Ageas Insurance is joining the call for the tougher legislation to stop people abusing staff in customer-facing roles.

The company has backed an open letter from the Institute of Customer Service, urging the Government to introduce a strong deterrent – such as the tabled amendment to the sentencing bill - to help protect employees who serve the public.

The insurer, which employs around 2,600 people, has also launched a new training scheme and Abusive Customer Policy to protect its frontline employees from abuse.

Most people in customer facing roles have faced hostility

Research from the Institute of Customer Service reveals that more than 60% of people in customer-facing roles have faced hostility in the last 12 months – ranging from shouting and swearing to racial abuse, death threats, spitting and physical attacks.

It’s feared that as the busy festive period approaches, a combination of festive frustrations combined with the pressures of the rising cost of living, could cause abuse and hostility to rise further in workplaces of all types – from supermarkets to hospitals and pubs to contact centres.

Deterrent needed to stop the worst offenders

This week, with the support of Ageas Insurance, other organisations and parliamentary champions, The Institute of Customer Service has called for customers to moderate their behaviour and parliamentarians to support proposed legislation to address those that abuse staff in customer-facing roles.

The organisation says this will provide the deterrent needed to stop the worst offenders and give victims the confidence that their voice will be heard, and action will be taken.

The Institute is also urging businesses to provide adequate training to ensure employees are prepared for the increasingly demanding requirements of their role; something Ageas fully supports.

The insurer has recently launched its own Abusive Customer policy and a new training course for its customer operations team. 

Emotional support for those who face abuse

The online training has been designed to support anyone who communicates with customers over the phone, as well as via webchat or email. It includes advice on how to deal with abusive customers as well as how to get emotional support afterwards if there has been a particularly upsetting exchange.

Ageas has its own team of Mental Health First Aiders, who are available to listen and provide support to all employees.

Ant Middle, CEO at Ageas, said:

We are extremely lucky in that the overwhelming majority of our customers are kind and treat our people with nothing but respect. But sadly, there are some rare instances where our people face abuse and it’s particularly hard for them to face when they’re working from home. No-one should have to face abuse, let alone in their own home. We have launched our own Abusive Customer policy to support our people as they tackle these challenges, and are rolling out training to ensure our people know what to do and how to get support, should they be affected. We’re also supporting the Institute of Customer Service’s 'Service with Respect' campaign calling tougher laws to address those that abuse staff in customer-facing roles.

Jo Causon, CEO at the Institute of Customer Service, added:

Customer-facing workers in the insurance industry played a crucial role in helping customers during times of need throughout the pandemic. They deserve our respect – and as a minimum this means a working environment free from fear of hostility. That’s why we’re campaigning to introduce appropriate legislation to act as a deterrent to those who feel it’s acceptable to abuse the people who serve them. This will send a powerful message to hard-working service professionals that hostility and abuse is not 'just part of the job'.

Case study: “Why would someone speak to me like that?”

In the last year, three claims consultants at Ageas faced a string of abusive phone calls from one customer who had lodged a claim for a damaged carpet. During these calls the customer swore, shouted personal insults, and threatened the consultants when they asked for details of the claim.

So extreme was the behaviour that it caused emotional distress to at least one of the claims consultants. When challenged by the team leader, who phoned to warn the customer about his behaviour, the customer admitted making the abusive phone calls but offered no apology.

Speaking after the claim had been resolved the team leader said: “We have strong systems in place to support our frontline teams when they take difficult calls but there is always the question of ‘Why would someone speak to me like that?’

“I would ask everyone to remember that you are speaking to a human being so please keep calm and be kind. We can’t help you if you are shouting, swearing and being abusive.”

Case study: “Abuse not tolerated here”

Following an accident repair, one customer complained that there was something wrong with the gear box on his repaired vehicle. The motor claims team arranged for one of its expert engineers to go out and inspect the car and it was when he found no faults that the abuse began. Over a five-month period the customer made abusive phone calls and sent sexist, abusive emails where he threatened physical violence against Ageas employees. His actions resulted in both his policy being cancelled and a visit from the local Police force where he was asked to sign a Community Resolution Form preventing him from continuing his campaign of abuse.