Retailers must look after their customer-facing employees
With staffing shortages causing great problems it is critical retailers retain their best employees and avoid losing them because of the rising levels of abuse they face at the hands of customers. To avoid this all retailers should look to support the ‘Service with Respect’ initiative.
Set up almost exactly a year ago by Jo Causon (pictured), CEO of The Institute of Customer Service (ICS), it has gained support from over 160 organisations including Sainsbury’s, O2, The Very Group and Sky who believe in its aim of addressing the rise in abuse and hostility suffered by people in customer-facing roles across a variety of industries including retail.
“We undertook research about hostility and abuse increasing during the pandemic and I was shocked. Across a range of industries 50% of people reported they had suffered – from verbal to physical assault. And it was not just about face-to-face because it also involved contact centres,” says Causon.
Shocking numbers involved
What makes this particularly shocking is the sheer numbers involved because customer-facing staff account for a hefty 61% of the nation’s workforce – from retail to public services; financial institutions to our public transport networks.
She suggests the problem occurred in retail before Covid-19 but as the population at large has been under greater pressure then the issue has escalated. With lockdown the rise of dealing with people remotely has jumped and this has led to increases in abuse over the phone and over social media with trolling and threats such as “I know where you live” becoming prevalent.
Over the last 12 months the ICS has worked hard to address the issue through a number of routes. Firstly, there is the objective of raising awareness of the issue with consumers. “We want people to pause and think about the impact of their actions,” says Causon.
Zero tolerance should be adopted
Secondly, there is a drive towards pushing organisations to have zero tolerance of this behaviour from customers and to also report these incidences. “There also needs to be better training and development of employees to deal with these situations. We are encouraging employers to ensure their people have the level of support and training they need to handle the challenging requirements of their role and manage difficult situations when they arise,” she explains.
Thirdly, there is a call for a change in the law that involves a new standalone offence for those who assault customer-facing employees. “We are working with the All Parliamentary Group on Customer Service to champion the cause and to look for this law change,” says Causon, adding that the ICS is also working with ministers around the reporting of offences, what the Police responses should be, and what’s the redress for perpetrators.
Not just about basic decency
She is keen to highlight that this is not only a matter of basic decency, but is also a critical business necessity. The ICS research shows that many employees who have been victims of customer hostility have either left their job, or are seeking a new job, as a result – costing UK businesses an estimated £1 billion in recruitment costs alone.
At the heart of the initiative is the wellbeing of staff and the reality that people in customer-facing roles will be lost if they are not supported by their employer. “It’s financially sensible too. It’s much better to retain people than to find new employees. Good people are hard to find,” says Causon.
Words by Glynn Davis
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