Dealing with vulnerable customers and complaints in contact centres

No matter what type of contact centre your business uses, whether it be inbound or outbound, agents will have to deal with a variety of individuals, which include vulnerable customers. But what is a vulnerable customer? Customer vulnerability is described as the way in which someone’s ability to participate in society can be affected by certain factors. These factors might include:

  • Age
  • Ill-health or disability (both physical and mental)
  • Income
  • Minority status
  • Geographical location
  • Financial income status

It is common for communication with vulnerable customers to be derived from frustration, which can lead to complaints being made about agents. This, in turn, affects the efficiency of the centre – complaints equate to longer call times and low morale. To prevent this, it is important that employees have the customer service knowledge necessary to deal with vulnerable customers in order to create the best customer experience for each caller.

The current landscape:

The FCA’s Occasional Paper, published in 2015, produced interesting statistics to raise awareness about the landscape of consumer vulnerability, which is important information for employees across customer service industries. For example:

  • 1 in 7 adults has literacy skills that are expected of a child aged 11 or below.
  • There are 800,000 people in the UK living with varying degrees of dementia, and this is expected to double over the next 40 years.
  • 16% of working-age adults have a disability.

As these results were collected in 2015, it can be assumed that these have increased as the years have progressed. However, the training needed for contact agents to deal with vulnerable customers isn’t the top priority for some contact centres. It was found that over a third of contact centres do not cover vulnerable customer training in their introductory training process. This has a knock-on effect on agent’s confidence while at work. A survey from the Data & Marketing Association in 2014 found that only 4% of contact centre staff claim they always know when they are speaking to a vulnerable customer. For the remaining staff, this consequently will have negatively affected the level of service that each caller received.

For agents to successfully deliver a solution to vulnerable customers, it’s vital that they understand the differentiating and complex definition of being ‘vulnerable’. Vulnerability is contextual, meaning everyone’s situation is different. For example, someone may be housebound due to a broken leg, but this could be fixed by an operation in the future. Therefore, their ‘vulnerability’ is short-term.

As vulnerability does not have a set criteria, it’s important that agents are educated and made aware of how to recognise and communicate with someone who may need additional support from them. In order to do this, an effective training programme needs to be implemented.

A blended learning method

To approach these sensitive issues, and to fully ensure training is retained by agents, a blended learning programme may be the best approach. Contact centres are naturally people-orientated. Therefore, it makes sense to incorporate this in training. This might include workshops, where agents can discuss their concepts of vulnerability and share their own experiences of how they dealt with a frustrated customer. Agent shadowing would also be beneficial in this respect, especially when onboarding new hires, as they can see first hand how agents with more experience recognise and communicate with specific customers.

An e-learning programme, one which reinforces the knowledge learned in training sessions, can provide additional support to agents’ learning. This is possible with Wranx: we provide a complementary e-learning programme, which can work alongside what you already have in place, actively supporting employees’ training long after their initial training session has finished.

Wranx also provides continual learning through Spaced Repetition as opposed to one-time delivery, which can be costly and can affect productivity levels when not supported by long-term learning. According to the Association for Talent Development (ASTD), US businesses spend around $1,195 per employee. If training is just a one-off event, this money can lose its value in the long term, as employees soon forget what they learned goes to waste as employees soon forget what they have learned. However, Spaced Repetition can prevent this ‘knowledge fade’; through repeat viewings and in a bite-size format, information easily becomes ingrained in the learner’s long-term memory, meaning they can recall it long after their initial training. This results in information becoming ingrained in employees’ long-term memory due to learning frequently but in small chunks.

Online learning is naturally a good investment opportunity for contact centres, due to the amount of time agents are at their desk and computers. Idle time can be made productive with Wranx, as a daily drill takes just 2–3 minutes a day, meaning additional learning can be completed at their desks or via mobile.

Treating customers as individuals

Through a combination of face-to-face and online training, contact centre agents can develop their understanding of customer vulnerability and how to communicate appropriately in order to prevent complaints being made.

Overall, inclusion is key and every caller and their situation should be treated individually, as vulnerability does not have a set criteria. Continual training can help reduce exclusion, which can make vulnerability worse. Training can help employees engage in supportive and tailored interactions offer the customer an effective solution. Not only will this create a worthwhile experience for the customer, but it will reflect positively on the contact centre.

Written by: Persia Shahkarami

Published: 15 Jun, 2022