Incivility Costs Us … Even After the Call!

call centre agents

Sara Moginot is a customer service aficionado, a regular reader of this blog … and the author of this article.

From sarcasm to bullying, incivility in the workplace reduces productivity, lowers morale and increases employee stress levels. Whether we are a victim or a witness, there’s an impact. And this extends to any negative commentary staff might share with each other after communicating with a customer.

What might occur if negative discussions about customers were eliminated? What kind of communication should be taking place instead?

Throughout my service career, whether at a call centre or a retail location, I have witnessed staff member’s audible criticisms of customers. Sometimes it’s taken the form of mocking comments, such as, “Can you believe it. They thought they could return a computer that they bought two years ago!” or “What an idiot. They thought the coupon didn’t expire just because there wasn’t an expiry date on it.” And it gets worse … much worse statements and language.

From large corporate retail service desks to small town tourist venues, from international retail help desks to government contact centres, the barbs are real. Phone agents and counter help alike can be quick to bad mouth customers when the call ends or the door closes.

I believe this shared grumbling and criticism of customers creates the same low morale Christine Porath and Christine Pearson discuss in their book The Cost of Bad Behavior. Post-call badmouthing creates and supports a disrespectful attitude and carries it right into the next conversation with an unsuspecting customer.

The same phone line that carries a smile to the customer also carries the grouchy facial lines and the attitude of disbelief.

Though most customer service agents are trained to have good phone manners and follow a flow chart, there isn’t necessarily training in the art of conversation. Skepticism and debate by doubting the other person can make situations extremely stressful, unsatisfying and unproductive.

There is a writing exercise called “The Believing Game”. In it, Peter Elbow directs the writer to practice first believing what the other person is saying before putting on the armour of the skeptic; not to look for flaws but to find the truth in the story being shared.

What if, when someone calls for service, we believe them first? What if we open our minds to hear what they are saying and have a conversation? It would increase our handling time. It could improve our customer relations and strengthen loyalty.

The only conversations that should be happening after the phone call should be those of reflection … what went well and what could be improved.

What happens when you and your team hang up the phone?


NB: I’m very excited  (perhaps nervous too) to announce my first live free webinar. It is on Wednesday, February 20. You can register here: Today’s Top Five Communication Challenges and How to Solve Them. Hope to see you there! mj



2 thoughts on “Incivility Costs Us … Even After the Call!”

  1. I love this article! It resonated with me because I see this kind of thing happening all the time in retail… people too busy talking about the customer who just left to serve me. I like to shame these people… “Are you going to talk about me this way when I leave?”

    • What a great response, Linda. It is powerful to mirror back to people the impact of their behaviour, especially when we can do it with humour. Well done!


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