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Why visibility is the key to protecting vulnerable customers and appealing to the Purple Pound

(Image credit: Image Credit: Deepadesigns / Shutterstock)

The Financial Service’s understanding of vulnerable customers is growing, but are organisations able to react quickly enough and provide the level of customer service that is not only expected by the general public, but also by the regulator?

Do you know how many of your customers would be considered vulnerable? If you had to guess, what percentage would you identify as needing extra support or protection? It’s an increasingly important question, and one that’s worth putting some serious thought into. It might just change the way you deliver your services to consumers and create new business opportunities.

A recent Aptean webinar poll found that most companies believe vulnerable individuals make up between 20 per cent-30 per cent of their customer base. However, the latest estimates from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) show that vulnerable customers could represent up to 50 per cent of consumers in the UK .

This suggests that companies aren’t living up to their responsibilities. It also highlights the need for companies to rethink the way they look at vulnerability if they want to succeed in creating a competitive differentiator. When there’s no longer as much difference between the products offered by providers, consumers makes their choice based on other factors. Ethics, community awareness and level of service are all areas that help companies to stand out – especially when it comes to vulnerable customers.

Why companies need to show they care about vulnerability

When it comes to vulnerable customers, there are many reasons for companies in the financial services industry to show that they care. Not only do they have a legal and regulatory obligation to protect these consumers, there’s also a huge moral and social responsibility to deliver on. Many companies won’t do business with others that show no community awareness.

In this way, increased awareness of vulnerable customers can only be a mutually beneficial thing. The more that companies explore ways to identify vulnerable customers, the better their provision will be – improving the experience for consumers and creating a level of service that makes it easier to both acquire and retain customers. Plus, as the industry understands more about vulnerability, companies will realise that there’s a huge market for effective and empathetic provision of financial services to consumers spending what’s known as the ‘Purple Pound’.

For those who haven’t heard of the Purple Pound, it’s defined as the combined spending power of all the people with disabilities in the UK – as well as that of their families. With roughly 14 million people with disabilities living and working in the UK , the Purple Pound represents a powerful spending bloc that many companies are currently overlooking. In fact, yearly spending by this demographic has almost reached £250 billion.

Clearly, there’s a unique opportunity for financial services companies to tap into this spending – but only if they can effectively identify vulnerable customers in order to deliver the level of service and support that these people want and need.

How do you identify vulnerability in the finance industry?

The major challenge for companies – and complaints handling teams in particular – is correctly identifying vulnerability. If they can’t spot the signs, they can’t meet the needs of customers requiring extra empathy and care.

Adding to the complexity is the sheer number of different definitions of, and approaches to, vulnerability. For example, the Mental Capacity Act defines vulnerability in such a way that ‘a person is unable to make a specific decision if they cannot understand information, retain, use or weigh up that information as part of the decision-making process, or cannot communicate their decision’. The definition is incredibly broad, but with good reason because vulnerability can’t be pigeon-holed.

Vulnerability is not a binary state of being – people can move in and out of vulnerable situations that can change their behaviour. There are many who experience vulnerability for only a short time, as well as others for whom it’s a long-term fact of life. Also, people can be vulnerable themselves (whether physically or mentally) or experience vulnerability through being a carer. All of these display different indicators and require different responses from agents. There are no easy answers.

Every day, complaints handlers in the financial services industry work with highly sensitive information given to them by customers. This makes it vital to highlight any vulnerability and to act accordingly. In reference to the Mental Capacity Act’s definition, a key way to recognise vulnerability would be to identify whether the customer in question is able to understand the information they’re given, and whether they can retain that information and use it to make an informed decision.

Such a definition might not have the specificity or precision that some teams look for, but it’s often a useful way for complaints handlers to measure customer behaviour and flag any issues they spot.

Creating a complaints handling environment that cares

Even though understanding and identifying vulnerability is a difficult (and ever-changing) task, companies have to put in the hard work if they want to see the benefits. This includes the implementation of policies, training and a culture directed towards improving provision to vulnerable customers – all of which will take time but will be hugely valuable in the long term.

However, even businesses and complaints handling teams that adopt a positive approach will struggle to deliver if they don’t have the right systems in place to track their interactions with vulnerable individuals.

Imagine a scenario in which an agent identifies vulnerabilities in a customer they speak to. The interaction goes well – the policies and training work, and the agent adapts their approach to take the customer’s vulnerability into account. But what happens next? How does the agent log the vulnerability for future reference? Will the team’s system highlight this customer’s vulnerability if they choose to contact the company via email or social media instead?

If the answer to these questions isn’t ‘yes’, then companies will simply not be able to deliver an effective service to vulnerable customers – while losing the confidence of people who make up the Purple Pound.

Tracking vulnerability across the customer journey

To truly deliver an exceptional experience to vulnerable customers, complaints handling teams need to have visibility of the customer journey across their entire organisation. Without this, they can’t guarantee that every interaction with a vulnerable individual will go as it should.

Creating this visibility means having the right systems in place to log, track and analyse any single interaction with a vulnerable customer – whoever they get in touch with and however they do it. Not only does this allow agents to track and highlight vulnerable customers and provide the right level of support, it also improves the overall quality of experience full stop. In this way, implementing a system that links interactions and provides agents with the full story delivers a better service for all customers, regardless of their vulnerability.

Aptean Respond is exactly the kind of solution that financial services companies need to improve their provision for vulnerable customers and grow their share of the Purple Pound. A powerful case management system that supports every aspect of a customer experience team, it gives frontline agents the ability to log and track all relevant data about the consumers they handle daily. This creates the foundation for the visibility needed to consistently and correctly identify vulnerable customers – while looking after them as required. Aptean Respond also has a built-in vulnerability checker that makes the identification process as simple as possible for agents, allowing them to focus on the bit that matters – delivering an exceptional customer experience to everyone.

Looking after vulnerable customers should be a top priority for financial services companies, and the growth of the Purple Pound adds an even greater incentive. Again, ask yourself what percentage of your customers have some form of vulnerability. With Aptean Respond, you won’t just know the answer, you’ll already be acting on it.

Martin Ellingham, Aptean
Image Credit: Deepadesigns / Shutterstock