Whether they are behind a counter, a desk or at the other end of a phone or email, nobody deserves to be treated as less than an equal.
Of course, sometimes companies and organisations ‘get it wrong’ – we’re certainly not exempt from that. When that happens, the customer or client quite rightly expects things to be put right. Apologies and compensation should be forthcoming, where it is relevant and necessary.
A small number of flash incidents where our employees have been subjected to unacceptable levels of abuse has left me shocked and saddened. It is perhaps a rare symptom of the times in which we find ourselves – high-running tensions and emotions have spilled over – but it can never be okay to launch a personal, verbal attack on someone trying to do their job.
While I cannot emphasise enough the way the broker community at large has been extremely patient and supportive of us throughout the pandemic, there is unfortunately a fractional minority who are getting it wrong.
We have recently experienced cases where our employees have been subjected to abuse that goes way beyond the frustrated and disappointed calls they sometimes need to handle, these forming part of the job. It is when this moves into the realms of racism, sexism and abuse about someone’s character that the alarm bells start to ring.
We will be the first to admit that, at times, maintaining service levels in the current climate has been a challenge, in part due to our commitment to supporting the market.
For example, we continued to offer 90 per cent loan to value mortgage lending at a time others did not. It was a decision that has ensured first-time buyers were still being supported by a major lender at an uncertain time. It was also a decision that led to increases in application processing times as a result of needing to perform enhanced affordability checks. But this cannot be a catalyst for vile, personal abuse of business development managers (BDMs) or other frontline staff.
Where our people experience unacceptable vitriol in their jobs, we will not hesitate to remove a broker from our panel. We have needed to do this on several occasions recently, including when a member of our team was told they should “go back to India”.
We’d clearly rather not resort to removing brokers from our panel but by not acting we are all but condoning such hateful behaviour and failing to support our employees. We adopt the same zero tolerance approach right across Nationwide – if we spot it, we call it out. We have a dedicated initiative called Sticks & Stones, which encourages and supports employees in coming forward to report abuse rather than just taking it on the chin.
It comes as we have seen a general increase in abuse and hate speech towards our employees – in our branches and in our contact centres. It is something other major brands have experienced too. Data shows that customer-facing staff working in the UK experience more than 400 abuse incidents every single day. We recently teamed up with Co-op, Network Rail and Channel 4 for this very reason, with a television advert that was broadcast back in October highlighting the issue.
An escalation of abuse against our frontline employees, by a very small minority of the broker community, cannot go on any longer. Again, this isn’t an issue that will be relevant for the overwhelming majority of our broker clients. But for the very small minority who do cross the line, we would ask that they please think before they speak and consider the person’s feelings at the receiving end of any personal abuse.
Building and maintaining a strong relationship is key to working together in a way that is both tolerant and mutually respectful. It can never be acceptable to abuse someone for doing their job.