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Empathy Not Persecution Desirable When Contact Centre Staff Screw Up

A Work and Income (WINZ) case manager telling his client to 'go rob a bank' and 'to shut up' should also be afforded some empathy, says Customer Contact Network New Zealand (CCNNZ).

"In a way, all contact centre staff are case managers because they have to solve problems, and often callers are frustrated and hostile," says CCNNZ CEO Elias Kanaris.“This is a warning to all businesses. We’re living in angry times and if we don’t deal with the pressures that are being placed on staff, the brand and the business will suffer.

"In no way do we condone the WINZ case manager’s language or actions, but we do think its important that we seek to understand what else is going on that may highlight a wider problem that some frontline staff are exposed to.”

Kanaris said that having personally spent some time in a contact centre, he knows firsthand that the conditions and leadership are paramount to the staff's ability to deliver a great experience.

"In this case, the person who needed help was not hostile. Nobody deserves to be treated like that, but do we know anything about the previous calls the case manager had to deal with?

"It's easy to punish people when they screw up, particularly if it is to save face when something goes public. All we are suggesting is that there is a need to look at the bigger picture."

Kanaris said even in New Zealand, we are living in angry times. Overseas research suggests that money, cost of living, the gap between the haves and have-nots and social media are helping fuel the rage – contact centre staff, hospitality staff, airline staff and other frontline workers are bearing the brunt of it.

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"The research suggests people feel increasingly vulnerable when faced with situations they can't control. When clients don’t feel they can control what is happening to them—not to be mistaken for a need for excessive control—their sense of wellbeing vanishes."

Drawing on these insights, Kanaris offers some advice for growing people and managing good customer service in angrier times.

1. It starts with leadership

Kanaris said that staff who felt heard and supported by the leadership are less likely to buckle under stress and lose control of a situation.

2. Counselling and support

"I would recommend that organisations provide or facilitate some form of counselling and resilience training to help employees manage stress and improve their overall mental health and job satisfaction.

3. Peer networking

Kanaris said CCNNZ supports peer networking, where contact centre staff and leadership can meet other contact centre staff from different environments to support and learn from each other.

"Even having speakers, people who can offer insights into how to deal with hostile situations, would be valuable. The idea is to help people grow and give them a sense of belonging as opposed to feeling isolated.

"When that happens, everybody's customer experience and satisfaction is improved," he said.



Customer Contact Network New Zealand (CCNNZ) was established in April 2009 by Contact Centre professionals, created and nurtured by a group of dedicated Contact Centre professionals. Our community thrives on collaboration, shared knowledge, and the mutual goal of elevating customer contact standards across industries.

At CCNNZ, we are unwavering in our commitment to promoting excellence in every customer interaction. We believe every call, email, or chat presents an opportunity to create a positive impact, and we strive to empower our members to make the most of these interactions.

We serve as a dynamic network dedicated to inspiring, engaging, and connecting customer contact professionals from various fields and backgrounds. Through this network, we facilitate a vibrant

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