Updated: Nov 3, 2021
In my experience, initiatives relating to the fair treatment of vulnerable customers are often targeted at customer service teams. Companies are training staff in how to recognise and respond to signs that individuals may need a little extra time, support or flexibility. This is a positive move towards improving customer relations and promoting access to services, but is it enough?
According to the Financial Conduct Authority, it isn’t. They emphasise that the fair treatment of vulnerable customers depends on embedding a company-wide culture of care.
The Value of a Caring Culture
This starts with business leaders understanding the value of a caring culture, where employees and customers are valued. A people-centred approach to leadership is a powerful way to build brand reputation and loyalty. This is attractive to prospects, to future recruits, to potential investors. People want to be associated with companies that are having a positive social impact.
How an organisation treats its vulnerable customers is a powerful reflection of the workplace culture. Are positive customer experiences a priority?
This extends far beyond direct customer service interactions. A culture of care feeds into company values, policies and processes. It encompasses product design and development and the adoption of technology. It informs business planning, marketing, recruitment and staff development.
It is only when a company wholeheartedly embraces customer-led, solution-focused outcomes that sustainable changes are made. This demands an investment of time and money, but when realised, it brings reward and stands the organisation apart from the competition.
Understanding Customer Needs
Leaders can’t stay in the comfort zone of the board room and expect to understand customer needs. This has to be led by customer insight. Who is the business serving and why do some find it challenging to access goods and services? Direct communication with customers should inform decisions and aid a full understanding of the barriers.
Another source of insight comes from organisations that provide specialist support to people in their hour of need. Engaging with local and national charities or taking an active part in awareness campaigns build knowledge and empathy.
The fair treatment of vulnerable customers has to start with the fair treatment of staff. Respect for their contribution, paying a fair wage and recognising achievements all impact staff attitudes. Do your team feel challenged and developed or overwhelmed and underappreciated?
“The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers.”
– Richard Branson
What happens in their time of need? Does your team benefit from flexible working and is there someone they can talk to in confidence? Do you encourage employees to collaborate and support each other?
A business cannot promote a caring company culture if that is not the experience of their employees. For consistency in customer service and brand image, your team must feel it to believe it.
Empower your Team to Improve Customer Experience
Train, develop and support employees to understand, spot and respond to vulnerable customer needs. Provide them with resources that aid inclusive customer service. These include an accessible website and information in a variety of formats.
Empower employees to make decisions and take actions that help customers. This might be taking longer on a call than usual, speaking with a designated person on the customer’s behalf or booking an appointment for the customer with a support organisation. If their actions show care and compassion, they should be supported and encouraged.
As a final point, customer service excellence, especially concerning the fair treatment of vulnerable customers, depends on continuous improvement. As such, encourage your team members to speak with customers, get feedback and share it with the team to drive positive change.
Whilst you may have a vulnerability champion and a customer service team, the responsibility for customer service excellence extends to every member of the team. Positive leadership is vital for embedding a culture of care.