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How To Spot And Help Vulnerable Customers

How To Spot And Help Vulnerable Customers

Monday, 1 July 2024

How signs of vulnerability may typically present themselves and the ways organisations can address them, in their day-to-day dealings with customers.

Nobody likes to think of themselves as being vulnerable. But the reality is that we can all display signs of vulnerability at some point in our lives.

In fact, according to research carried out by the Financial Conduct Authority in 2022, 47% of British adults show one or more characteristics of vulnerability.

EQ defines vulnerability as: “A customer who, due to their personal circumstances, is particularly likely to experience financial disadvantage, loss or harm especially when we don’t act with the appropriate level of care.”

Vulnerability is a complex and changeable issue. It can be physical, non-physical or circumstantial and someone can enter vulnerability for a range of reasons. Illness, divorce, losing one’s job or a family tragedy for example can all lead someone to make decisions that may not be in their best interests.

That’s why it’s important to ensure that you have the right infrastructure in place to understand the signs of vulnerability and identify when your customers need additional help and guidance.

EQ has put together some guidance on how signs of vulnerability may typically present themselves and the ways to address them.

Staff training to help front-line workers identify vulnerability

People often don’t know or like to admit that they are vulnerable, which can make it difficult to spot the signs.

Therefore, it is important that your front-line staff are not only trained to spot any signs of vulnerability but also have the soft skills to handle the situation tactfully and subtly encourage self-disclosure where possible.

Instilling a culture that puts good customer service, which includes the ability to spot vulnerability,  at the heart of the proposition, will vastly improve your chances of providing the right support.

In practice, that means ensuring staff are fully aware of the impact they can have on a customer’s end-to-end experience and how they can help deliver the best outcomes for all individuals.

If staff do have concerns about a customer, it’s important they have somewhere to log those concerns, so other colleagues know additional care is necessary the next time that customer is in touch.

Don’t forget about the health and mental wellbeing of your staff. Dealing with vulnerable customers regularly can be draining, both physically and mentally. Therefore, make sure you make appropriate care and support available should they need it. 

Use the power of data

Front-line customer service staff are vitally important in spotting which clients need more help and support than others. However, they can do their job even better with the help of data and technology.

Over the past few years, powerful software has emerged that can pick up on key phrases or distressed speech patterns, which can help support customer service staff in spotting vulnerability.

Customer data can also be a powerful tool in helping to spot erratic spending patterns, an increase in credit searches or applications, more frequent contact, all of which can be signs that someone is struggling.

However, to identify signs of vulnerability, you need to understand its drivers. Also, you need to have the appropriate team structure, which may require creating a dedicated team whose sole focus is to spot vulnerability in your customer database or investing in appropriate software to automate the process.

Be clear in your communications

Some companies, such as financial services firms, provide more complicated services than others.

However, all firms should strive to ensure that their communications are inclusive and understandable for all customers, not just a few.

That means speaking in clear, plain English and taking the time to explain complex concepts in an easy-to-grasp manner.

It is also worth reviewing your existing collateral to see whether it is possible to include more infographics and imagery to aid customer understanding.

Offer choice of channel

It is often assumed that all vulnerable people prefer to engage with companies either over the phone or in writing. However, that is far from the case.

A young, digitally savvy customer can be just at risk of becoming vulnerable as one that is older if they suffer from illness, bereavement, or a life-changing event.

In fact, sometimes digital services, such as website chatbots, may be preferrable. For example, if your client has hearing difficulties, or if they feel uncomfortable talking about issues they are experiencing in their private lives.

Therefore, it’s important that companies offer their customers a range of different channels and tools to use should they want to get in touch, whether via the phone, video call, online chatbot, face-to-face, email or the post.

Ultimately, having a greater understanding of how best to meet your customers’ varied needs will help not only deliver a better service but is also critical to client satisfaction and trust.


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