BOURNEMOUTH employer Ageas Insurance is joining calls for tougher legislation to stop people abusing staff.

The company, which has hundreds of staff at Deansleigh Road near Castle Lane, has backed demands to introduce a strong deterrent to protect employees who deal with the public.

It is supporting an open letter to the government from the Institute of Public Service, which suggests backing an amendment to a sentencing bill in Parliament.

The insurer has also launched a training scheme and abusive customer policy.

Research from the Institute of Customer Service reveals that more than 60 per cent of people in customer-facing roles have faced hostility in the past 12 months – ranging from shouting and swearing to racial abuse, death threats, spitting and physical attacks.

Ageas chief executive Ant Middle said: “We are extremely lucky in that the overwhelming majority of our customers are kind and treat our people with nothing but respect. But sadly, there are some rare instances where our people face abuse and it’s particularly hard for them to face when they’re working from home. No-one should have to face abuse, let alone in their own home.

“We have launched our own abusive customer policy to support our people as they tackle these challenges, and are rolling out training to ensure our people know what to do and how to get support, should they be affected.

“We’re also supporting the Institute of Customer Service’s Service with Respect campaign calling tougher laws to address those that abuse staff in customer-facing roles.”

The Institute of Customer Services is urging businesses to provide adequate training for staff in increasingly demanding jobs.

Ageas’s online training is intended to support any staff who communicate with customers over the phone, as well as via webchat or email. It includes advice on how to deal with abusive customers as well as how to get emotional support afterwards if there has been a particularly upsetting exchange.

Ageas has its own team of mental health first aiders, who are available to listen and provide support to all employees.

Ageas cited the example of three claims consultants who faced a string of abusive phone calls from a customer who had lodged a claim for a damaged carpet. The customer swore, shouted personal insults and threatened the consultants when they asked for details of the claim.

In another case, a customer who claimed there was something wrong with the gearbox on his repaired vehicle made a series of abusive phone calls over five months and sent sexist, abusive emails which threatened violence against Ageas staff.

His actions resulted in both his policy being cancelled and a visit from police. He was asked to sign a community resolution form preventing him from continuing his abuse.

Jo Causon, chief executive of the Institute of Customer Service, said: “Customer-facing workers in the insurance industry played a crucial role in helping customers during times of need throughout the pandemic. They deserve our respect – and as a minimum this means a working environment free from fear of hostility.

“That’s why we’re campaigning to introduce appropriate legislation to act as a deterrent to those who feel it’s acceptable to abuse the people who serve them. This will send a powerful message to hard-working service professionals that hostility and abuse is not ‘just part of the job’.”