The care of vulnerable customers in the call center
Contact center agents assist a wide variety of different customers on every working day. Some customers are easier to appropriately service than others, and vulnerable customers require a little more of a specific type of support and understanding.
Here, we look at how to provide faultless assistance to vulnerable customers under a variety of different circumstances within the contact center environment.
The Financial Conduct Authority defines a vulnerable customer as: “Someone who, due to their personal circumstances, is especially susceptible to detriment, particularly when a firm is not acting with appropriate levels of care.”
A surprising number of contact center staff do not have policies in place for handling vulnerable customers – which is a huge mistake. Failure to properly look after vulnerable customers will lead to a damaged company reputation and formal complaints – neither of which is good news for your company. But, what counts as a call center vulnerable customer?
Recognizing the needs of vulnerable customers
The vulnerability of a customer could be a spoken or an unspoken matter. Although they may fall into predefined categories based on their circumstances, some people may not view themselves as vulnerable – and may also be offended at being classed that way. A customer could be vulnerable because of their age, physical or mental health, a language barrier or a minority group. A customer could also be vulnerable because of life circumstances such as illness or bereavement.
Of course, many of these factors are variable and are likely to change over time. But, a long-term customer always expects to be treated in the same way. So, consistency is key.
Meeting those needs
It is likely that some vulnerable customers will be displaying certain emotions, such as stress, particularly if handling a sensitive or emotive issue. This is when the patience and the compassion of a contact center agent need to come into play more so than under any other circumstances.
However, nothing should be taken for granted. Every customer is an individual and their personal circumstances should be considered and never based on assumptions. For example, should your contact center agent be speaking to someone who is blind, it shouldn’t be assumed that they can read Braille. In fact, only 1% of blind people can read Braille. Getting it wrong could actually offend your customers. Different people will also like further communications in different formats – don’t assume that an older person would prefer something in the post, for example. Ask what they would like and ensure that you deliver on any promises made.
Treat them as you wish to be treated
No customer, vulnerable or otherwise, wants to be patronized. But, some information may require extra explanation or repeating to ensure that they fully understand all that is being said and/or arranged for them. Keep it friendly but, when speaking to vulnerable customers, speak slowly and concisely and at a relaxed pace, which allows the customer to ask questions if they need to.
Ask them questions too – so they are involved in a conversation rather than a monologue. Summarize the call at the end to ascertain levels of understanding and any areas which require clarification. Offer to follow up the call with written confirmation of what has been arranged.
Respect is the order of the day – no matter what customer you’re speaking to – but particularly those who require the most honed customer service skills your company can offer.
The contact center environment is a buzz of energy and activity purely because of its variety and unpredictability. The type of customers which an agent can speak to and assist in one day is always different and present their own individual challenges whilst making sure that standards never slip.