How do you solve a problem like call centre verbal abuse...

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Suggestion for solution to verbal abuse in call centres

People who deal with customers and clients by telephone may experience aggression and verbal abuse. The Health and Safety Executive’s definition of work-related violence includes verbal abuse and threats as well as physical attacks, and employers have a legal responsibility to reduce the risk of any form of violence to staff.

Verbal abuse (and the fear of abuse) can have a serious impact on an employee’s mental wellbeing and can lead to distress and anxiety, and longer-term stress-related ill health. For employers, the result can be low staff morale, increased turnover of employees, and recruitment difficulties.


On reviewing manys companies abusive caller code of conduct, procedures are quite clear on how an abusive call should be dealt with to meet the customer’s expectations. These document's do not state clearly the “Duty of care” that is offered the agent taking the abusive call.

Face to face customer service suppliers such as Buses, shops, hospitals etc, have adopted a visual system to protect their employees from risk of aggression and verbal abuse. This has been implemented in the form of polite notices placed in public view, generally advising customers that employees deserve to be addressed in a polite respectful manner and their work place should be free from physical and verbal abuse.

My suggestion therefore is that we adapt this system to our service, in order for this to be adapted successfully we could use a verbal approach. As we have an IVR system in order to distribute our calls to the correct departments, we could utilise this system to convey the message.

This obviously will not solve the problem totally. Although I do feel that if the customer is given the opportunity to reflect on the way they intend to deal with the call they may choose a less aggressive or abusive manner.

Get involved –

what can you do to achieve the improvement?

Prepare a choice of IVR scripts, written with the consideration of both the customer and the advisor. Research the current IVR mapping system and have ideas I wish to share regarding the location of the massage.

Should this suggestion the suggestion be implemented. Customer service call colleagues within the business could be given further opportunity to deal with all queries within the customer expectations to a greater professional and efficient standard.

What are the Benefits…?

…To the Customer

- Improved after sales service resulting in better shopping experience.

- Reduced customer stress levels, which in turn results in better communication with call colleagues.

- Reduction in call times

- Gives customer reason to empathise with the call colleagues, which helps the call colleague to relate better towards the customer issue.

…To the Business

- Reduction in call times improving service levels

- Improving call productivity

- First call resolution

- Reduction in stress-related absence

- Further possibility of “saving our customers” that would otherwise have been lost due to customer service failings

- Coincides with the our “Wellbeing Month”

- Happier employees create better products

…To Colleagues

- Reduced advisor stress levels, which in turn results in better communication with customers

- Improvement to staff morale

- Reduced stress-related illness

- Reduction in call times improving advisors personal statistics

- Happier advisors increases productivity

- Relaxed work environment

Is anybody aware of this process being used to tackle verbal abuse?


Call Centre Helper

A good suggestion, but not sure how well it would work. I think that it tends to suggest up front that things are so bad in this call centre that we expect abuse.

The problem in my opinion is that we tend to just accept abuse. many companies prosecute customers for abusing their employees, but just let it go in the contatct centre.

I'm not a lawyer but I would imagine that the call recorders would provide enough evidence to prosecute under the Public Order laws.

Thank you for your feed back,

I agree that using the IVR in this way could give out the wrong impression and my colleagues here agree that this could cause a negative response from our customers. I had planned on countering this response when writing the proposed IVR scripts, for example:

"We adhere to a respect for people policy in compliance with the Health and safety Excessive, we operate in an environment free from prejudice and other forms of verbal abuse".

The problem I’m facing is that verbal abuse is classed as "Part of the Job" in our line of work, although this totally contradicts the HSE guidelines on this subject.

I would like to find a solution that projects a zero tolerance to any form of abuse in our workplace, but right now I am focusing on helping our staff here to deal more efficiently with the abusive callers we receive.

Do you have any suggestions?

Service Manager

Ah..yes, the abusive customer and yes it is part n parcel of the job. However we need to establish some sort of tolerance level and actions plans. Yes we have to protect our staff hence its good to review all abusive calls and to seek the root cause. It may be a process issue with the backroom or even an issue as to how our agents handle the customer. Yet again there are some customer who tend to rub it the wrong way just to pass their time and here's the deal...we can't counter them as this could either damage our brand or the clients brand name or even risk media attack (they like this sort of stories) or even a central authority inquiry which takes a lot of time and energy on our part.

Thinking out of the box, you could set a special team to handle this sort of customer and even calling them back to seek if their issue has been handled or even query them as to why they were being abusive to your agents. It sort of turning the table on them of course in a professional manner. You may be surprise to find that they are not so abusive or ever will with your agents after.

However, be warn that there's always that 1% who no matter what just like to be abusive to you. We have such a customer and we just have to keep a verrrrrrry patient ear because we are in the service serve our customer at all times, that's why we measure Service Level and Customer Survey, right?


Having been involved in customer escalations in the past as either a TM or Ops Mgr it never ceased to amaze me how abusive customers feel they have the right to be.

Ultimately the customer will be ringing to get resolution to a problem (they are just very mis-informed on how to go about ahieving this) once the customer has vented the single most important thing to do is let them know you can remedy the situation and that they NEED you in order for this to happen and that you won't tolerate the abuse - take cotrol, be assertive.

On the rare occassions that this approach hasn't worked and the customer has insisted on being abusive I have always sided with the team member who took the call in the first instance. They have a very difficult job to do at the best of times and need to feel valued and supported when they come across these types of people.

Director of Consulting

h2i Consulting Limited

An alternative view:

I was interested to see your post is entitled 'How do you solve a problem like call centre verbal abuse' and the detailed process you have suggested for handling the issue. It seems to me that, if an organisation's call centre staff are experiencing such high levels of abuse that it's necessary to develop a process to deal with it, then the wrong problem is being tackled. Abusive customers are a symptom of a problem and not the problem itself. Would it not be better to conduct root cause analysis i.e. find the reason(s) why customers are abusive or why there are high levels of abuse. What is it that it making the customers so angry that they are abusive when then then get through to the agent. If the organisation puts effort in to tackling and resolving the cause rather than the symptom then a process to handle abusive customers would be not be necessary.

Root cause analysis of complaints and customer disputes is enforced within the Financial Services Industry through regulatory requirements and has benefited the industry through driving improved customer experience.

For those rare cases of abusive customers that remain once the root cause has been tackled, Rob's suggestions are great. Abuse is driven by a customers frustration and anger at an organisation. Waiting in a long call queue, or getting through to someone who doesn't seem able to help them only inflates the 'anger bubble'. The key to bursting this bubble after the customer has vented or explained their issue vehemently, is an apology. Follow this up with empathy and active listening, confirmation of the understanding of what the issue is and an offer of a resolution and you will be able to hear the 'anger bubble' deflate.

GPR Consulting

I completely agree with Janette. If putting an IVR "signpost" stating that rude or offensive behaviour will not be tolerated etc... then it's probably ignoring the root cause of the caller frustration.

Having said that, there are some very effective complaint management methods which can help decompress the caller and allow the agent to remain in control.

One of the little tricks I often recommend to call centres who deal with complaints is to thank the caller for brining the issue to their attention. It immediately creates a sense of understanding and disarms the caller, who might have been expecting a confrontation.

I have conducted quite alot of projects like this for other businesses in the past. I am happy to share some other insights with the OP if he is interested.

In my call center th...
In my call center the worker has a no right for the hang up on the customer. We very much have a many dismissals and such things. I tell the workers for the money and sales do not hang up and we have a good script to follow. One time a man was very upset at the agent. So at the end of the shift the agent went to the man house and did very bad thing to him.

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