With legislation in the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act promising tougher penalties for those who abuse staff in customer-facing roles, Jo Causon outlines just why such a change was unfortunately required. 

After two years of campaigning, I am delighted that new legislation has come into effect this week making the penalties against customer-facing workers much harsher.

The government amended its Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act to make assaults against public facing customer service workers an aggravating factor in sentencing decisions.

The change in law is much needed. Our recent research shows that 44 per cent of frontline service staff have experienced hostility from customers in the past six months – up by a quarter from 35 per cent in February. A third of customer-facing staff believe that customers will become more challenging over the next six months – citing price inflation (25 per cent) and energy bill rises (66 per cent) as key triggers.

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Clearly, we live in very challenging times with household incomes being squeezed in all directions. Financial worries can put a lot of emotional strain on people. This emotional strain can spill over into frustration and anger with organisations and those who are on the front line. But people need to take a deep breath before engaging with customer-facing staff and not take their frustrations out on them. It's unfair, misdirected and simply adds to the burden on those who serve us.

Imagine working in a call centre where people shout and swear at you all day long (and when none of their complaints are your fault directly) – it can be potentially very traumatic. Same for people who work in retail settings or in restaurants, in financial institutions or on public transport. These are hard roles – requiring a range of skills – and these people deserve respect, not abuse.

The change in law was the core ask of the government for The Institute of Customer Service's Service with Respect campaign. Launched in July 2020, the campaign has seen The Institute lead the drive to legislate for a deterrent for those who threaten, abuse or assault customer service professionals in-person, on the phone or online. Service-related roles account for 61 per cent of the workforce – that's a huge amount of people that this new law is protecting.

But a change in law alone won't solve the issue. There is a lot more work to be done. We need people in those roles to report the crime and not stay silent and we need managers to encourage their staff to report it: overall there needs to be zero-tolerance approach to any hostility towards those who serve us. I would also encourage organisations to invest in training their staff in how to deal with hostile situations and how to diffuse those kinds of situations before they become out of hand. We'd also urge the police and CPS to take action where appropriate and the judiciary to use their new powers, when an assault is reported to them.

It's a huge joint effort to run a campaign like this and it's been a sterling effort from over 210 organisations and parliamentary champions from across the political spectrum. We will continue to champion the Service with Respect campaign and I hope that when we come to look at this issue again in six months' time, there is a reduction in hostility towards customer-facing staff.

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