Frustrated, impatient and outright hostile customers have been making life for service teams worse over the past 12 months, according to research published by Ringover.
The Atlanta-based provider of cloud-based communications tools conducted an online survey of more than 1,000 people who worked in customer service roles to produce its findings, which were outlined in a company blog post.
Ringover found being screamed and sworn at was the most common form of abuse, cited by more than 42 per cent of those surveyed. This was followed by 35 per cent who had been threatened about losing their job, while 17 per cent said they had experienced threat of physical harm.
Customer service employees aren’t blaming their employers for the increase in abuse, however. A majority of 70 per cent said they believe their managers are trying to help combat customer abuse.
That said, 70 per cent also said abuse was having a negative impact on their mental health, and more than 84 per cent admitted they are looking for a new job.
“It is important to remember that customer service agents are just humans on the other end of the call, and it is important to treat them with kindness, especially heading into the busiest period of the year,” Ringover said in a statement accompanying the findings.
“With job cuts meaning fewer customer service agents, this will be putting additional pressure on customer services agents, and their mental health, you could impact their mental health negatively, and it is always important to remember that.”
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It’s notable, and even admirable, that Ringover didn’t attempt to suggest the kinds of technology it offers will serve as some kind of cure for the rise in abusive customer behavior.
For customer service team managers, however, these stats should serve as an early warning as they prepare to ramp up for Black Friday and the “cyber week” that follows. Policies need to be in place to help guide staff on when to seek support and any strategies to help deflect or redirect customers when they reach a boiling point.
One of the surprises from this research was that the abuse was cited most often for those working in brick-and-mortar environments (90 per cent). People are not using the phone as a shield, in other words, or e-mail and text messages. That makes a difference when you’re talking about threats of physical harm.
As for the reasons people reach out in the first place, web site troubles topped the list at 33 per cent. This could suggest that customer expectations around the performance of digital channels are higher than ever. Being proactive in testing and addressing friction within the online experience they’re delivering could be one way to reduce some of the customer abuse.
Overall, this report is valuable in that it is ungated and can easily be shared among customer experience (CX) leaders, their teams and, most importantly, the C-Suite. This is one area where we need to see percentages drop precipitously, and soon.
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.