when we saw Sam’s number come up on our caller id.  We already knew that no matter how well documented our answer was, he would argue. every time, without fail.  Simple issues that should have been 4 to 5 minute calls would turn into ordeals that would last for hours, most of the time he would go off on abusive tirades with the Rep that had the misfortune of being caught with him on the call.  Ultimately, we would have to get a guy on the phone to confirm the answer, we had already given him some time earlier.  On several occasions, I would put a guy on the phone that I was in the process of training, and write down the answer that he was supposed to give.  Then suddenly the answer was acceptable.  Meanwhile, the time spent trying to appease Sam kept us from dealing with other customers in the phone queues. Sam would always give the women he dealt with low survey scores and would post hateful, and in some cases offensive messages about the woman he had to deal with.  

Sam’s behavior cost us employees, his abusive phone language sent more than one female trainee running out of the office in tears, never to be seen again.  Our luck turned around, when the new phone system allowed Senior Customer Service Reps to pull call recordings and send them to management.  As a team, we compiled a collection of Sam’s calls and reported them to management.  After listening to the recordings, his management team agreed that Sam would no longer be allowed to call into our support center.  

The company could keep the customer, but also able to protect their employees from ongoing harassment issues.  Aside from the Title VII of the Civil Rights act of 1964 which outlines that a harassing work bully does extend to non-employees, such as independent contractors and clients.  The law clearly states that anyone who is adversely affected by unwelcome, discriminatory, or threatening conduct has the rights to file with the state equivalent of the EEOC.   Companies have a responsibility to the employees to ensure a safe work environment. 

There are ways to empower Customer Service Reps to protect themselves (and your company) from ongoing abusive behavior. 

1.     Allow Customer Service Reps to disconnect from a customer: 
When customers are so angry that they turn to abuse, it does no-one any good to continue to attempt to address the situation.  There is a point in the anger cycle that even the most logical solution will not be satisfactory.  Relationship experts will state that there is a time when both parties need to step away and cool off before revisiting the issue in a calm manner. Phrasing such as “Sam, I understand that your upset, but I can’t help you if you continue to speak to me in that manner.”  Allow the customer service rep to warn the customer that they will disconnect, and allow them to disconnect without punishment.
2.     Follow up with the client and set expectations of professional standards of behavior: 
Discuss with the customer that while you appreciate their business, that continued behavior will not be tolerated.  As a company, not only do you have a right to refuse service to anyone who endangers the safety and security of your employees., but you have a legal obligation. 

Recently there was a case in Illinois where a jury awarded a Costco employee $250,000 because her employer failed to take reasonable steps to protect her against a customer.  The takeaway from that lawsuit is that when a customer becomes abusive, or worse, threatening. The Company has a legal obligation to their employees to ensure their safety.  Standing up to one customer to protect your employees, improves moral and protects the company interests.


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