Looking deeper: how to support vulnerable customers effectively

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When we think of vulnerable customers, it’s easy to slip into stereotypes: the fragile old lady, or someone with a visible (or, on the phone, audible) disability. Of course, these exist: some 16% of working age adults and 45% of those over State Pension age have a disability of some form, but many of them are far from vulnerable and fully able to manage their financial and personal situation.
By contrast, there are huge numbers of people who may be vulnerable for other reasons that aren’t instantly apparent; stressed parents, the recently bereaved, separated, made redundant or diagnosed with a long-term illness; even those struggling to juggle their finances that week or month, with unexpected bills, or particularly shaken up following a burglary or car crash.

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Defining vulnerability

Exaggeration? Not in the Financial Conduct Authority’s eyes: their definition of vulnerability is: “Someone who, due to their personal circumstances, is especially susceptible to detriment, particularly when a firm is not acting with appropriate levels of care.”
From our own experience, or that of our loved ones, we all know how these different situations can make us less patient and more anxious; sometimes, we may be less decisive, and at other times more likely to make rash or possibly inappropriate choices. There’s no single pattern for emotions, no single form of vulnerability – which makes it hard for businesses to respond appropriately.
Yet respond they must; fines for failing to engage properly with vulnerable customers are increasing. In 2018 alone, the FCA issued fines totalling approximately £30,000,000 for inconsistencies relating to treating customers unfairly – many of which related to vulnerable customers. That’s in addition to the growing reputational risk of dealing with a situation badly, and finding the company pilloried on social media for its uncaring attitude.

Building on strong foundations

But if this sounds alarming, it’s important to remember that companies aren’t starting from scratch; from frontline service to senior management, your people are, almost without exception, keen to understand and support the vulnerable. In fact, they’ve probably been making allowances, tweaking processes and changing the tone of their conversation, for years, whenever they’ve discovered someone may be in a vulnerable situation.
The next steps are to build on that – equipping your willing colleagues with the tools and techniques to better identify potentially vulnerable customers and then deal with them appropriately.

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Focusing on your needs

This is an area where our clients are increasingly asking for our assistance. With our expertise across customer engagement, we’re well-suited to helping organisations understand what changes they need to make, and then to support them to implement those changes.
We typically start by auditing the way an organisation currently identifies and manages vulnerable customers – often using speech analytics to examine the effectiveness of existing approaches. When we did this for a leading bank, we identified that staff were only identifying 1 in 8 customers who may be experiencing financial vulnerability; it made a clear case for change.
Once we understand an organisation’s goals in dealing with vulnerable customers, we can then help you develop a framework for change – clearly prioritising interventions, such as process changes and training, and, where appropriate, supporting the organization to deliver them.

Looking after your business

The kinds of changes we recommend aren’t just about fulfilling regulatory requirements or improving repayment rates. There’s a bigger picture here too. Organisations that look after customers when they’re struggling will often find they reward you with their loyalty and trust in the long term. Meanwhile, the frontline staff dealing with these situations find a reward too – the satisfaction of helping people out through a tough time.
In short, looking after vulnerable customers effectively means you also look after your own business better.
To find out more about how we can help you improve the way you manage vulnerable customers, click here or contact Ember today.