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How to support vulnerable customers in banking and finance

08 August, 2022Paul Stallard

Interest rate rises, out of control inflation, supply chain disruption and an all-round increase in the cost of living are creating financial hardship – particularly among borrowers. Many people may find themselves in a vulnerable situation for the first time. Paul Stallard looks at how you – as a customer services professional – can support customers in financial distress.

handshakeBanks and financial services companies deal with vulnerabilities on a day-to-day basis, and financial stress is no different. It requires the same skills.

Identifying vulnerable customers

Much guidance is available, and various techniques have been developed, to help employees identify vulnerable customers and support them.

For example, a long-standing technique is presented in the commonly used acronym, CARE:

  • Comprehend– is the customer able to follow the conversation and understand what is being said?
  • Assess– is the customer able to weigh up the information and give you a decision?
  • Retain– is the customer able to retain and remember information? Can they repeat it at a later point?
  • Evaluate– is the customer able to explain and communicate their decisions? Are they asking questions, or is the conversation one-way?

Guidance from the Direct Marketing Association in the UK suggests markers that will help staff identify vulnerability in customers, such as:

  • sounding distressed or agitated
  • repeating themselves often and asking you to repeat phrases and questions several times
  • becoming confused quickly
  • not being able to articulate their problem or query clearly
  • responding with ‘yes’ to every question, even when it isn’t appropriate
  • taking a long time to answer questions
  • not being able to speak clearly
  • saying that someone else – a partner/mother/son “always did this for me”.

Responding to vulnerable customers

The TEXAS acronym may help you respond to customers who offer information that indicates vulnerability:

  • Thank the customer for the information and advise them that it will help you deal with their issue better
  • Explain how you will use the information the customer has provided
  • obtain eXplicit consent to use and record the information they have disclosed
  • Ask questions to get information that will help you understand their circumstances better and whether they need help from a carer or relative
  • Signpost the customer to internal or external help when appropriate.

Supporting vulnerable customers

Listen

When dealing with customers – whether face-to-face, on the telephone or on chat-bot – it’s important to listen very carefully to what they’re saying.

In a face-to-face meeting, you can demonstrate you’re listening by sitting forward, making eye contact and nodding to show understanding.

If you stand up while speaking on the telephone, you will be more attentive. You should also speak every now and again, to offer reassurance.

If a customer is using chatbot, make sure their enquiry is answered promptly and suggest a follow-up telephone call or meeting. Either will give you the opportunity to learn more about their circumstances.

Empathise

Empathise with each and every customer’s circumstances. By showing understanding, you’ll help the customer feel more comfortable. This will encourage them to be more open.

You’re far more likely to be able to help the customer if you know the whole story behind their situation.

You will also create a bond of understanding, which will enable you to ask more searching questions, for example, about how they budget their income and expenditure. Some will never have learnt how to budget and may need help with this.

Agree a course of action

Make and get the customer to accept an agreed course of action, in keeping with company policy, that will give them get control of their situation

Check in with the customer regularly to make sure they’re keeping to this agreement.

Persuade the customer to reconnect with you immediately in the event of any change in their circumstances so that you can revisit the agreement if necessary.

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