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  • Robert Bell

A Focus on: Supporting Vulnerable Customers

In an increasingly interconnected and fast-paced world, businesses play a pivotal role in providing products and services to a diverse range of customers. However, not all customers have the same level of resilience and resources to navigate the challenges they may encounter.


Vulnerable customers, including those who are elderly, disabled, financially disadvantaged, or facing mental health issues, require special attention and support to ensure they receive the same level of care and service as any other customer.

Time and time again the FCA have highlighted this as an area of concern and stated the need for firms to take action to enable customers with additional support needs to receive the same level of service. In this article, we will explore various strategies that businesses can adopt to effectively support their vulnerable customers.

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Identification and Understanding

The first step in supporting vulnerable customers is identifying them. This could involve gathering information during the onboarding process, such as age, medical conditions, or accessibility requirements.

Some firms are proactively asking all customers whether they have any additional support needs at the point they first engage with the company. Others are adopting the practice of including the same question in each interaction with customers, very positive moves.


Sensitivity is key here, as customers may not always openly disclose their vulnerabilities. Furthermore, team members should be trained to recognise that although there are common drivers and indicators of vulnerability, they aren’t black and white. It takes many forms, and the same situation can affect someone very differently at different times. Once identified, take the time to understand their unique needs, challenges, and preferences. This could involve personalised interactions, surveys, or feedback mechanisms.


Accessible Communication

Effective communication is the cornerstone of supporting vulnerable customers. Ensure that your communication channels are accessible and diverse. This includes offering options for large print, braille, and online accessibility tools for visually impaired customers, as well as easy-to-understand language for those with cognitive impairments. Providing multiple ways to get in touch, such as phone, email, and chat, enables customers to choose the method that suits them best as often customers have real difficulties in making telephone calls – so digital options should always be available as well.


Training for Staff

Your staff are the front line of customer interaction. Comprehensive training is essential to help them recognise signs of vulnerability and respond appropriately. Training should cover empathy, active listening, and conflict resolution. Staff should also be well-versed in the business's policies and procedures for accommodating vulnerable customers.


Tailored Support Plans

Critical in the post-consumer duty landscape, this translates into how we deal with vulnerable customers. This means a 'personalised service.' This doesn't have to be difficult, but it does mean using active listening techniques to hear what the customer needs - and this might not always be explicitly said. They might be struggling, but be unable to articulate this - it's about hearing the whole message and understanding that each vulnerable customer may have different needs and expectations. Developing individualised support plans can greatly enhance their experience. For instance, if a customer has cognitive issues, you can offer different documentation or explanations. Financially disadvantaged customers might benefit from flexible payment options or discounts. Mental health considerations might involve offering quiet spaces or extending response times for communications.


Flexible Service Delivery

Adapting your service delivery model is crucial. This could mean extending business hours to accommodate various schedules, offering home visits, or providing virtual consultations for customers who may find it difficult to visit your physical location. For businesses where this is not appropriate, it could be as simple as allowing staff to diverge from the usual call guidelines to support a customer. Online businesses should prioritise website accessibility, ensuring that all features can be easily navigated using assistive technologies.


Accessibility

This might be adjusting digital platforms so that they're easier to use for certain groups of customers. This could be supported with clear user guidelines, especially helpful for those with slower processing speeds to be able to understand what will happen, why, and what they might need to do. Regular testing from the point of view of the vulnerable customer will help identify gaps or practical issues.


Feedback Mechanisms

Create a transparent and responsive feedback mechanism that allows vulnerable customers to provide input on their experiences. Regularly solicit feedback and take meaningful action based on their suggestions. This demonstrates your commitment to their well-being and satisfaction.


Collaboration with Support Organisations

Collaborating with local charities, nonprofits, and support organisations can provide additional resources for assisting vulnerable customers. These partnerships can help identify customers in need and offer referral pathways for specialised assistance.

Supporting vulnerable customers is not just about compliance; it's about compassion and inclusion. By implementing the strategies outlined in this article, businesses can create an environment that respects and caters to the unique needs of every customer. Going the extra mile to support vulnerable customers not only enriches their lives but also enhances the reputation and success of your business in the long run.


Customer contact staff are a firm’s front line in supporting vulnerable customers, and it is vital that they understand how to identify when a customer may be vulnerable. We offer a dedicated online training course on the Fair Treatment of Vulnerable Customers.


Priced at just £20 per user, the course is accessible at the delegate’s convenience and provides a certificate upon successful completion, allowing firms to track and record each user’s progress.

For large groups, we can offer a simplified enrolment service and pricing, simply email Robert.bell@rbcompliance.co.uk.




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