Countering Customer Aggression

Other than drunken pub patrons, customer anger seems to be common in social security offices.  In Australia, until recently, there were few screens or barriers between staff and customers, perhaps an indication of Australia’s egalitarian culture, or perhaps, naiveté of current reality.  

Centrelink, Australia’s social security agency, responded to the workplace hazard by banning those customers from face-to-face contact.  Several people complained about this restriction and the complaints were investigated by the Commonwealth Ombudsman, whose report was released today, 25 August 2008.  The Ombudsman found

“that in most instances the decisions to withdraw face-to-face contact were not unreasonable, but highlighted the need for national procedural guidelines to be developed to assist staff when managing customers who exhibit abusive or threatening behaviour.”

This justifies the removal of face-to-face contact, or in OHS terms, the risk has been eliminated.

However, the safety of staff may have been guaranteed but the anger of the client might still remain.  It is in this context that the Ombudsman has recommended further changes to processes for the benefit of staff and clients.

Centrelink should be 

reviewing letter templates to ensure customers are properly notified of their review rights and the review process

implementing strategies to ensure relevant staff are aware of the review processes required by the guidelines, and providing further training where appropriate

introducing an appropriate internal monitoring/review mechanism to ensure quality and consistency in the application of alternative service arrangements

encouraging decision makers to explore the most appropriate alternative servicing arrangement for future contact before deciding to withdraw face-to-face contact

amending the guidelines to ensure staff record an appropriate level of detail to justify their actions and decisions following an instance of aggressive behaviour.

The Ombudsman’s report is available for download HERE

Categories government, occupational, OHS, safety, Uncategorized, violence, workplaceTags , , ,

2 thoughts on “Countering Customer Aggression”

  1. Garrie

    You opinion is your opinion and this blog is unlikely to block comments that relate to the issue posted.

    My own experience with social security anger was when I was an impoverished backpacker in London in 1984. As a British citizen I was entitled to the dole but having grown up in Australia, I was very surprised to find social security offices and post offices operating behind wire walls. I received around 10 quid a week in a giro and worked part-time for a dodgy publican in Fulham. My only daily meal was what I was entitled to from the pub.

    When I collected my giro from the post office, the amount varied from week to week making it impossible to plan your expenses. One week I got very frustrated at the post office and expressed by disappointment and anger, for which I am ashamed.

    My anger came from a combination of being a foreigner in a social security process that considered me a local, not being given enough information, not being in an office where the necessary information was (the post office lady understandably couldn\’t help me) and not traveling with sufficient funds.

    Basically I didn\’t talk to the people I needed to talk to.

    On the issue of accountability and accepting responsibility when it is warranted, there are several articles in this blog that discuss the issue.

    In terms of Centrelink, I will be interested to watch how the current Australian government performs to its promises. The Rudd government seems very keen on \”Fair Pay\” and \”Fair Work\”. We need to see if they are Fair Dinkum.

  2. Kevin : just a point for you to ponder :

    If the staff at Centrelink treated their \” customers \” with a little more respect, a little more dignity, and a little less arrogance, then the rate of dissatisfied and aggressive customers may result.

    If the staff at Centrelink actually informed their customers of their rights, their obligations, and their entitlements a bit more factually, the level of aggression may drop accordingly.

    What point is made when Centrelink suspend a customers payments, then send them a letter to tell them they\’ve been suspended for not attending an interview that Centrelink didn\’t inform them of ?? This DOES happen : I\’ve personally encountered it.

    I\’ll be the first to admit I have a vendetta against Centrelink : they ruined my life and then turned around and admitted they\’d made a mistake doing what they did to me, but refused to compensate or even apologise for their actions !! THIS is where the aggression comes from : most people DO NOT walk around in a constant mood of aggression. It is triggered, in most cases, by external happenings.

    I realise that this post will, in all probability, not be put up here because it contradicts the point you are trying to get across : but it doesn\’t alter the fact that what I say here is real.

    Garrie Cleveland.

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