Dealing with Vulnerable Consumers
The DMA has recently issued a white paper containing comprehensive guidelines to call centre staff that may deal with Vulnerable Consumers – ‘Guidelines for Contact Centres dealing with Vulnerable Consumers 2015’.
The guidelines were first published in 2012 but have been updated and re-published this month and will be an interesting read for all call centres and, indeed, any companies that engage in direct marketing.
Who are Vulnerable Consumers?
The guidelines set out how to identify and manage calls to Vulnerable Consumers. In the paper, the term Vulnerable Consumers applies to anyone who would ‘find it difficult to immediately make an informed decision about the choices offered to them’. This group of people includes those suffering a bereavement, disability, illness, and learning or language difficulties. It is meant as a framework to help companies produce and manage their own guidelines, training and procedures.
How the guidelines support sales and marketing personnel
The paper is a step by step guide which lays out practical information on how to identify a person who may be vulnerable, how to talk to them and how to alter course to accommodate their needs by means of an ‘alternative handling process’.
As well as information about how to be alerted to a vulnerability – lack of understanding/clarity/vague in response etc. – the advice also is clearly laid out and packed with common sense advice on dealing with the situation appropriately and respectfully, including: –
• Don’t rush them
• Speak clearly and enunciate
• Be patient
• Ask if everything has been understood
• Repeat all information as necessary
• Ask if there is anyone else they need to talk to before making the decision
• Offer the customer time to make a decision
• Offer alternatives to buying by phone for instance by post or email
The paper also lays out a framework for managers to build procedures tailored specifically to their business. These also include how to approach staff training and communications with staff so they are clear about the procedures that need to be followed in dealing with Vulnerable Consumers without discrimination.
The suggestions made in the paper include guidelines on positively supporting and rewarding staff who deal with situations sensitively, as well as ensuring the legality of all procedures.
Sadly, the guidelines have to point out that there should be a policy that prevents a consumer being signed up for the same service multiple times because there was a time when unscrupulous sales agents would, on identifying dementia do just this, making multiple sales on the same product.
A word to the wise
What struck both Steve and I forcibly when reading the guidelines is the fact that the guidelines – although tailored to avoid discrimination and worry to Vulnerable Consumers – could equally be used for all calls, to everyone. Respect and sensitivity should be the starting point and the rule, not the highest aspirations of best practice guidelines.