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Why supporting vulnerable customers should be at the top of your agenda for 2020

Posted by: Lowell|February 24 2020

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Putting vulnerable customers’ needs at the top of your agenda for 2020

Vulnerability is something that many of us are likely to experience. It can be temporary, sporadic or permanent. It can be unpredictable and can lead to a great deal of uncertainty and its impact will affect each person differently.

For some people, vulnerability may be linked to a long-term situation, like a physical disability or poor mental health. For others, it could be caused by a change in circumstances like job loss, bereavement or a relationship breakdown. In many cases these situations are linked and can impact on several areas of our life.

Due to the variety of ways vulnerability manifests itself, it can be complex to manage and a one-size-fits-all approach is not suitable for a customer who is vulnerable. Our research shows that where vulnerability is identified more than half of customers exhibit vulnerability across several areas. In terms of commonality poor mental health is second only to illness or injury as the main reason for providing additional support to deal with an account.

The financial services industry arguably needs to be at the forefront of supporting vulnerable customers, and the FCA’s consultation paper provides a basis for the industry to move forward consistently. But there are steps we can all take to better serve and support vulnerable customers:

 

Six areas to consider…  

  1. Strategy and branding: Is vulnerability a core element of your organisation’s overarching strategy and vision? Do you publicly promote awareness around vulnerability?
  2. Products and services: Do you offer adjusted services or products for vulnerable customers?
  3. Technology: Do you support your vulnerable customers with technology wherever possible? Do you use technology to correctly identify vulnerable customers and monitor their situation?
  4. Culture: Does your organisation have a culture that promotes customer-centricity across all areas of the business, with specified training provided to support frontline staff when it comes to identifying and dealing with vulnerability?
  5. Partnerships:  Has your organisation developed any external partnerships, for example with charities, to advocate your support for vulnerable customers?
  6. Data and analytics: Do you collect and understand data on your vulnerable customers and use it to develop meaningful insights?

 

Better management of customer vulnerability

Beyond the clear symptoms and impacts of a specific issue, such as a medical condition, the secondary issues and their own effects emphasise the need for a holistic view of the vulnerable customer’s situation.  

The hidden symptoms of vulnerability mean that we also need to consider how anyone can be affected by mental health issues, or physical illness, and how we set ourselves up to deal with potential vulnerability as an overarching strategy. Someone that hasn’t identified themselves with a problem may need something outside the standard approach. And by the same principle, someone who is known to be vulnerable may not need or event want any additional support beyond your understanding.

At Lowell, we’re continually updating and increasing the identifiers of vulnerability. This fluidity creates its own training challenges, but it is vitally important that each one understands the signs and impacts of vulnerability in order to offer the best way forward for each customer.

All of our frontline colleagues are trained in identifying triggers of vulnerability, with systems in place to allow a tailored solution based  on the duration and impact of their situation, and applied across all of the customer’s accounts,. We work in partnership with our customers, being sure to listen out for triggers across all communications. Should one of our agents identify something that might be cause for concern, they’ll initiate a conversation to establish the extent of the issue and any impacts.

We aim to agree a solution with the customer that delivers the most suitable outcome for their individual situation, whether that’s a payment plan, breathing space or ongoing review. For many customers a sustainable payment plan is the way forward and it is the fact the collective agreement, lack of judgement and knowledge that additional support is available if needed that means that they feel reassured and empowered.

 

Helping our clients support their customers better

Brands that demonstrate a commitment to vulnerability strengthen their reputation as a whole: how you treat those most in need is how you are judged. Strong ethics, fairness and outstanding service throughout the customer journey are a necessity for any business wanting sustainable returns. Trust leads to advocacy and ultimately more business.

We work with a number of clients who want to actively support their vulnerable customers, because we understand that delivering more customer-centric data and delivery methods required by regulators can be difficult. To deliver this requires an active shift from business-led to customer-led collections strategies, alongside customer-led governance processes.

There’s a lot to consider to ensure that regulatory obligations are met, including:

  • Analysing the current channels, customer touch-points and end-to-end processes to understand the current vulnerable customer experience and identify key areas for improvement.
  • Developing and implementing inclusive, customer-centric products and design principles across collections services  
  • Using customer data to learn and constantly developing processes, thereby ensuring a best experience possible.  

Lowell has built up a wealth of experience within the sector by developing and implementing our own support systems, and helping our clients on theirs, to ensure our customers receive the best possible outcomes. Learn more about how we can support your business by contacting us now.

 

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