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Supporting Customers Through Short-term Vulnerability

It can happen to any of us; we are ticking along nicely and then the rug is suddenly pulled from under our feet. Our daily routine and our plans are impacted. We know we will get back on track, but for now, we need practical help and emotional support. We are facing short-term vulnerability.

What Could Cause Short-term Vulnerability?

The causes of short-term vulnerability are events that have a physical, financial and emotional impact.

Physical – a broken arm or leg, catching the flu or surgical procedures

Financial – redundancy, significant unexpected expense or exceeding an overdraft

Emotional – divorce, bereavement or a victim of crime

In many cases, these overlap. As an example, a car accident might impact us physically, financially and emotionally. Our ability to carry out actions and think logically is instantly disrupted. These events are often unexpected, so we also need to factor in shock.

How to Help Customers Facing Short-term Vulnerability

Firstly, if a customer discloses their situation, the most important step you can take is to listen, without judgement. Do not interrupt and try to quickly get things back to your usual script. Show genuine empathy; focus on them and let them talk.

At an appropriate time, ask them what they need from you; “How can we help?”

When you have listened to their request, you can advise on solutions that could meet their needs. This might include:

  • Offering a payment holiday

  • Cancelling or postponing an appointment

  • Replacing collections with a delivery service

  • Contacting a designated third party on the customer’s behalf

  • Providing a break from correspondence

  • Informing them of relevant support organisations, such as Step Change or Cruse

When you and the customer have agreed on what steps will be taken, put this in writing. Customers can then reference your email or letter to remind them of the details. Also, record the agreement on your company system so that colleagues follow the agreed action.

When you next contact the customer, start the conversation by asking how they are.

Reducing the Burden

By treating customers with empathy and respect, listening and adapting services you can greatly reduce the physical, financial and emotional burden of challenging life events. Your actions can help people cope and get back on track.

With this in mind, are your team:

  • Trained in how to respond appropriately to customers facing vulnerability?

  • Empowered to adapt processes and procedures when necessary?

  • Confident in recording agreed on actions without compromising data protection?

  • Aware of how to signpost to relevant support organisations?

Ensure that your business is remembered for helping customers through tricky situations; don’t add to their stress.

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