Insights and News /

19 September 2018

Supporting vulnerable customers is more than a CSR responsibility

Elliot Johnstone

Elliot Johnstone
Manager | Customer and digital | London

Why is it important?

First, it’s a matter of scale. A large percentage of an organisation’s customer base will be in vulnerable circumstances at some point in their lives. A few figures from the FCA’s Occasional Paper on Consumer Vulnerability highlight that in the UK:

  • In any given year, 1 in 4 adults experience at least one mental health disorder
  • Over 1 in 7 working adults have a disability
  • Almost half of adults do not have enough savings to cover an unexpected bill of £300
  • The number of people aged over 85 will double in the next 20 years, and nearly treble in the next 30 years.

Second, it makes business sense. If you meet a customer’s needs then they are much more likely to stay with you longer, purchase more of your products and provide you with positive referrals. If you make your processes and channels flexible and responsive, customers won’t have to contact you multiple times or engage in lengthy complaints processes, costing you less.

How do you better support them? 
From recent research conducted across industries we’ve identified five core areas that are key in supporting vulnerable customers:

  1. Strategy and Vision: How embedded is supporting vulnerable customers in your organisation’s strategy? e.g. Does vulnerability feature in your design principles? 
  2. Brand and Partnerships: Do you publically advocate for vulnerable customers, and partner externally to support them? e.g. A high street bank recently launched a campaign demonstrating their support for customers with disabilities.
  3. Products and Services: Are your products and services designed for customers with differing needs? e.g. Do you have flexible tariffs or accessible options for power of attorneys?
  4. People and Culture: Is your organisation committed to a culture of support and customer-centricity, from frontline staff to senior executives? e.g. A leading utility trained over 20,000 staff to support customers with dementia, and launched the first practical guide for utilities to support these customers.
  5. Process and Technology: Do you both reactively and proactively identify when customers might be vulnerable, and are your processes built to help not hinder? e.g. How do you use technology to enable you to remember what customers have told you about their circumstances and provide them with the right support?
  6. Data, Analytics & QA: Is your data enabling you to support vulnerable customers and measure their outcomes? e.g. does your data provide meaningful insight on how vulnerable customers are supported and identify trends about their complaints? 

We see pockets of excellence across each of these areas, but believe that many organisations still have a long way to go in defining how they support vulnerable customers. Research we conducted in 2015 showed while one in three of the UK population consider themselves to be financially vulnerable, only 3% and 4% of customers have actually been identified as such by energy and banking companies respectively.  How much have customers and organisations changed in the last three years?

At Baringa, we’re optimistic that vulnerable customers will become an increasing area of focus for organisations, and we’re looking forward to working with them to better meet their vulnerable customer needs. Does anyone have any other positive examples or experiences?  If so please share them below. 

We’re also looking forward to our upcoming roundtable on Tuesday 25th September on ‘what good looks like’, where we’ll be hearing from Andrea Coscelli, CEO of the Competition and Markets Authority, and a number of industry leaders. If you would like to attend, please let us know.