Lloyds Bank’s call centres are trying out new ways of dealing with rude and abusive customers as the Coronavirus pandemic has led to a spike in crude behaviour by callers.

Abusive is defined as verbally threatening, using foul language, and emotionally out of control.

Amid the pandemic, customers’ needs are more urgent than ever — and in a crisis, most people still tend to reach for the phone. The anonymity of a phone contact leads more customers to be abusive.

With exhausted employees dealing with an avalanche of calls, the bank has taken measures to address unpleasant and offensive customers. “Some customers go beyond angry and become abusive,” said an employee.

The employee involved will now be able to tell managers what action should be taken against the customer.

Rude or aggressive customers will be transferred to a recorded message

If customers ignore warnings from call handlers about rude or aggressive behaviour, they will be transferred to a recorded message.

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It will say: “As we are unable to have a constructive conversation, we have ended the call.

“We had asked that you do not use threatening or abusive behaviour towards our staff member who was trying to assist you.

“We may need to close your account following a review of the call and, if so, we will write and let you know.”

Lloyds says it was forced to send security guards to branches in the March lockdown last year after some customers spat at employees.

Staff said customers were angry at having to wear masks and join long queues. Many were also incensed when they were denied ‘non-essential’ services.

Abusive customers should never be mistaken for angry customers

Experienced call centre agents should know how to handle calls from angry customers, giving them time to let them vent at the company’s processes and operations. But if the anger is directed at the agent and personal abuse is used, the situation becomes much more difficult.

It’s all about how the customer’s abuse is directed. An angry customer who says something along the lines of: “I’m getting frustrated, this keeps happening”, is very different from an abusive customer who starts to call the agent names.

The key difference here is how the abusive language, e.g. swearing, is directed. If it is aimed at the company it can be considered angry, but if it is levelled against the agent it can be considered as abusive.

For example, if a customer were to say: “It’s not bloody good enough”, they can be considered to be angry. However, if they were to say: “You’re not bloody listening to me”, the customer would be abusive.

A survey by Accord, the Lloyds’ employee union, found that customers had threatened to share workers’ names on social media or take them to court for poor service.

“What people don’t realise about contact centres is that they are the free psychological counselling centres in times of crisis,” said one employee. “Often people call up and they dump their fears and their concerns on you.” Or their anger.