What is customer experience privilege and how do we keep ours in check?

‘Checking your privilege’ has become a buzz phrase over the last few years and even more so during 2020 when lockdown has bought into sharp focus the inequalities in this country. Inequalities between those who had gardens and countryside to enjoy and could comfortably feed their children while they were off school and those who were in flats with no outside space and/or who struggled without the free school meal system. Those of us who are lucky enough to fall into the former category are encouraged to remind ourselves how fortunate we are.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post on LinkedIn which highlighted the extent of abuse levelled at customer facing staff on a daily basis – over 400 incidences a day are reported and probably many others aren’t. The abuse is faced by people in call centres and in face to face settings like shops and railway ticket offices. The post received by far the most engagement of any of my posts on the platform – over 18,000 views, 200 reactions and 17 shares – most of those came from people I don’t know who were grateful that I had highlighted the issue on a professional platform such as LinkedIn.

The reactions to the post made me realise how privileged I am to work in a job where I, to an extent, choose my audience. I approach the people I would like to work with, I am not dealing with a large number of people day in, day out who in the main are polite and grateful for help but also others who aren’t. Of course, I suffer knock backs, but they are delivered in a genteel manner, often through a keyboard where the uncomfortable nature of saying ‘no’ to someone is somewhat removed.

So, what does this have to do with customer experience? A couple of things. Firstly,  customer experience is viewed as something that is delivered by the business to the customer through a member of their team or an online platform. But I think it’s more of a two-way process when it comes to a person-to-person interaction. The customer facing individual is trained, coached and (possibly) incentivised to deliver excellent customer service but what if we, as customers, don’t always treat them in a manner which shows them the complete respect they deserve. What impact does it have on a person’s mental and emotional wellbeing if they are faced with abuse when all they are trying to do is help? We all have a responsibility to check our behaviour and attitude in customer facing situations and make sure we are not making someone’s day unpleasant.

Secondly, employers have a huge responsibility here. They might think that providing training and guidance to their staff in how to deal with difficult customers and putting processes in place to manage complaints is enough but they also need to think through the longer term impact on their team’s wellbeing. Some people are pretty robust and can easily separate someone’s behaviour as frustration levelled at the company or situation rather than them personally but others aren’t always so objective. Businesses need to make sure their customer facing staff have access to support and help to deal with the longer-term consequences of difficult situations.

Large corporates invest huge amounts of money in the wellbeing of their workforce, most of whom don’t deal with the public and are much better paid than front-line retail and hospitality staff and I really hope businesses in these sectors are providing the same level of support to their teams.

As I said in my original post, I understand that factors such as mental ill health can be at play when someone is abusive, but not all of the time. People (myself included) admit to being short with customer-facing staff when we’re tired or are having a bad day but let’s stop and think next time. It’s not their fault, they’re here to help us and they are doing their job. We would not tolerate abuse in the home and we must not tolerate it in the workplace either.

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