The festive season is a time of hope and giving, so let’s enter into the spirit of Christmas in this article. Although this has been a challenging year for many, there has also been good news. As these are seldom mentioned in the media, let me share some positive stories.

Helping customers to address and overcome challenges is easier when organisations join forces and pool resources. I’ve seen some wonderful examples of this throughout the year.

Here are a few examples:

Fair for You and Iceland Foods collaborated to provide customers with micro-loans of £25 – £100. The Iceland Food Club focuses on supporting families during school holidays when food bills increase. Successful applicants receive a pre-paid Iceland card, which can be used in-store or online. Customers repay £10 a month and if this is maintained, the loan is interest-free.

Christians Against Poverty partnered with Turn2Us in Autumn 2022 to provide a benefits calculator. They reported the following outcomes after a year of collaboration:

· 150,000 benefit checks undertaken

· Around 10% of those checks result in more money (average £500/month) becoming available to households

· A total of £90 million of increased income identified

Turn2us has partnered with many other organisations to improve customer outcomes. This includes the Smallwood Trust and Buttle UK, a collaboration tackling the root causes of poverty for women and their children in Middlesborough. They won the Charity Collaboration of the Year award at the Association of Charitable Organisations Annual Conference 2023.

AXA Health partnered with Business in the Community to support youth mental health. Their Head Coach scheme trains youth leaders to identify signs and direct individuals to specialist services. 91% of community youth leaders who have completed the online course felt better able to start supportive conversations and listen without judgment.

As a judge for the Collaboration Network Awards, I discovered fantastic business initiatives that benefit customers.

This year’s winners included:

Grand Union Housing is a developer that is committed to building communities as well as homes. They achieve this by offering a range of schemes for residents. These include an employability programme for young people, support to tackle domestic abuse and community well-being activities. They won the Gold Vulnerability Award for their Customer Psychographic Segmentation.

YES Energy Solutions took the Silver Award. Their Warmer Homes Advice Line has helped thousands of households to reduce bills and improve energy efficiency. The organisation extended their reach by partnering with Age UK, Citizens Advice and Northern Powergrid.

Many other Award Ceremonies recognise good practice. As organisations step up inclusive and supportive services, shortlisting the finalists is a challenge. However, here are a few that stood out:

At the UK CX Awards, the Best Customer Experience for Vulnerable Customers was won by Octopus Energy. Braille bills and interpreters are just two of the inclusive services they offer. The company also took home the Customer at the Heart of Everything Award.

In the Just Vulnerable Customer Awards, Harold Stephens, an Independent Financial Adviser won the ‘Up to 5 Advisor’ category. Their Later Life programme includes coffee mornings, sponsoring community activities and a framework to support customers facing dementia, bereavement and moving house.

Financial Management Bureau were winners in the ‘6-19 Advisor’ category. Their thorough data collection and staff training have informed meaningful conversations with customers and tailored services. The company also engages in outreach work, which includes providing financial advice at the local women’s refuge.

Increases in income or cuts in outgoings are welcome, so there was some good news in Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Budget on 22 November. These included:

· Employee National Insurance Contributions cut from 6 January 2024 (Down 2%)

· An increase to the Minimal Wage to £11.44 per hour for anyone over 21 years (Up 9.8%)

· An increase to State Pension in April 2024 (Up 8.5%)

· An increase in Benefits and Universal Credit in April 2024 (Up 6.7%)

These changes will help more households balance finances.

Throughout the year, I’ve had the pleasure of delivering tailored training and consultancy services to companies across the UK. For many, this is a regulatory requirement. However, I sense a change in attitude and culture which goes beyond compliance.

The vast majority of my clients now recognise the value of understanding and addressing customers facing vulnerable circumstances. If it’s good for customers, it’s good for business.

My diary is already filling with 2024 commitments, which will see me travelling further afield to deliver training. I’m ready to embrace the adventure!

About the author.

Helen Pettifer FRSA.

Helen Pettifer is Director of Helen Pettifer Training Ltd and a specialist in the fair treatment of vulnerable customers.

She has a background in call centre management and is committed to customer service excellence. Her training ensures front-line staff gain the awareness and resources to confidently identify and respond to signs of vulnerability.

Helen Pettifer is a British Standards Institution (BSI) associate consultant for BS 22458: 2022 Consumer Vulnerability, a Mental Health First Aider, a Suicide First Aider, a Dementia Friend, and a Friends Against Scams Champion. Recognised as a changemaker, she was invited to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2022.

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