The rise in abuse towards call centre workers

In post-pandemic Britain, with companies stretched owing to numerous factors, telephone abuse of call centre workers is rising. But how can you combat angry customers and protect your staff? In this post, we'll explain several strategies, including using several phone system features to minimise mistreatment from callers.

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People who deal with customers by telephone may experience aggression and verbal abuse, especially those working in consumer service or complaint departments. Abuse in call centres is all too common, and it is increasing. With other contributing factors adding to the increase in complaints, including the pandemic and rise in the cost of living, the mistreatment to support centre staff only continues to grow.  

According to new research from the Institute of Customer Service, 60 per cent of customer service workers have experienced hostility in the past year. Nearly half of those who faced abuse said callers were becoming more aggressive because of stock issues and staff shortages. The same report states that as many as 36 per cent of call centre agents have been threatened with violence.

Generally, customer support is one of the functions most at risk for burnout. According to a 2016 study, 74% of call centre agents were at risk of breakdown and exhaustion. 30% of those agents are desperately hanging onto workplace sanity.

Another study conducted by Guy Winch PhD, who interviewed call centre staff, found that agents can encounter an average of up to 10 hostile encounters a day, during which they are made to deal with personal insults, screaming, cursing and threats. 

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Why is call centre staff abuse on the rise?

Many factors contribute to the rise in complaints and abuse to call centre staff. The main culprits are the recent pandemic, Brexit and stock shortages. Post-pandemic has made situations much harder for support centre employees due to staff shortages and restrictions in place.

Customer patience is wearing thin, making call centre workers a target for abuse from angry callers having to wait long periods of time for service helplines to answer and deal with their queries.

What effects does caller abuse have on your employees?

Verbal abuse (defined as verbally threatening, using foul language and being emotionally out of control) can seriously impact your employees' mental well-being. This type of abuse can lead to staff anxiety, stress, and longer-term ill health. This can negatively affect your company as it can result in low morale, increased employee turnover and recruitment difficulties.

Experienced call centre agents should be trained to deal with angry customers. But if the anger is directed at the agent and personal abuse is used, the situation becomes increasingly difficult.

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How can employers protect call centre staff from abuse?

How can you protect your staff from potential harm and abuse inflicted by callers? Features offered by your phone system are just one of the ways you can minimise abuse and protect your staff. Here are several ways you can configure your phone system to protect your team better.

1. Record calls

The first step to deterring abusive behaviour is nipping it in the bud as soon as they pick up the phone. Welcome your customers with a message warning them that your calls are recorded for monitoring purposes; this immediately alerts them that their behaviour is being observed and will reduce the chance of abusive behaviour.

Recording calls also minimises the chance that employees may be unprofessional when disputes occur. This enables managers to find out exactly what was said and find an appropriate solution to issues that have taken place with their agents and customers. Following this, recording your calls can help improve working processes and detect employee training where it is required. 

Call recording is a standard feature incorporated in many leading phone systems, such as 3CX and Gamma Horizon. To find out more about these systems, contact T2k today

2. Play a pre-recorded message

A pre-recorded message will help reduce customer abuse by keeping them in the loop. Playing a message to your customers before they connect to your team will help minimise potential mistreatment caused by waiting callers.

A pre-recorded message prompts the customer that they are in the queue and their query will be dealt with soon. This type of statement can say something as follows: "We're extremely busy, and our team is working as quickly as they can, please be patient and understanding when you speak to an agent".

Adding a simple notification like this will more likely reduce customer frustration as they are informed that the centre is busy. When you let customers know that they are in the queue and you are working as hard as possible, it often softens any frustration they build up before the phone call.

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3. Make sure your auto-attendant is configured correctly

Too often, customers hit dead ends in automated menu systems or end up in the wrong department. Having a poorly configured system in place can lead to customers going around in circles, answering questions incorrectly and not knowing what department they may need. This adds to stress and frustration and increases the risk of abuse to your staff.

We recommend that you spend time with your provider and review your auto-attendant configuration to ensure that you have as few levels as possible and that there are no dead ends.

4. Use call analytics to spot busy times and issues

Call analytics is a great tool for spotting many issues with your phone system and company operations. This nifty system can track what happens during the phone call based on words and phrases said during the conversation. With call analytics, you can now get in-depth data about what happened during the interaction as it measures, collects, analyses, and reports call data.

The wonderful thing about call analytics is that it can improve customer service as you can spot key issues, including busy times and recurring customer issues. By looking at this data, you can determine working schedules and ensure there is enough staff working during high-volume periods. When looking for the main problems, you can find what needs improving in your company to reuse complaints on certain topics.

VoIP phone systems allow you to look at stats which will help you understand when you might need more staff ready to take calls.

5. "Barge in" to mediate

Most VoIP phone systems allow managers and supervisors to "barge in" to conversations between call centre employees and customers. This simply means that managers can jump onto the call and assist. It can be invaluable if you have a team member that is struggling with the caller and requires assistance from a supervisor or manager.

With this feature, the customer does not necessarily have to know that there is someone else on the call. Supervisors can silently observe an agent's conversation with a customer to ensure high-quality service, then barge into calls to assist if there is trouble or service standards are not met.

5. Train staff and support them

Unfortunately, dealing with angry customers is part of the job description of a call centre agent. But there is a fine line between angry and abusive customers and knowing how to contain them from crossing the line. There are methods an agent can use to stop too much upset and prevent the situation from escalating.

To help your call centre staff properly deal with complaints and handle abuse is to train them how to deal with abusive phone calls. By properly educating your employees, you are helping them to know how to maintain composure and stay in control of each call when managing angry and demanding customers over the telephone.

Your call centre staff are always going to deal with abusive people. As an employer or manager, by simply being there to support your workers, you are helping them to manage customers and reduce agent stress.

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Need help selecting the right phone system? Speak to T2k today

Are you looking to add some of these features to your VoIP phone systems to minimise abuse directed at your call centre workers? Then speak to T2k today. T2k has been helping many companies find the right communication technology for their business for over 25 years. Our expert advisors are here to help you find the most beneficial phone system and features for your company to ensure your organisation's operations run smoothly and efficiently. 

Contact T2k today and our specialists will review your requirements to help you find the best cloud phone system at the most suitable price.

Lee Clarke
Sales Director

Having worked for T2k for nearly 25 years, it's fair to say that Lee is an expert when it comes to all things telephony and business communications. Overseeing the commercial side of the business, he has helped the company evolve and grow through the decades. In recent years, and with the advent of VoIP and hosted telephony, Lee has made sure that T2k is at the forefront of technological developments. With a firm interest in helping businesses navigate the world of telecoms, Lee is responsible for the majority of the content on this website.

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