The power of training to effectively support vulnerable customers

We’re offering an increasing number of training courses to contact centres across the UK and further afield. Vulnerable Customer training is an area we’re passionate about as it has a real impact on the level of service contact centres can offer, as well as the wellbeing and career enhancement of those who work in the centres.

As contact centre and customer experience experts, when we design a programme to meet specific centre and customer needs, we see real tangible impact on KPIs. And the one we see having huge resonance is delivering an empathetic response to vulnerable customers.

Anything that relates to the human element is going to be top of the agenda, especially at the moment. We’re all humans sharing a collective experience, but as contact centres we have an increased duty of care to our more vulnerable customers as they are more likely to suffer detriment as a result of struggling to navigate our products or services.

That’s always been key to businesses who care. But awareness of its importance is spreading because we now recognise that all of us can be vulnerable at some time. It’s widespread as we live with a backdrop of uncertainty, whether it’s coping with financial strain, experiencing loss, dealing with emotional and psychological effects of isolation – it’s top of the agenda.

A good customer experience shouldn’t be a gamble

A few years ago, there seemed to be a lottery surrounding empathy in the contact centre. If you were a vulnerable customer, it was down to good fortune if they spoke to someone who was naturally empathetic.

Some agents are great at dealing with vulnerable customers – they slow down, want to take the time, they know it’s when they need to deliver their special “arms around the client” treatment. Some may be like that naturally, some may be in a similar situation and so can empathise. If a vulnerable caller spoke to one of those agents, they’d won the contact centre lottery.

But in others, dealing with vulnerable customers may cause lack of patience or the desire to be on another call – or they simply don’t recognise that the person is vulnerable and see their behaviour as challenging instead.

This is why vulnerable customer training is so important. How do you take people who are of a certain age, who might be in their first job, who don’t have the life experiences that allow them to be as empathetic as others, and train them to recognise the signs of a vulnerable customer?

Making empathy a science and an art – not a lottery

Saying some agents are not as naturally empathetic as others is not a criticism or a slight – you don’t know what you don’t know, and for some agents it’s simply that they’ve never been shown the importance of recognising a vulnerable customer and responding to them accordingly.

Fortunately, all of those EQ competency skills are absolutely teachable. They are superpowers that can be honed with practice, knowledge and coaching, making agents super familiar with all the signs of vulnerability and understanding the topic.

And then it’s about how you handle that call once you’ve identified those signs. Every customer wants to be treated like an individual, but with our vulnerable customers we absolutely need to – one size won’t fit all.

How enhanced EQ skills impact your business

And remember – how we do anything is how we do everything. If we get this right for our most vulnerable customers and we really hone the skills around listening, empathy, effective questioning and support, we’ll get it right for all of our customers.

It improves the “touchy-feely”, soft skill elements, but it can also impact the bottom line as vulnerable customers may be very loyal if treated well (not to mention the service you give all callers will be enhanced as a result of added empathy).

It soon becomes part of the culture; empathy promotes psychological safety in the workplace, and that in turn is a key to innovation – staff feel freer to be themselves, push brave new ideas and raise concerns.

We’ve also noticed that, with the drive towards more automation and reliance on software, the importance of the human element has gone from being the domain of a ‘Soft-skills tick-box’ to being recognised as a key differentiator in a contact centre. Any emotional intelligence training is a key step to realising that differentiator.

How enhanced EQ skills impact your life

The other huge advantage with vulnerable customer training – especially at a time when everyone is dealing with more than their fair share of stuff outside work – is the overall benefit it can have on your life as a whole.

The more we get used to honing and developing those empathy skills in work, the more that will feed into our personal lives. When it comes to the psychology of communication, a bit of education around unconscious patterns and cues can raise our self-awareness and we can make choices to do things differently. The awareness piece sits at the heart of it.

See our training pages for more on delivering a great experience for vulnerable customers, and on emotional intelligence in the contact centre.