Understanding Vulnerability through Lived Experiences

Consumer research is an essential part of business planning. The greater the understanding of your customer base, the easier it is to tailor products, services, marketing to attract, engage and retain them. This leads to satisfied customers and increased sales.


The FCA Guidance states that ‘Understanding the needs of vulnerable customers’ should inform strategic planning. How can products, services and marketing be adapted to ensure they are accessible and inclusive to those who may require additional support?


Stepping Out of the Boardroom to Understand Consumer Needs

The most insightful consumer research requires direct communication with individuals. When individuals and charities share their lived experiences, it adds depth and richness to the understanding of needs. Involving individuals with specific needs in planning meetings or product design and testing will ensure that decisions aren’t based on assumptions.


What is Lived Experience?

Lived experience is a term used to describe people who were previously or are currently experiencing a specific situation or condition. Their involvement in planning and development can help to shape thinking and practice to improve services for vulnerable customers.


As an example, if I was to design a process to support gambling addicts to take control of their finances, I wouldn’t know where to start. I have no personal experience to draw on. I could come up with ideas and suggestions, but, honestly, I wouldn’t know if these would make any difference.


In contrast, involving a former gambling addict would help me to better understand the triggers, the measures that would prevent them from accessing money when things were spiralling out of control. Their lived experience of this vulnerability would ensure that decisions made would be beneficial.

On this subject, I was delighted that recovering gambling addict, Matt Blanks, was willing to share his lived experience with me on an Unlocking Vulnerability podcast in January.


Gaining insight through lived experiences was an approach taken by Santander. The bank partnered with Three Hands to draw together several relevant partners. Collectively, they took part in an immersive two-day programme to understand the issue of gambling. This informed staff training and the development of their gambling help resource.


Who are Three Hands?

It is challenging for businesses to approach vulnerable customers directly, so I was pleased to learn about Three Hands. This organisation aims to provide a meaningful, immersive connection between business and society. They bring together company representatives and individuals with a first-hand understanding of the needs of vulnerable and underserved customers.


Last year, Three Hands Director, Michael Hilton joined me on an Unlocking Vulnerability podcast.

He shared the three ways in which they can support the connection between businesses and customers:


Reviewing products or processes – This could include using the company website, calling or visiting a company to experience the service and highlight any barriers or issues faced.


Collaborative innovation – Working with an expert charity and the people they support on a learning experience that builds awareness and practical ways they can make a difference.


People panels – inviting those with lived experience to test and validate products, systems and processes to gain valuable feedback on usability.


These paid services are invaluable to businesses that are working to improve provision and enhance the customer experience. How are you currently giving voice to your vulnerable customers?





© 2021 by Helen Pettifer Training. Created by Lawrence Wood - Transformational Communications.

  • Connect with Helen on LinkedIn
  • Subscribe to Helen's channel on YouTube
  • Listen to Helen's podcast on Spotify