The Financial Conduct Authority – in Occasional Paper No 8: Consumer Vulnerability – define a vulnerable consumer as “someone who, due to their personal circumstance, is especially susceptible to detriment, particularly when a firm is not acting with appropriate levels of care.”
So, it seems like a particularly pressing issue to discuss vulnerable customers during Mental Health Awareness Week. It’s becoming a growing concern within the Call & Contact Centre industry – how to react to customers dealing with mental health issues (of any kind) and, perhaps most importantly, how to deal with these issues respectfully.
Vulnerability is a complex issue. Customers may not choose to disclose a particular issue or problem to your employees whilst a physical disability is invisible on the phone. Unless your staff are trained to identify trigger words and situations; how to ask the right questions; and how to offer support, many vulnerable customers may well interact with your employees no differently to anyone else.
Individual factors – such as a mental health issue – and wider circumstances – such as a sudden change in employment status – can all contribute to a customer’s vulnerability status.
According to recent statistics, one third of Call & Contact Centres don’t have vulnerable customer training. Less than half (44%) of Call & Contact Centres have a vulnerable customer policy. Which means there is every chance that you could be phoning one without one. If you were a customer who needed to feel comfortable when disclosing personal information that impacts the nature of your call, this wouldn’t feel reassuring.
Every day, your employees will make and / or receive hundreds of phone calls. This can make spotting vulnerable situations more difficult, as they will not always be so obvious, particularly in the midst of a high volume of calls. Providing staff with the tools and strategies to identify invisible issues is the key to capably supporting your customers. If they are not armed with this, there is every chance they could unintentionally aggravate a particular situation.
Having worked in a Call Centre myself, I know that we employed the CARE strategy (Comprehend, Assess, Retain, Evaluate) in order to best interact with vulnerable customers. Supporting customers in vulnerable situations can require a range of complex and time-sensitive solutions and so it is important that Call Centres invest in either company-wide training or a dedicated vulnerability team.
On the flip side of this, working with vulnerable customers who are experiencing difficult circumstances can impact employees emotionally and professionally. Employees who interact – on a daily basis – with customers in vulnerable situations can find themselves exposed to circumstances such as domestic abuse, addiction, death, mental health issues, suicide and serious long-term illness.
Dealing with these emotionally difficult subjects in an empathetic and practical manner can have a lasting effect on your employees. Without appropriate organisational support, employees can experience poor physical or mental health, burnout and emotional distress. That is why it’s important to offer additional support, in the form of extra breaks, regular reviews or access to mental health services.
Mental health issues affect 1 in 4 adults in the UK. These could be your customers or your employees. It’s important to offer support and help break down the stigma.