Sunday, April 17, 2011

Making bad calls

Is allowing employees to be treated badly unethical?

A reader's mother has worked for a large Midwestern retailer for many years. The mother spends her days on the phone handling a variety of tasks: enrolling customers in bridal and baby registries, signing up customers for store credit cards, processing returns, issuing gift cards, and, when business is slow, managing the switchboard.

"People are just plain rude," her daughter reports. "They swear at her and call her names and she has no recourse." In fact, her company monitors the calls and if she is anything but polite, she gets into trouble.

The mother also fields calls from employees working in the retail stores. "On one occasion recently," her daughter writes, "an employee called with a question but dialed the number for my mother's group rather than a different number she really should have called." When her mother explained to the employee that she should have called a different number, the employee was rude and ended up filing a complaint.

As a result, the mother was placed on probation. She was not asked to explain the situation or allowed to discuss the matter any further. "If she gets another complaint in the next three months," her daughter writes, "she will be fired and there's nothing she can do."

"It seems wrong, but is it unethical?" she asks, adding: "I wish my mom would get a new job."

It's unfortunate that there are some jobs that regularly place employees on the receiving end of upset customers. Anyone who works in an IT department knows that it's rare to get a call thanking you for keeping a computer system running smoothly or commenting on how well the email functions since a recent upgrade. But if there's a glitch with the company's technology, the outpouring of venom upon the IT folks can be swift.The same often holds true for those who work in various telephone customer service functions. Helping users or customers address and solve problems can be trying to even the most patient of souls.

A company's management is wise to try to make sure that its representatives treat callers with respect, regardless of how upset a caller might get.

But no employee should be expected to withstand an onslaught of abuse. It's one thing to try to calm an upset caller, quite another to expect that she should listen as vulgarities and personal insults are strewn her way.

The right thing for the mother's manager to have done was to give her the opportunity to respond to the complaint that the errant caller from one of the company's stores made to her. Even if it still resulted in a reprimand, there's no fairness is assuming the worst without trying to understand the facts of the situation.

It's one thing to expect an employee to show patience when angry customers (within or outside of the company) call with problems. It's quite another to expect that the employee should receive similar treatment from her managers.

There's no ethical justification for assuming the worst of employees. The value from a management standpoint is questionable as well. If the business environment becomes so toxic that few good employees wish to remain, the company and ultimately the customers suffer.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business, is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to

(c) 2011 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.


yawningdog said...

Your mom should make an appointment with personnel. Take with her a written out account of the phone call that lead to the complaint and sign and date it. Ask that this letter be placed in her file. Include in the letter that she was not asked for her side of the events.

This will 1)notify personnel that your mom's manager is not following company policy when it comes to complaints. 2) give her some wiggle room if she get additional complaints. If that comes up, she should ask if personnel reviewed her letter on the other employee's complaint. No, she didn't ask for a review, just to put it in her file but, if push comes to shove, someone else will follow up and ask why it wasn't looked into. At least, I hope it will work that way.

She might consider the idea that my manager needs to let someone go and is looking for complaints. It pays to be a bit paranoid these days. Good luck to her!

WOODY said...

All employees who handle these
types of calls should receive special training as to how the company wants these types of calls handled. In cases where a caller gets excessibly abusive, they need to be transferred to the Manager. Then the Manager will be responsible for handling the situation.

I would say, "Excuse me Sir\Mam but it seems I am not meeting your
needs, I will transfer you to the
Manager who can serve you better.

(then make the transfer).

As a Company, I would have a "Call Log" where the person taking calls will log in the time of call, name and phone number of caller. Note length of call, and a remarks section. This creates a record for future use if needed.

Anonymous said...

I have a different take on this question. We don't know if the daughter has all the facts. It would seem that the mother in this case is the victim of a company that is more interested in getting its employees in trouble than in supporting them. I do support the suggestion that advised the mother to see Human Resources because it is clear that the company is not supporting its employee.

Charlie Seng
Lancaster, SC

Carroll Starus said...

Agree with those who suggested working with HR.

The issue presented was not what to do about abusive callers--many spiritual practices have useful suggestions for such dilemmas. People (in droves) are upset and feel often take it out on safe targets. Ethics will not "fix" this. Psycho spiritual skills can.

But if the employer is being obtuse communication is wise.

etniesontheway said...

This is a smart website. I mean it. You have so much knowledge about this issue, and so much passion.
Etnies Mens Shoes
Etnies Womens Shoes
Etnies Girls Shoes
Etnies Boys Shoes
etnies kids shoes

Should recipient keep an unexpected inheritance?

Long before she died, a professor who had taught at a small college in the Midwest started making a list of what she wanted done with he...