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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Call centre staff being stalked and abused, says bank boss


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.

He claimed that one of his employees had been stalked online, and that others had been bombarded with abusive complaints.

It comes as research shows that front-line workers across all industries, not just retail, are experiencing increased aggression as a result of Covid, Brexit, and stock shortages.

50 business leaders have signed an open letter condemning it.

There were executives from Nationwide, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, and the Post Office among them.

Mr Pitt told the BBC’s Today programme that the vast majority of First Direct customers were “brilliant the vast majority of the time.”

However, he stated that when they felt their complaints had not been resolved, some became “abusive, swearing, and quite personal.”

“In one case, they found the rep on Facebook and called them, saying they knew what they looked like and where they worked,” he told the BBC.

“We also had a customer who failed security and required additional verification. Over the next few hours, that customer called over 150 times and was abusive to everyone they spoke with.”

Customers complained about long call wait times to First Direct in July. It apologised and promised to hire more call centre workers in the future.

According to new Institute of Customer Service research, 60 percent of customer service workers have encountered hostility in the last year. Customers were becoming more aggressive as a result of stock and staff shortages, according to nearly half of those who had faced abuse.

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

“We’re seeing it in frontline staff across all industry sectors, including contact sectors.”

She acknowledged that staff and product shortages due to global supply issues were legitimate concerns, but added, “There’s an important difference between you and me as consumers getting a little 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 a supermarket employee in her district as saying: “Unfortunately, abuse is a common occurrence. I’ve been cursed at, spat at, pushed, trollies rammed into me, and grown men threaten to rape and kill me.”

First Direct stated that its management would listen to more calls in order to address “key questions and issues that customers have.” Mr Pitt, on the other hand, stated that the bank would close the accounts of extremely abusive customers.

The BBC has reached out to the Home Office for comment.

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