The impact of the COVID-19 crisis means that we’re seeing more and more vulnerable people reaching out for help. Taking the time understand their experience with your organisation and to then implement measures that improve it, will provide many benefits – for your business and for your customers.


Vulnerability is growing in Australia

It goes without saying that organisations have a duty of care to all customers, including those who are vulnerable. Developing and implementing strategies and processes to identify and respond to the needs of vulnerable customers appropriately, and with empathy, will not only enhance the experience of vulnerable customers, but also strengthen and improve the experience of all customers.

Leaving the current COVID-19 crisis aside, customers can become vulnerable at any time for a variety of reasons, ranging from financial hardship to divorce, bereavement, domestic violence, mental and physical Illness, and disability or injury.

The issues they face vary in nature and complexity – whether it’s sorting a debt, closing a deceased partner’s bank account or arranging a mortgage payment holiday. But one thing most vulnerable customers have in common is high levels of stress and frustration. They are in a fragile state and often their capacity and ability to navigate bureaucratic processes and paperwork is reduced as a result.

If it’s frustrating for a vulnerable customer to have to send eight emails and make ten phone calls to sort an issue out, it’s also a huge cost to your business to answer and respond to them…

Vulnerable customers have unique needs

At CSBA we specialise in helping organisations create better customer experiences and have designed a framework for engaging with vulnerable customers in a meaningful, relevant and empathetic manner.

Asking vulnerable customers to respond to an on online survey about their experiences won’t allow you to delve deep enough into the different layers of the experience.

Customers who are dealing with difficult issues and are highly stressed, respond better to more personal, qualitative approaches, which allow you to gain a deeper insight into their experience than typical ‘voice of the customer’ methods.

Recently we’ve worked with a number of major banks and financial services organisations to explore and assess the experience of vulnerable customers. The research findings are illuminating and demonstrate that many organisations have much to learn.

Interestingly, most vulnerable participants in the research actively welcomed the opportunity to share their experiences, even when it meant re-living harrowing circumstances. They understood that their feedback would allow organisations to better understand vulnerable customer needs and to identify and address gaps in strategy, processes, practices and culture.

As CSBA discovered, many vulnerable customers are frustrated by lack of follow-up, lengthy delays, confusion about who to contact, unclear relationships between associated organisations, and the involvement of government departments such as CentreLink and the ATO. Some lodged formal complaints as a last-ditch effort to get resolution or clarity after having tried and failed via other means.

In particular, the research highlights the importance of communication, the language used and that training is required so that frontline staff are equipped to identify vulnerable customers and escalate their issues for appropriate attention.

Vulnerable customers are often stressed and can be less capable of navigating complex issue resolution processes.

The research shows that an empathetic approach, swift triage, ongoing communication and a transparent pathway forward all help alleviate the distress of vulnerable customers.

There is also a clear need to ‘close the loop’ when an issue is resolved and providing an outcome in writing proves particularly reassuring, providing clear proof of closure.

A case in point
John is a pensioner who contacted his bank’s call centre when his wife was in palliative care. He’d banked with them for 34 years and was trying to increase his credit card limit to help contribute $5,000 towards the cost of his wife’s imminent funeral.
While the consultant was courteous and checked with her manager, his request was declined. John understood, but felt helpless and thought the bank could show more compassion given his loyalty. He was delighted to be contacted later by the bank’s crisis team and for a hardship provision to be made.

How you can improve your vulnerable customers experience’s

Vulnerable customers are experiencing unique circumstances, and organisations need to understand that a very different approach needs to be taken to effectively service and support them.

A customer’s experience will be very different depending on whether the organisation’s structure is siloed and inconsistent, or collaborative and unified. Whether the strategy for dealing with these customers is proactive or reactive. And whether the practices of the organisation are based on blame and judgement or support and advocacy.

Irrespective of where your organisation is on its vulnerable customer journey – whether you have a strategy and dedicated crisis team in place or not – it is critical to start with an independent and unbiased assessment of how you currently treat your vulnerable customers.

How would your vulnerable customers rate the way their issue was handled? What did you do well? Where could you improve? Is there consistency? Where are the pain points? What touchpoints are required along the journey? Does the experience vary across different customer cohorts, enquiry types and types of vulnerabilities?

By asking the right questions – in the right way – you can gain a deep understanding of the end-to-end experience of your vulnerable customers and develop a clear pathway forward.

From our experience at CSBA, there are a number of clear priorities for any organisation that deals with vulnerable customers.

5 steps to creating better experiences for vulnerable customers

  1. Know where you’re at
    Establish a baseline through an independent assessment of the experience your organisation provides vulnerable customers.
  2. Use the learnings to identify strengths and weaknesses
    These will allow you to pinpoint opportunities to simplify processes, remove barriers, reduce stress and create a more positive, supportive experience for your vulnerable customers.
  3. Establish an organisation-wide strategy for servicing your vulnerable customers
    The insights you gain from your research will provide you with the knowledge and understanding necessary to develop a comprehensive strategy.
  4. Train your frontline staff to identify customers experiencing vulnerability and how to respond
    Build your teams knowledge and understanding of the unique needs of vulnerable customers through customised training for both frontline staff and escalation or specialist crisis teams, if you have them.
  5. Approach all service design with vulnerable customers front of mind
    By doing so, you’ll also improve the experience of every customer. If your services are designed to meet the needs of the most vulnerable, the experience of those with less complex needs will also improve.

Want to explore how CSBA can help you provide your customers with better experiences?