Vulnerable Customer Call Handling Policy

To ensure that our advisors are ready to handle contacts from vulnerable customers, we make sure that our training allows the advisor meet each of the following objectives:

Appreciate that vulnerability is complex and changeable — We want the team to understand the nature of each vulnerability and the challenges that they put upon the customer.

Have a better understanding to help us recognise vulnerability — We want the team to identify vulnerable customers by understanding the signals they may receive from customers who have dementia, learning difficulties, been through bereavement, etc.

Develop methods to help deal with vulnerability — We want advisors to feel confident in how to proceed, once they have recognised that they are interacting with a vulnerable customer.

Create confidence and sensitivity towards vulnerability — We want advisors to be respectful of the customer’s condition and modify their service approach towards different vulnerabilities.

There are a number of warning signs our advisors can pick up on to identify if the caller on the other end of the line is in fact vulnerable.

A simple thing that an advisor can do to help with this identification is to consider the following the four questions and whether or not they apply to the customer.

Comprehend — Is our customer able to follow and understand the discussion taking place?

Assess — Is our customer able to follow and understand the discussion taking place?

Retain — Does our customer appear able to retain the information you are giving them? / Can they recall details or are you having to repeat?

Evaluate — How well do they express, explain or communicate their decisions? / Is the dialogue genuinely two-way or are they simply agreeing with what you say?

Within the four questions above, there are a number of “prompts” that the customer may give. For example:

  • The customer asks unrelated questions and make irrelevant points
  • The customer consistently repeats themselves
  • The customer says “yes” in response to each of your questions, when it’s clear that they haven’t kept up with the conversation
  • The customer doesn’t talk much and takes a long time to answer your questions
  • The customer becomes distressed during the contact
  • The customer sounds flustered, indicating that they may have an illness
  • The customer says things like “My partner dealt with all these things for me”

These are examples of the things that advisors should listen carefully for. If they pick up on one of these “prompts” they need to think carefully about what to do next.

If necessary we go back to the basics of the interaction and consider what the customer’s primary need from the interaction is.”

If the customer is in a stressful situation or they are very upset, that might not be clear on the call and we need to think about how we can extract that information from them.

We also think about what we need to do first and think about what reasonable adjustments we can make. Perhaps we need to communicate with them in a different way and listen to them for a bit longer to really understand what the information is that they require.

Meeting the Needs of Vulnerable Customers
We Ask the Customer About Their Communication Preferences

A vulnerable customer may only be using the phone because they think that is their only option. They might prefer speaking on email or live chat – particularly if they have a hearing impairment.

We Set Clear Expectations

Vulnerable customers may struggle to “keep up” with the conversation, so it’s best to outline all the information that will be required for the call up front.

From here, it’s important to direct the conversation and take ownership of the call, in case the customer begins to lose track.

Explain to the customer how long the call will be expected to last and make sure that all of the information shared is relevant and in the best interest of the customer.

We Avoid Assumptions

We always advise caution when it comes to making assumptions of a customer’s issue, as you can easily jump into suggesting the wrong solution. However, this is more important when it comes to handling contacts from vulnerable customers – take nothing for granted.

For example, can the customer hear what you’re saying? They may have a hearing impediment.

Also, consider if the person you are talking to has good eyesight. If they do not, they may be unable to read statement details, serial numbers and other information.

We Clearly Enunciate and Speak at a Relaxed Pace

When speaking to vulnerable customers it is important to be conscious of the tone of your voice. The key is to speak clearly and enunciate, but not to the extent where you end up shouting at them.

Stay at a relaxed pace to avoid bombarding the customer with too much information or rushing them into responding when they haven’t fully explained what they need.

Clarify an Understanding After Each Key Point

Questions such as “Are you happy with everything that I’ve just said?” or “Is there anything that you’d like me to explain?” will help you gauge whether or not the customer is keeping pace with what you are saying.

Subtly asking the customer to explain their understanding, if you are not convinced that they are on the right track, will help to make this more obvious.

Just remember to be patient and give the customer all the time that they need to process instructions and explain their situation fully. Don’t interrupt them or show any signs of impatience.

We Summarise the Call at the End of the Interaction

When closing the call, it is important that the vulnerable customer has understood all of the key call outcomes and the next steps that they need to take.

However, how can we, as the advisor, guarantee that the customer has taken everything in? When summarising the call, we ask the customer if they are happy and have been able to follow everything that we’ve said. If they say “yes”, consider whether this is a genuine yes or just a submission.

Also, remember to ensure that the customer is not in an emotional state when they answer this question and consider whether the customer fully understands the consequences of the decision that they are making.