The term ‘vulnerable customer’ is becoming a higher priority in many industries. What does it really mean? If, as service providers, we are expected to up our game in terms of provisions for vulnerable customers, we need to have a clear picture of the scope of vulnerability.
So, would you consider yourself to be vulnerable today?
This question kick-started my presentation to the Diligenta team earlier this week. Held at the Arriva Centre in Bristol, the aim was to build a greater understanding of vulnerability to a company that actively promotes customer service.
Of the 70 delegates who participated, 26% responded yes. So, they understood that vulnerability is not restricted to frail older people, children in care, the homeless or those with visible disabilities. This isn’t a case of them and us. We all have times when our ability to understand and process information, and make decisions is compromised.
Just one incident can compromise our ability to think clearly and undertake actions; a bereavement, unexpected redundancy or ill health for example.
The Scope of Vulnerability
The circumstances that can make us vulnerable are far-reaching. They include:
Any of these things can compromise our ability to undertake what might appear to be everyday tasks.
As a service provider, you may think that it is easy for customers to access your support and achieve their desired outcomes. Take a moment to consider the process if you were not able to read, due to poor eyesight, a lack of literacy skills or if English wasn’t your first language.
If a customer was noticeably upset or flustered, does your company processes allow you to give them additional time and support? How confident are your team in identifying and responding to vulnerable customers? As specialists in vulnerable customers, Helen Pettifer Training offers downloadable resources and training to build on existing provisions.
We are all Responsible for Supporting Vulnerable Customers
As service providers, we all have a duty to help every customer to achieve their desired goals. We must recognise that our attitude and approach can, and does, have a significant impact on others.
The Financial Conduct Authority has defined a vulnerable customer as:
“Someone who, due to personal circumstances, is susceptible to detriment, particularly when a firm is not acting with appropriate levels of care.”
We cannot change the circumstance that has caused a customer’s vulnerability, but we can make it easier for them to cope with the things that they need to get done. We need to care.
Using BRUCE to Identify Vulnerability
At Diligenta, I used BRUCE as a method for identifying vulnerability. Whether on the phone or face to face, we can read the signs to determine if customers are able to access, understand and apply information.
Behaviour and talk – Are they distracted, confused or frustrated in their actions or words?
Remembering – Are they asking the same questions, or not following an instruction or the conversation?
Understanding – Do you feel confident in their level of understanding of the information provided and what needs to be done?
Communication – Can they answer questions? What is their non-verbal communication telling you?
Evaluation – How confident are you that they can evaluate the options and make a decision?
If it is clear that the usual process is not working for that customer, you need to change your approach. Give them more of your time and support.
How to Help Vulnerable Customers
LISTEN - The most important skill is to listen. Be prepared to ask open questions and then give them time to respond without interruption or judgement.
BE INFORMED - Really know your products and services. You can then offer the best solutions to fit your customer’s needs. What options are available? How can they get what they need? What is the process and how long does it take?
KEEP IT SIMPLE - Use everyday language and avoid technical jargon or industry terms. Consider how you might rephrase information or explain details more clearly if they are not understood.
CLARIFY UNDERSTANDING - Ask questions throughout the conversation to check understanding. Does the customer want you to go over any point again? Do they seem to understand the full implications of their decision? Would it be helpful if you wrote down some points for them?
NO PRESSURE - Unless urgent and essential, do not pressure anyone into making an immediate decision. Give the option to call back, come back in or consult with someone who they trust. Allow the customer to reach their decision and outcome, not yours.
The great news is that this approach will boost customer experience across the board. Every customer will appreciate that you listen, know your stuff and provide them with what they need to make an informed decision.
I’ll leave you to consider one of the scenarios that the Diligenta participants worked on.
Mrs C has called about her husband’s pension and during the call, she becomes upset and tearful.
What signs of potential vulnerability do you think this customer displays?
How would you approach the conversation and adapt to the customer’s needs?