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Practical steps to support vulnerable customers

3rd Nov 2022
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This winter promises to be like no other, placing increasing challenges on businesses across the nation and their customers. As the colder months draw near, many people are already struggling with soaring living costs, driven by increasing energy prices, which has an impact on both their finances and their mental health.

Recently, Ofgem and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) have warned firms that they need to do more to prioritise their vulnerable customers which includes those who suffer from poor health, have recently experienced negative life events, have low financial resilience, or have low decision-making capabilities. The FCA estimates that there are currently around 27.7 million adults in the UK that fall under their definition. And as the cost-of-living crisis escalates, this number is set to grow. 

MaxContact’s new research shows that almost 90% of vulnerable customers are struggling to reach customer service teams to get the support they need.

Therefore, it’s crucial that businesses focus on helping vulnerable customers, ensuring that they receive the correct support and that customer service teams are prepared for potentially difficult and distressing conversations.

Here are some practical steps that your organisation can take to support vulnerable customers this winter and beyond.

1. Know the best practice 

If possible, train members of your wider team on how to support vulnerable customers to help answer the growing numbers of calls. If this isn’t possible, try to at least make sure that all customer-facing staff can identify signs that a customer is struggling and know the appropriate colleagues to pass them on to for support.

Customer services teams should also avoid sending out canned or generic responses when dealing with vulnerable customers. Instead, personalised responses are more appropriate as they are a way of signalling to the customer that they are being cared for and their issues are important. 

However, using a script as a guide can give your customer-facing staff the confidence and framework needed to make a distressed customer feel valued and reassured, as well as helping reach a quick resolution to their case. 

Lastly, following up with a vulnerable customer is crucial. For example, sharing an affordability statement or plans via emails or messages demonstrates to the customer that a solution has been reached and will be acted on, along with the reassurance that they do not need to repeat these conversations in the future. This is especially important as our recent research revealed that 51% of vulnerable customers struggled with being passed between different agents and having to re-explain their problems several times. 

2. Staying compliant with the FCA’s new Consumer Duty guidance 

This year in July, the FCA’s Consumer Duty guidance sets a higher and clearer standard of consumer protection across financial services along with requiring firms to put their customers’ needs first and provide clear communication and support.

Businesses must ensure that teams are not solely dealing with the request in front of them, but also considering the customer’s situation. For example, forecasting cash flow issues to ensure someone can pay for something in future and working that into customer support conversations.

This is where customer support proactivity comes into play – instead of waiting for a customer to come to you with a problem, teams should proactively contact vulnerable customers. For example, check in with customers before their next bill, even if it’s just a WhatsApp, email, or message to inform them the next payment is coming up and asking if they feel they’ll be able to meet the upcoming payment. This kind of personalised customer service can help pre-empt any difficulties for the customer so your team can offer a solution faster before a problem arises. 

3. Get the right tech in place for your customers’ specific needs 

Leveraging technology can help customer service teams make more informed decisions when supporting vulnerable customers. However, businesses need to be wary of ‘one size fits all’ tech solutions. Different customers have different needs and preferences, and businesses should offer a diverse range of communication channels.

The phone is definitely still the best way to support vulnerable customers, especially with those over the age of 75 with potentially no online access. Despite all the new channels available to us, hearing someone speak is still the best way for customer service agents to identify whether a customer is vulnerable and facing a serious problem; especially if you have a speech analytics platform in place. These can help capture how words are spoken, the tone of a conversation and pick up if a customer is vulnerable.  

Initially, people may find it easier to use messaging or ‘web chat’ to share their difficulties without feeling judged. Similarly, emails enable customers to structure and write down their thoughts. Once the initial contact is made though, always pick up the phone. Ultimately, it’s important that customers feel that support teams are accessible, and solutions are provided as quickly as possible whilst capturing nuances of a situation. 

Customer complaints are at their highest point ever and there are more complex situations and vulnerable customers to support than ever before. Now more than ever, it’s crucial that these customers are able to easily receive the correct support and that customer service teams are prepared for potentially difficult and distressing conversations.


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