Take a Stand on Verbal Abuse from Clients

Verbal abuse from clients is quite common in business these days. Talk to any employee dealing directly with the public and you will hear some upsetting stories.

Verbal abuse is a form of harassment. The Protection from Harassment Act, 2011 defines harassment as follows in the South African context: “…where one person engages in unreasonable conduct which causes mental, psychological, physical or economic harm to another person.”

Announcers at local radio station

One of our large national radio stations requested a session for their team of announcers. The station manager wants announcers to learn how to cope with abuse from listeners. Some of the announcers are deeply distressed. Others are fearful of what to expect next. Their self-confidence is being eroded.

The shocking comments either come per sms or verbally while they are on air. In the moment some have no idea how to handle the verbal abuse. The verbatim examples cited are shocking: degrading, humiliating, demeaning and damaging. It is hard to understand that members of the public can be so destructive.

Certain announcers are able to laugh the comments off. They respond on air with subtle references such as “oh here is another awful comment from a listener.” Several feel shaken in the moment, not knowing what do to or say. There are a few announcers who stand their ground. They will say they find the behaviour totally unacceptable.

What is very clear is that the on-going condescending comments affect the well-being of the team.

Cashiers at a reputable retail store

Cashiers are subjected daily to rude, impatient and difficult customers.   A manager of one of the stores states that because they are seen as an upmarket retailer, customers feel they can say what they like. According to the customers the retailer still needs to treat them as King.

Head office’s response is a typical PR response: they train their staff to deal with difficult customers. In addition, they have well-being programs where staff receives counselling. This however, does not filter down to all the stores. It is disturbing to see that store managers and supervisors often witness the abuse and fail to step in for the staff member. The employee is trained to keep quiet and treat the customer as King irrespective of their behaviour.

Who are the abusers?

Some studies have shown that introverts are often the abusers. Especially in cases where they cannot be identified i.e. they are not face to face with the person they treat poorly. So examples are: sending degrading emails or sms messages.

We live in times where stress levels are extremely high. As a result some clients react out of frustration. They dump their anger on anyone. Dissatisfaction with the economy and politics in the country is taken out on innocent parties. All this succeeds in doing is contributing to further tension.

High stress levels mean people often fail to control their emotions and impulses. As a result it is easier to react without thinking first of the damage it causes. The abusers often go for soft targets: employees who are not in position to assert themselves. Surely the adage “the Customer is King” gives no one the right to treat someone else without respect and get away with it?

Companies are often hesitant to come across in support of their staff for fear of losing customers! There are subtle ways in which to convey the importance of respect and harmonious relationships. Some companies also have an attitude that there are many people looking for work, so they can treat their staff poorly.

What is your role?

Do you respect your staff as much as you respect your clients?  Are they just workers or do you treat them as people with feelings? How do you deal with unpleasant and rude clients? Are you setting a good example by treating your employees cordially and ensuring others do so as well?

Do you need to take a stand with customers or offer stress management solutions to your team?

Coaching provides an opportunity to explore suitable solutions for these problems. Many mental and health conditions can be prevented through timeous action.

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Posted in Business Owner, Well-being.