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Supporting Vulnerable Customers in a Digital World


A photo of someone holding an elderly persons hands

Carolyn Blunt of Ember Group shares her advice for better supporting vulnerable customers within a digital environment.

In 2020 the topic of Mental Health is finally firmly on the agenda of organizations in a way that just a decade ago it wasn’t. And this is a vital consideration when we are exploring the importance of the vulnerable customer in a digital world.

In recent years we have seen an increase in the regulatory pressures on topics such as fair treatment of vulnerable customers; but the firm placing of this topic on every organization’s agenda is also due to the awareness being raised on cyberbullying, problem debt and suicide. Topics that are finally being more openly talked about in schools, homes and workplaces by people from all walks of life

We have seen a huge increase in the discussion of mental health – including Jesy Nelson from Little Mix on her BBC documentary ‘Odd One Out’ and online bullying.  We have been rocked by the suicide of the well-known TV star Caroline Flack in February 2020; and concerns for mental health and well-being are increasing everyday with the imposition of social distancing and self-isolation as a result of the global pandemic of COVID-19.

The temporary removal of sporting fixtures and events to curb the spread of the virus will also remove the enjoyment and entertainment of billions of people all around the world.

We know that the FCA define vulnerable customers as ‘someone who, due to their personal circumstances, is especially susceptible to detriment – particularly when a firm is not acting with appropriate levels of care.’

There are many categories of vulnerability beyond the obvious one of ‘age’ to the less visible ‘mental health’, but many customers don’t appreciate being declared and recorded as ‘vulnerable’ and many often won’t identify with the term anyway.

When we use speech analytics technology we never find that customers call up saying ‘Hello,  I’m vulnerable’.  Instead we identify terms such as ‘accident’, ‘redundancy’, ‘bereavement’ and ‘financial problems’.

So for the rest of this article let’s think simply about your customers that may need additional service.

While there are most definitely joys of efficiency and consistency to be gained from the deployment of automation in our contact centre operating models, I am keen to ensure we also focus on the joys of human conversation and the importance of offering a balanced choice of channel and interaction type to our evolving landscape of customers.

This has never been more important than it is today in a changing world.  The facts are clear.

5,821 people intentionally took their own lives in the UK last year, each one having a devastating effect on the family members, friends, colleagues and communities left behind –meaning most of us will be touched at some point if this hasn’t happened to you already.  It has happened to me and its incredibly sad and difficult to deal with.

1 in 20 adults in the UK report having suicidal thoughts – and those that do usually make an attempt on their own life within the first 12 months of such thoughts.

7 in 10 young people have experienced cyberbullying.

26% of young people who have been cyberbullied report feeling suicidal.

In financial service call centres 1 in 4 frontline staff have reported speaking to at least one customer they thought might kill themselves in the past year –highlighting the serious connection between problem debt and suicide.

Frontline staff also say they are “unclear on how to respond to this” or “don’t know what organizational policy to follow” and “haven’t received any training”.

So what training can you make available?

You can start with classroom (virtual if preferred) or digital modules to define vulnerability, learn how to recognize, question and record vulnerability and then finally how to respond to customers by providing additional services afterwards. For samples click here.

This may mean adding back in additional levels of support in customer journeys (particularly if these have been heavily automated and rely on customer self-service), referral to partner services and/or the routing to specialist, trained teams.

The TEXAS model is recommended by the FCA as a useful and structured five-step approach to working with vulnerable customers and can be developed and embedded in your training and procedures.

The TEXAS protocol can help all frontline staff manage disclosures effectively, which is a key part of creating an organization where customers are confident to disclose. It can be used as training a tool for managing initial conversations as well as using interaction analytics to measure each part of the model.

A picture of the texas accronym for vulnerable customers

Finally some quick questions to use to check your own organization’s approach against best practice.

  1. Are you effectively identifying and supporting vulnerable customers?
  2. Have you trained your staff and introduced or revised processes for supporting vulnerable customers?
  3. Are you confident knowledge is being retained and used effectively?
  4. Have your compliance efforts shortened customer journeys or eliminated complexity?
  5. Are you supporting vulnerable employees as well as customers?
A thumbnail image of Carolyn Blunt

Carolyn Blunt

Supporting your agents with skills and resilience training, digital learning and knowledge retention, breaks after tough conversations and interaction analytics to find, coach and support through all mentions and triggers will ensure that vulnerable customers are supported in a digital world.

Thanks to Carolyn Blunt, a Director of Ember Group for sharing this article with us. 

Published On: 20th Mar 2020 - Last modified: 24th Mar 2020
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