SEOUL, Nov. 17 (Korea Bizwire) – An increasing number of call centers are moving to ensure their workers’ right to hang up on unruly customers, as part of efforts to tackle emotional abuse from rude callers.
The right to hang up is a self-explanatory policy increasingly adopted in the service sector in South Korea that allows customer service workers to end a phone call at their discretion when experiencing verbal abuse.
The protective measures were introduced in the wake of criticism against a lack of action on the part of companies to address growing reports of emotional abuse experienced by customer service workers.
According to data from recruiting websites Job Korea and Albamon, over 8 in 10 customer service workers have experienced verbal abuse from customers, ranging from talking down and interrupting to swearing, with 74 percent having done nothing in response.
The findings reflect the prevalent abuse, which sometimes amounts to sexual harassment, and explains growing calls in recent years for additional measures to protect workers.
In January, a teenage call center worker committed suicide after being overcome by stress in the workplace, triggering a nationwide uproar, while another passed out on the job after being subject to hours of verbal abuse on the phone in September.
With nearly one in three South Korean workers thought to take on emotional labor, according to data from the Ministry of Employment and Labor, companies have begun allowing call center workers to respond more strongly to emotional abuse, a move that has been a long time coming.
Hyundai Card, which used to receive over 300 abusive calls from customers on average every month, reported a 60 percent drop in such calls after giving workers the ‘right to hang up’ last year.
Retail giant E-mart and online shopping mall Wemakeprice have also followed suit, with call center workers encouraged to end dialogue with abusive customers after warning them twice.
The Incheon Transit Corporation introduced its own manual last week, giving guidelines as to how to react to verbal abuse appropriately, some of which include informing abusive customers that verbal abuse is grounds for legal punishment, before involving police authorities.
In addition, mental health support programs were also introduced to help prevent and release stress caused by emotional labor.
The government chimed in this month following the announcement of plans earlier this year to legislate for the protection of workers’ emotional health in the customer service sector.
The Ministry of Employment and Labor introduced a new guidebook earlier this month outlining ways to protect emotional labor workers, which the labor ministry said was released to help encourage more companies to adopt protective measures and raise awareness of the physical and emotional damage caused by rude customers.
The handbook, which can be downloaded from the labor ministry’s official website, states that pushy customers that ask for strange and irrational favors need to be controlled so as to protect staff from experiencing harm.
Among the guidelines is the right for workers to end a phone conversation after informing customers.
The latest move by the employment ministry follows in the footsteps of Germany and Australia, where measures to protect workers from rude customers have been in place for some time.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in made an election promise during his campaign in May to pass legislation protecting customer service workers, in a nod to growing public calls to address issues such as higher suicide rates and depression among those subjected to emotional labor.
With the government poised to further instill a healthy work culture in the customer service sector, the guidelines will be put into law sometime next year, according to Kim Wang, a senior official at the labor ministry.
Ashley Song (firstname.lastname@example.org)