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Does Your Call Centre Do A Good Job With Vulnerable Customers?

Vulnerable Call Centre Customers

Or… How To Improve Everyone’s Experience By Thinking About Everyone.

By Phil Kitchen, Director, the Contact Centre Panel

Whether your business is in sales, customer service or any other, Call Centres deal with customers from all parts of society. By nature, customers are most likely to call when there is an issue that needs to be dealt with. Vulnerable customers often begin their interaction with your Call Centre from a place of frustration, so it’s important that you’re well equipped to deal with them and leave them with a good experience.

It’s important to understand how large an issue vulnerability is in our customer base:

Jacqui Crawley from KMB, who delivers workshops on vulnerability for the Contact Centre industry, says “Vulnerability is a sensitive topic and when the DMA surveyed contact centre staff across a range of companies and organisations in 2014, only 4% of contact centre staff believed they always know when they are speaking to a vulnerable person. As a result, they believed they were not serving customer needs well or appropriately. A 2017 report from Financial Conduct Authority found that 50% of UK consumers currently show one or more characteristics of potential vulnerability (25.6 million) – based on their health, financial resilience and capability and on life events that could be having a detrimental impact on them.”

Why Are We So Worried About Dealing With “The Vulnerable”?

In his article “How to write to vulnerable customers”, Neil Martin makes a very good point. If you think about changing part of your approach for vulnerable customers, why don’t you do it for everyone? Perhaps it will increase time per call and therefore costs, reducing efficiency, but it will probably improve other important customer-related results, and overall satisfaction.
So, when thinking about your vulnerable callers, ask yourself whether you can find a better way to interact with ALL your callers. Your customers might thank you for it!

A Detailed Look By The Industry

Almost two years ago in September 2016, the Direct Marketing Association’s Vulnerable Consumer Taskforce (DMA) published a paper “The Vulnerable Customer – Recognising vulnerability and taking a customer-centric approach”. Over 20 experts from both the Direct Marketing industry and leading consumer groups including Which?, Macmillan and The Guide Dogs For The Blind Foundation worked together to help businesses get a better understanding of how to communicate with customers that may be vulnerable.

The publication is a hugely informative 18 pages, well worth anyone’s time. Some of the key messages include:

Vulnerability is Contextual – Factors which make an individual vulnerable depend on the situation they are in. Conditions or illnesses may be temporary or permanent, may vary in severity or even disappear over time. One good example given is that of cataracts, which may affect a customer’s ability to read and write on- or offline, without affecting their ability to communicate verbally. Then in time, this condition might be fixed by an operation.

Financial stress, relationship difficulties or bereavement may also make a person vulnerable at a particular time, without any other evidence of the typical factors most people link to vulnerability. So, it’s important that your business is able to recognise and deal with vulnerable people across all possible situations.

Inclusion is the Key – Excluding a person who may be vulnerable can cause isolation, and make the vulnerability worse. By building tailored and supportive interactions rather than treating the vulnerability as a distraction, your business and your customer are more likely to win.

How Should You Modify Your Approach With Vulnerable Customers?

Now, here’s the important part: Your business shouldn’t need to take a different approach to vulnerability. The best way to deal with all customers is to build interactions which allow you to treat every customer’s needs on a one-to-one basis and to let them control their own experience as much as possible. This might mean offering choices between the channels that work best for your customer and letting them proceed at their own pace, on their own terms. This means that the lines between vulnerable and not-vulnerable customers fade and your way of working with customers who contact you simply becomes a thoughtful, considerate one for every case.

How Do You Start To Get It Right?

The DMA has listed some Top Tips for addressing vulnerability in your business’ ongoing activities. They include:

  • Make sure you’re aware – Train your whole team and assign key team members as your go-to people for vulnerability. Make sure they have access to the most in-depth training and resources so they can help your whole team.
  • Look at everything from the perspective of different needs – Check your customer base and identify the most common and most serious vulnerabilities so you can focus on them first. Understand what’s needed for your most important customer groups. Make sure all your communications are easy to act on simply, in the right way: provide alternative channels for each important touchpoint, always with the “talk to a human” option. Create different options for customers to fulfil their own needs and test them to find out which work best. And always provide options to cancel an interaction or purchase at each stage.
  • Ask your customers what they want – Using different ways to find what your customer needs, how they feel about your interactions and how you can make it easier for them is important. Simply asking how they feel and if there’s anything you can do to help is a key part of any conversation you have. Double check that your customer is happy with the outcome, or their decision, before completing all transactions or conversations. Offer easy access to alternative ways of meeting their needs, then flag anything that helps so that this can more quickly found in future interactions. If you can identify a customer’s needs once and then meet them on all future cases, you’re doing a great job.
  • Review your assessments – By offering your customers the chance to update their needs, you can better understand their needs on an ongoing basis. You can also follow good practise by offering transcripts of our interactions, offering help at all key moments in your customer journey (especially at checkout and the end of any interaction), re-confirming communications consent and asking for feedback not only about your performance, but about whether the customer has any specific needs that they haven’t told you about in a specific conversation so far.

Do You Want To Do More?

The DMA’s paper about The Vulnerable Consumer is an excellent place to start. It goes into more detail than we’ve been able to show here. If you’d like to have a conversation, we can introduce you to some people who can help you and your organisation to deal with vulnerable people in a more inclusive, considerate and effective way which will ultimately help your business to achieve better results across the board.

If you’re using an outsourced provider or an internal team, the Contact Centre Panel can help you to benchmark your performance, whether that’s addressing issues of vulnerability or any other aspect of your effectiveness. It’s our job to help businesses build relationships with Contact Centres that match their needs perfectly and 88% of the relationships we set up are extended after their first contacted period. This loyalty is important us because it proves that we’re helping companies to find the right partners.

To find out more about working with the perfect partner for your business, give us a call here at Contact Centre Panel on 0114 3030 393 or contact us using the form on our website.

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