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Personal development

Bullying by customers

When a customer is abusive to staff members, as a leader taking immediate action is critical to support your team.

Bullying behaviour comes in many forms, my first experience of dealing with this situation was over a decade ago where a technical team delivering a complex software project were being ridiculed on calls from a significant customer.

The team morale was very low, and a new role for me. Once I understood the language and the behaviour of the customer, armed with the evidence of the behaviour I set up a meeting with the CIO of the customer.

I explained my concerns for the mental welfare of my team and asked if he would ensure these situations did not reoccur. The conversation was a lot less challenging than I first thought it would be and the CIO was receptive and concerned.

Less than a month later I was on a escalation call on a weekend and the staff of the customer were abusive to my team on the call, I promptly said to the abuser “Please refrain from speaking to my team in this manner, we are all working together in our own time to support you and your team”. The abuser persisted and I asked my team to leave the call. A few days later the CIO called to apologise and I said its my team you need to apologise to.

The abuse stopped, but the most important lesson is the team felt supported. The team said this toxic situation had been going on for years.

Since that time I have dealt with numerous situations related to poor behaviour by customers towards staff members. I now take a harder line, I ask for the customer staff member to be removed from dealing with the team, as unfortunately some of these behaviours are entrenched.

As a leader we have a duty of care for our teams wellbeing, so if there is any poor behaviour abusive, blackmailing, and threatening behaviour no matter who it is, you need to act swiftly to protect the wellbeing of the people you work with.