Who Are Vulnerable Consumers & How To Recognise Their Needs

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Who are vulnerable consumers and how can you learn to recognise their needs?


When discussing the topic of vulnerability, it is first important to understand that it is a very changeable and contextual state. The factors that could make a consumer vulnerable rarely remain static, meaning they could get better or worse over time. To help businesses identify and communicate with vulnerable consumers, and understand why training is often necessary to help improve their customer experience, we talk to training experts Elaine Lee and Jacqui Crawley about their new masterclasses.

1) Who are “vulnerable consumers”?
A vulnerable consumer is a person who, due to their personal, financial or health circumstances, is especially susceptible to detriment, particularly when an organisation is not acting with appropriate levels of care. A recent study by the Financial Conduct Authority found that 50% of UK consumers currently show one or more characteristics of potential vulnerability based on their health, financial resilience and capability, and on life events that could be having a detrimental impact on them. That’s potentially over 25 million people in the UK.

2) Why do customer service employees need training on vulnerable consumers?
Research collated by the DMA’s Contact Centre council found that only 4% of surveyed contact centre staff claim to always know when they are speaking with a vulnerable consumer – highlighting that most agents and frontline staff lack confidence with this sensitive subject. It is imperative that all staff appreciate that customers’ circumstances are never static and they may be in a temporary or transitory state of vulnerability. Frontline employees in particular need training on how to make reasonable adjustments to reflect the needs of each customer and these workshops will give them the confidence to know when and how to do this.

3) What information does this training cover?
The training masterclasses cover a number of key areas that will help attendees to identify vulnerable consumers, understand what impact vulnerability could have on them and their behaviour, and how they can best adapt their approach to give these consumers a positive experience. Delegates will leave the training with a clear appreciation of the benefits to the customer, the employee and the organisation by making changes to the service delivered to customers with vulnerability.

4) Why masterclasses instead of, for example, a virtual course or self-paced learning?
The masterclasses are very interactive and practical in nature. Attendees are given ample opportunity to reflect on their own experiences in customer service and how they might encounter a vulnerable consumer. A range of group discussions will give each attendee a unique insight into how other organisations operate and approach customer service. There is a session that, through the use of videos and props, helps participants to experience a range of vulnerabilities first hand. In addition, a practical, 'role play' session reinforces learning through participation. Finally, a workshop session in the afternoon allows delegates to plan how to implement their new skills when they return to work.

5) What types of activities do the masterclasses use, and why? (lecture, role-play, etc.)
The masterclasses use a variety of learning techniques and activities to provide delegates with the best environment possible to learn in, including:
- A mixture of presentation/lecture-styled teaching helps delegates to understand best practice techniques currently being employed.
- Group discussions and a practical workshop session give attendees an outlet to share concepts and ideas, with team problem-solving tasks allowing participants to work together to find a solution that they then present back to the whole group.
- Practical exercises immerse attendees in potential scenarios that they may face in the future and allows them to experience a vulnerable circumstance first hand.
- Role-play scenarios help them to implement newly learned techniques.

This mixture of activities works perfectly for an environment that will likely contain participants who have different learning styles and experience. They also inject energy and optimism into a difficult subject and allow attendees to leave knowing they can implement change in their place of work.

6) What types of organisations/industries are the masterclasses aimed at?
All customer-facing organisations are invited to attend, as the messages, principles and learning techniques apply to all. We sometimes forget in business that our employees are people too and require training to perform their duties to the best of their ability. To date, we've had charities and a wide range of organisations attend, including banks, insurance companies, comparison websites and online retailers.

7) What tips do you have for organisations wanting to provide training on vulnerable consumers to their customer service employees?
Don't be afraid to tackle this sensitive subject head on. By increasing their knowledge, understanding and experience, organisations will be sure to offer their vulnerable consumers a respectful and positive experience. Readers are also able to download the free materials from the DMA website and attend a masterclass.

8) What metrics can organisations use to evaluate the effectiveness of this type of training?
There are a variety of measures that not only can be introduced to measure the training’s effectiveness, but also to see how well staff, in general, are performing and managing consumers’ expectations:

- Customer satisfaction scores (Net promoter scores);
- Monitoring the level of complaints;
- Improved first-call resolution (not as many complaints escalated to management);
- Reduced staff turnover - due to happier employees;
- Increased customer retention rates;
- Higher advocacy and staff recommendations from customers

If you or a colleague have any questions or would like to attend the Masterclass: Recognising the needs of vulnerable consumers and how to make reasonable adjustments, please get in touch with councils@dma.org.uk to secure your place.

About Elaine Lee and Jacqui Workman

Since co-founding ReynoldsBusbyLee Ltd (RBL) in 2005, Elaine Lee has helped numerous clients focus on the customer experience. During her time at RBL, Elaine has been a very active member of the DMA's Contact Centre Council and is now Co-Chair of the DMA’s Vulnerable Consumers Working Group where she has helped set industry guidelines for handling contact with vulnerable adults. She has held positions as a DMA adviser, a TPS board member, and a member of the Institute of Fundraising and is a Trustee for Sightsavers.

Jacqui Workman is the Owner and Managing Director of KMB Ltd. Founded in 1996, KMB has grown to become an established, successful and well respected outsourced telemarketing agency. Jacqui was a member of the DMA Contact Centre Council from 2010-2016 holding the position of Chair from 2014-2016, Member of the DMA North Council for 6 years and is Co-Chair of the DMA Vulnerable Consumers Working Group based in London. KMB Ltd has been a member of the DMA for over 10 years. Jacqui is also a Dementia Friend.

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