By doing what’s right for your customers, you’ll be best placed to meet ASIC and APRA expectations. At the same time, you’ll also be investing in your business’s long-term success. And in the current situation, it’s the needs of your vulnerable customers that require specific attention.
With low job security and a weakened economy, it is now more likely than ever that your customers will experience vulnerability. Both the lockdown and the virus have put a strain on physical and mental wellbeing and so it is important to ask whether you are prepared to meet the needs of your most vulnerable customers. Even more simply, do you know what the needs of your vulnerable customers are?
Seeing things through your customers’ eyes will help you carve out the right approach. Here are some ways you can begin to support your vulnerable customers.
- Understand what vulnerability is and how it manifests
In the current climate, all customers have the potential to become vulnerable. This can happen to them at any time and a customer may drift in and out of this category.
Identifying vulnerable customers as early as possible will give you a better understanding of their needs. If you regularly collect reliable customer data and your analytics is up to scratch, some of the work has already been done for you. However, nothing can replace human interaction when it comes to spotting vulnerability. When your staff members understand the causes of vulnerability, they can pinpoint when a customer is susceptible to harm much more easily. Systems can also be a helpful tool– are your staff able to record customer vulnerability and actions taken to provide better support?
Your staff and processes need to be flexible. Make use of in-house customer data to clearly identify your vulnerable customers, but just knowing who they are won’t stop you from causing them harm. Take action to understand these customers’ needs and recognising how these can best be met.
- Consider upskilling your staff
When it comes to vulnerable customers, your staff are crucial in bringing about positive outcomes. This is where flexibility is key – by having the right levels of customer service and appropriate systems in place, staff are able to respond to the specific needs of vulnerable customers. Beyond that, your training will probably need to be updated so that staff are familiar with the most common types of customer vulnerability that we’ve seen off the back of Covid-19. Yes, there will be an increase in financial vulnerability, but there may be a whole host of other factors at play, from bereavements, to mental health issues, to increased caring responsibilities – on a scale we’ve never seen before.
To get this right, encourage and import staff to think about vulnerability in every aspect of their work. This means considering your culture and how well embedded policies are across your business. The last thing you want here is a mismatch between policy and practice.
Also bear in mind that the number of vulnerable customers will continue to increase. Even larger businesses may have to expand their customer service operations to incorporate teams that work specifically with vulnerable customers. Think about upskilling all customer-facing staff so that this new workload can be handled effectively.
- Take practical steps
With so much going on in your customers’ lives, you are uniquely placed to offer them some stability. This means considering your product and service design – it’s your job to make it easy for your customers to find the ones that they need. Actively engage with vulnerable customers directly as you design products and services, including checking whether there are any currently offered that might not be appropriate. Also make sure customers are told about changes to your services or products.
While it is crucial to make sure that this information is available, it is also important to think about the ways in which your vulnerable customers are able to access it. With the current reduction in face-to-face communications, a lot of information may now only be available online or via telephone. However, vulnerable customers may not be able to access the internet and long queues on phone lines can quickly rack up call waiting times. Introduce options to help these customers, like allowing them to nominate a third party to call on their behalf. Just make sure that both your customers and your staff are aware of these options.
- Monitor and evaluate
These actions are not a one-off activity. You will need to ensure that your approach to vulnerability is entrenched into all areas of your business. Testing and feedback will mean that you can successfully monitor and evaluate the impacts of the approaches you have introduced. Using this MI will help you to identify weaknesses in your customer experience that might particularly impact vulnerable customers, and enable you to make the appropriate improvements.
Implementing a vulnerability strategy now will ensure that you are prepared to meet the needs of your most vulnerable customers in the future. Senior management should take the lead to ensure that it becomes engrained in your company’s culture and practices.