Customer frustration accelerates during the pandemic

According to the Institute of Customer Service (ICS), Customer Service professionals make up almost 80% of the UKs workforce. ICS research also shows that, in June 2020 27% of staff said customers are less tolerant, compared to 51% in March 2021. This rise has been accelerated by the Pandemic and it is predicted to go even higher. 

Instances of aggressive customer behaviour has certainly increased over the last 2 years. Frustration with social distancing measures and the wearing face coverings has taken its toll on customer attitude. ICS research shows that more than 50% of customer facing staff have experienced abuse from customers since the start of the pandemic, and report that this could take the form of verbal abuse all the way up to physical assaults in some cases. 

This promoted the Institute of Customer Service to launch its Service with respect campaign. Calling on UK Government and businesses to take action to address this issue. But customers also have a big role to play here in understanding their actions and the impact they have. 

You may have been asked this question at an interview, so what do you do if you are faced with an abusive customer, well, let’s take some advice from some trusted sources. say’s “Don't lose your cool. Give them the benefit of the doubt that they have a valid reason for being upset. Don't become defensive; instead, approach the issue professionally.” 

This is very good advice, the most effective reaction in my view is to remain very calm and engage with the customer on a human level. They also advise “Start by offering a simple apology ("I'm sorry"), regardless of who is at fault. Then, assure the customer that you're going to handle the problem. An apology coupled with a sincere assurance that you will find the best solution can go a long way.”

I also like the approach that presents. If you are the sort of person that likes a process here is what they recommend…

  1. Adjust your mindset: Set aside any feelings you might have that the situation isn't your fault, or that your client has made a mistake, or that they are giving you unfair criticism. 
  2. Listen actively: to what your customer is saying - they want to be heard, and to air their grievances.
  3. Repeat their concerns: Repeating the problem shows the customer you were listening, which can help lower anger and stress levels.
  4. Be empathic and apologise: Once you're sure that you understand your client's concerns, be empathic, showing that you understand why they're upset.
  5. Present a Solution: If you feel that you know what will make your client happy, tell them how you'd like to correct the situation. (If you don’t know, simply ask them)
  6. Take action and follow up: Once you've both agreed on a solution, you need to take action immediately, explaining every step that you're going to take to fix the problem. 
  7. Use the feedback: Identify how the problem started in the first place and fix the issue so it doesn’t happen again.

Whatever approach you adopt, keep in mind that your customer is only angry because they have experienced something they don’t like. Their response may appear out of proportion but remember, the pandemic has affected lots of people in lots of different ways, and most of us in some way. 

If you approach the situation calmly and show your customer you are there to listen and fix things from the start, they will soon realise you are on their side and relax into a more normal engagement. 

About the author

James is an eminent Customer Experience XM leader and strategist with a unique value proposition spanning sales, operations, technology, culture change and the hospitality industry. A Non-executive Director/Chair and keynote speaker, James is Head of Customer Experience Strategy & Deployment at the UK Post Office where he directs the nationwide CX transformation programme.  James is the founder of and