Essential guide to managing vulnerable customers

Vulnerable customers
Jonathan Rushton
By Jonathan Rushton, Corporate Account Director, Ant Marketing

Understanding how to assist vulnerable customers is paramount for all those running contact centres. If individuals are not handled in the right way, it can have negative repercussions on both sides.

So how are vulnerable customers defined? They are individuals facing heightened risks due to financial, health or capability limitations, often struggling to make well-informed decisions or express their needs effectively. It is essential for every contact centre to identify those at risk and then support such customers by tailoring their services to mitigate potential harm.

In this article, I offer insights and share best practices on how to support vulnerable customers within the contact centre industry, drawing from expert opinions and research reports.

Identifying vulnerable customers

The initial step in supporting vulnerable customers involves identifying them. This is more complex than you may think, since vulnerability can be either temporary or permanent and may be linked to various factors, including age, health issues, minority status or disempowerment in society. Recognising the warning signs that a customer may be vulnerable is crucial:

– Difficulty in understanding or retaining information.
– Challenges in expressing themselves or following instructions.
– Displays of distress, confusion or frustration.
– References to personal or financial problems or changes in circumstances.
– Requests for repeated or unconventional assistance or accommodations.

To identify vulnerable customers effectively, contact centre agents must remain attentive, empathetic and respectful. They should engage in active listening, employ open-ended questions and utilise both verbal and non-verbal cues to evaluate the customer’s situation and needs. Additionally, appropriate tools and systems, such as voice analytics, can be employed to flag potential cases of vulnerability and record relevant information for future reference.

Supporting vulnerable customers

Once a vulnerable customer is identified, the contact centre agent must provide them with the appropriate support. The nature of this support may vary according to the customer’s specific requirements and preferences, but some general guidelines can be followed:

1. Be patient and understanding – offer the customer ample time and space to express themselves without rushing or interrupting. Utilise straightforward and clear language, avoiding jargon or acronyms. Repeat or rephrase information as necessary and verify their understanding.

2. Show compassion and empathy – demonstrate genuine interest and concern for the customer and their situation. Employ a positive and supportive tone and language. Acknowledge their emotions and experiences while avoiding judgment, criticism or assumptions.

3. Be adaptable and flexible – provide the customer with multiple options and solutions that align with their needs and preferences. Offer additional information or resources that might be beneficial. Adjust your communication style and channel based on their abilities and comfort level, considering alternatives like switching from voice to chat or email or employing visual aids or screen sharing.

4. Proactively follow up – anticipate potential needs and challenges the customer might face and take action to prevent or address them. This could involve offering a convenient callback, sending a summary of the conversation, or connecting them with a specialist or a third party. Follow up with the customer to ensure their satisfaction and issue resolution.

Empowering contact centre agents

Empowering contact centre agents to effectively handle vulnerable customers is paramount in delivering exceptional customer service while ensuring the well-being of those in need. So how do you achieve this?

There are a number of strategies that can be put in place to support agents, these include:

Training and education – comprehensive training programs should be implemented to equip agents with the knowledge and skills to identify and handle vulnerable customers sensitively. This includes recognising signs of vulnerability and understanding various customer needs.
Supportive environment – fostering a culture of empathy and understanding within the contact centre is crucial. Agents should feel comfortable seeking guidance from supervisors and colleagues when faced with challenging situations.
Advanced technology – implementing state-of-the-art technology, such as CRM systems with customer profiles and history, can help agents better understand a customer’s situation and offer tailored assistance.
Clear policies and guidelines – establishing clear and concise guidelines for dealing with vulnerable customers is essential. These should cover data protection, confidentiality, and appropriate escalation procedures.
Ongoing feedback and evaluation – regular feedback sessions and performance evaluations can help agents improve their skills and adapt to the evolving needs of vulnerable customers.
Mental Health and well-being support – providing resources and counselling services for agents can help them manage the emotional toll that dealing with vulnerable customers may bring.
Supervisory training – managers should be trained to offer guidance and support to agents in complex cases, ensuring they make sound decisions while providing compassionate care.

Empowering contact centre agents to handle vulnerable customers requires a combination of training, technology and a supportive organisational culture. By prioritising the well-being of both customers and agents, businesses can build stronger relationships and deliver a more empathetic and responsive customer experience.

A valuable business opportunity

Supporting vulnerable customers represents both a moral and legal obligation, as well as a valuable business opportunity. By delivering outstanding service to vulnerable customers, contact centres can enhance their reputation, loyalty and customer retention. This approach also fosters a positive and fulfilling work environment for agents, who can perform their roles with greater confidence and satisfaction.