Vulnerable customers

90% of vulnerable consumers struggling to access customer service


New research reveals that customer service is seriously failing the UK’s most vulnerable customers, with almost 90% struggling to access customer support.

18th Oct 2022

Another day, another blow to the UK customer service industry. A new report details how existing services and protocols for vulnerable customers – an ever-increasing section of society – are not fit for service.

Commissioned by MaxContact, the research is based upon the findings of a survey of 1,000 vulnerable customers within the UK who had recently contacted a customer service team for help.

Shockingly, nine out of ten (90%) of the respondents reported that they struggled to access customer support. 

And as well as difficulties accessing customer support, those vulnerable customers who did manage to get in touch also faced significant problems.

51% of those surveyed say that they were treated unfairly, and their needs were not accommodated, with 52% having to abandon attempts to solve their problem due to the difficulties they encountered.

Understanding your vulnerable customers

According to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), 27.7 million adults in the UK fall under their definition of a vulnerable customer. This includes having poor health, experiencing negative life events, low financial resilience, or having low decision-making capabilities.

With over 40% of the population falling within the vulnerable customer category, the ineffectiveness of the existing customer service support available to these people is a massive concern.

In attempting to uncover why the system is failing vulnerable customers so badly, the report highlighted the major pain-points that they experience in their level of support:

  • Being passed between different staff and having to re-explain the problem several times (51%).
  • Having to navigate too many phone menus (IVR) to reach the right person (45%).
  • Feeling like the person they were talking to was trying to get them off the phone quickly (30%).
  • Failing to understand the advisor as they were speaking too fast (18%).

As well as quizzing people about the issues that they face, the survey also asked the vulnerable customers to provide examples of support that they believe would be beneficial. The following areas proved to be the most popular, with personalised support clearly a common factor:

  • Having their problem solved by one person rather than being passed between multiple advisors (46%).
  • Being able to reach a real person quickly to explain their problem (39%).
  • Being given enough time to properly explain and address their situation (31%).

With the number of vulnerable people in the UK predicted to rise even further as the cost-of-living crisis impacts peoples’ finances and mental health. Now more than ever, it’s crucial that these customers are able to easily receive the correct support. But how can organisations go about providing it?

Supporting your vulnerable customers

Vulnerable customers not receiving adequate customer support may not be a new problem, but it certainly is one that is being exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis.

The continuing rise of household bills has led to an influx of vulnerable customers seeking support from contact centres – adding more water to a dam that’s already on the verge of bursting.

In her article, “The cost-of-living crisis: How can businesses better support vulnerable customers?”, Rachael Merrell discusses the need for establishing a “business-wide vulnerable customer framework”, which should incorporate specific identification and communications strategies.

The continuing rise of household bills has led to an influx of vulnerable customers seeking support from contact centres.

The need for organisations to provide specific best practices for supporting vulnerable customers was also discussed by Nicki Phillips-Lord.

Whereas Nicki’s thoughts came in the midst of the pandemic rather than the cost-of-living crisis, she also preaches the virtues of having procedures in place and adequate training that will enable staff to identify vulnerable customers and be able to provide personalised support tailored to their particular vulnerability.

These sentiments are also shared by MaxContact CEO, Ben booth:

“We know that to make a real difference with vulnerable customers, as well as staying compliant with the FCA’s new consumer duty guidance, leaders need practical, easy-to-follow advice which they can put into action at their own organisations right away”.


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