3 Ways Contact Center Agents are Abused

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3 Ways Contact Center Agents are Abused

Abuse is not high on the list for most job seekers, customer service employees included. Though there are many reasons for agent turnover in contact centers,  one cause is harassment from customers. Here are three ways contact center agents are abused and tools to improve the situation.

1. Disrespect

When a customer treats an agent like they are worth less than the customer an inequity is created that is hard to get beyond. An agent’s job is to provide customers with resolution to their issues. Disrespect makes their job more difficult. It is hard to help someone who is demeaning. 

Cultural differences can make rudeness challenging to quantify. What is rude in one culture can be acceptable or innocuous in another. One of the difficulties in outsourcing customer service to a contact center in another country is such cultural differences. It is important to be clear on what language is acceptable, and define when a supervisor needs to intercede. 

Training agents to handle rude customers is one way to support them. Empower agents with basic tactics that improve the result for both sides. Keeping calm, listening carefully, utilizing empathetic language, working with customers to find solutions and escalating to a supervisor when necessary are methods to employ. Giving an agent a break after a difficult interaction is helpful too. 

2. Sexualized Comments

This category of harassment is particularly bad for female agents. Supervisors posing as a female agent in text, chat, or email exchanges discover the surprising treatment their female agents endure. 

Examples of common inappropriate customer behavior that customer support pro Jenny Dempsey has experienced: “I’ve received questions like, ‘What are you wearing?’, ‘What are you doing tonight?, Can I come over?’, ‘Can I add you to Facebook?’, and ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’ while helping someone troubleshoot problems in their account.”

Though there is gender inequality in contact centers, sexual harassment isn’t just a female issue. Male employees can be victims of this kind of abuse also, and deserve support. The same is true for members of the LGBTQA community.

Contact center workers are in an awkward position when it comes to this type of harassment. It can be played off as interpretive, or is supported by archaic, negative societal history. In addition, workers are expected to be polite, maintain paying customers and upsell them. With the pressure of quotas, an abused agent may feel that they cannot protect themselves and their job at the same time. 

Supporting agents presented with sexual harassment from customers maintains agent trust. Backing the agent makes the agent feels valued and they are more likely to continue to work for the company. Losing customers hurts a business, but so does losing well-trained, high performing employees.

3. Racist Comments

Outsourcing contact center needs is common. One of the issues for agents servicing customers from other countries is enduring racist comments. However, racism is not limited to parties from different countries.

Shep Hyken points out that racism is primarily from either a place of hate or of ignorance. In both cases, quality training and support are key. “Sometimes people don’t realize what they are saying. Handled the right way, a properly trained customer service rep can manage the situation with a positive impact for both sides.”

When such abuse comes from hatred, it is another matter. This is where a supervisor may need to step in or other definitive action taken.

Customer Experience Analyst, Kelechi Okeke brings up a powerful point about the value of calling out racism with professionalism: “Failing to speak up is not a sign of respect, it implies that you agree with such comments. Your silence gives consent. Don’t be afraid to speak out, but ensure you do so politely. If a customer will not respect the values of your business or your employees and other customers, then you should have the courage to let them go.” 


The US Department of the Interior defines Harassment as: 

“Unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment or the conduct is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. “Sexual” harassment is a particular type of harassment that includes unwelcome conduct such as sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or dates, remarks about an individual’s appearance, discussions, remarks or jokes of a sexual nature, and/or other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.”

Companies need to have clear anti-harassment policies to address ways contact center agents are abused. Harassment has legal repercussions for companies too. It is in their best interest from both a business and a human standpoint to have an actionable plan in place for preventing abuse and handling it promptly after it occurs. 

What have your experiences been with this sensitive subject of agent abuse? 

What tools have you used to support agents or to prevent them from enduring abuse?

We have designed CSAT.AI to notify management in real time when agents are being harassed. Want to know more? Schedule a demo.