How to Write to Vulnerable Customers


Neil Martin, Creative Director at The First Word, shares his tips for writing a letter to vulnerable customers, with advice for other written channels too.

It’s great to see more and more organisations thinking about how to support vulnerable customers.

However, there is a danger that well-meaning teams take a one-size-fits-all approach to communication that alienates and offends the people they’re trying to help.

“Ah! You’re Vulnerable! We Have a Standard Letter for That”

Many companies have teams dedicated to helping vulnerable customers. And like many customer service teams, some have created standard letters (and emails, live chat transcripts, FAQs and so on). When they’re used in the right context, these standard messages are helpful and efficient.

But how do you create a standard letter for all vulnerable customers?

Writing a standard letter that covers all possible issues a customer might have is impossible.

Vulnerable customers are just customers. Their needs are as diverse as anyone else’s. So, writing a standard letter that covers all possible issues a customer might have is impossible. Yet we’ve seen letters called things like “vulnerable customer template”.

Organisations need to drill down a lot further than “vulnerable” to create messages that are anything other than generic. They need to think beyond standard messages and give their customer-facing teams the skills, confidence and freedom to listen to their customers as individuals and write responses that are tailored to each person’s needs.

Would That Be Our Regular or Vulnerable Service?

Part of the difficulty is how organisations categorise “vulnerable” customers, as if it’s a one-time-only deal.

With the best intentions, a company might assess all its customers to see if they need extra support. If they do, they’re classed as “vulnerable”.

A customer that doesn’t think of themselves as vulnerable will be irritated, embarrassed and even offended if they feel they’ve been singled out.

But that’s one judgement at one moment in time. In reality, people’s needs change. What if a “regular” customer hits a difficult time in their life? If they’ve haven’t been categorised as “vulnerable”, they might not get the support they need.

On the flip side, a customer that doesn’t think of themselves as vulnerable may be irritated, embarrassed and even offended if they feel they’ve been singled out. This feeling will only intensify if their family and friends get different kinds of communications.

Vulnerable Important People?

One of the worst ideas I’ve heard recently is creating a “VIP service” for vulnerable customers, where anyone who “qualifies” gets enhanced products and services.

Struggling to pay your bills? Why not join our VIP club!

Clearly, this misses the point. The idea that the answer to helping vulnerable customers is to throw benefits at them is, frankly, scary. It implies special treatment and creates the wrong mindset for customer service advisors, because it implies that vulnerable customers just need a better service.

What’s more, other customers may feel they are missing out, and some might even fake some kind of vulnerability to enjoy the “perks”.

The “Why Don’t We Do This for Everyone?’ Test

The biggest pitfall for companies is the temptation to have one way of writing to vulnerable customers and another for everyone else.

In fact, it’s an opportunity to become a more empathetic organisation that really listens and responds empathetically to everyone.

So if you’re thinking about vulnerable customers and how to write to them, ask yourself: why don’t we do this for everyone?

The Basics for Writing to Vulnerable Customers

“We listen to our customers’ specific needs so we understand their situation.”

Why don’t we do this for everyone?

“We guide our customers through processes that they may find difficult to follow.”

Why don’t we do this for everyone?

“We are proactive about letting our customers know all the services that are available to them.”

Why don’t we do this for everyone?

There will be some services that are designed for specific needs. But as an overall approach, does the way you write to vulnerable customers have to be fundamentally different to the way you write to everyone else?

In Summary

While the temptation may be there, don’t create standard templates for writing to vulnerable customers. Responses need to be tailored to each individual situation.

Neil Martin

Neil Martin

If not, you risk upsetting the customer with generic responses, while another customer, who may not see themselves as vulnerable, may not enjoy being singled out.

Take things on a case-by-case basis and don’t shower vulnerable customers with benefits and hope that the problem solves itself. Write to them with close attention to their individual situation, guide them carefully and be proactive in making sure they know what’s available to them – as you should do with any other customer.

Thanks to Neil Martin at The First Word for sharing this article with us.

HomeServe’s contact centre is well-respected for handling contacts from vulnerable customers, through their “Customer First” Program. To find out more, read our article: 12 Ideas Taken from HomeServe’s Contact Centre

Published On: 23rd Jul 2018 - Last modified: 24th Jul 2018
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