Updates from across the region

Supporting Vulnerable Customers

How the NI contact centre industry is

supporting vulnerable customers

1 March 2021

At the start of 2021 we engaged with Contact Centre Network NI members to ask what their key areas of focus were and what topics they felt were important to benchmark with other members. One that stood out significantly was the best way to support vulnerable customers through the pandemic and beyond. We set up a virtual round table meeting with members across various sectors focussed on two key areas; firstly, how to identify a vulnerable customer and secondly the processes, innovations and services in place to support those customers.

Our members agreed that the term vulnerable was wide reaching, that customers circumstances can change at any given time and therefore vulnerability can be temporary as well as long term. Furthermore, vulnerability cannot always be seen or heard and these combinations of factors make it challenging to identify a vulnerable customer without having a clearly defined process in place.

The FCA identifies four key drivers of vulnerability:

Health – any long-term disability, impairment or illness such blindness, deafness, infirmity, speech impairment, age-related conditions, and learning disability.

Life events – major life events such as bereavement, loss of employment or relationship breakdown.

Resilience – low ability to withstand financial or emotional shocks due to indebtedness, lack of support structure or a disempowered status.

Capability – lack of knowledge of financial matters, digital skills or low confidence in managing money.

The meeting held an open discussion on the approach members are taking to ensure that supporting vulnerable customers is at the top of the agenda. This included multiple new innovations and channels being developed specifically to support this group of customers. 

Some standout initiatives included:

  • The introduction of a vulnerable line based on age: Priority access for people 60+, this age bracket has been lowered to be more inclusive for those people who may have traditionally visited branches rather than phone customer service.

  • Support for those who are shielding and rely on sterling, businesses are offering delivery of cash directly to customers. This is particularly helpful for elderly/vulnerable people struggling to leave the house.

  • Banking my way – allows the customer to provide specific information so that services can be tailored to their needs. The information will be shared via internal systems meaning the customer doesn’t have to repeat these requirements at every interaction.

  • Partnerships with specialist organisations such as Advice NI, MindWise, Alzheimer’s Society, The Samaritans etc, and signposting those who are experiencing particularly challenging times to such organisations was considered a way of supporting customers with long term solutions.

  • JAM – Just A Minute initiative for customers who might need extra support or time for communication.

  • The ability to create unique customer profiles, allowing people who need extra support to specify their requirements and channel of choice and get priority access via their preferred channel.

  • Pro-actively reassessing individual policies taking into account the implications of the pandemic to avoid cancellations and help to identify and support potentially new vulnerable customers.

Staff Training

Staff training and education were identified as a key driver to success when identifying vulnerable customers and delivering the best standards of service. This included soft skills and emotional intelligence. Regardless of an individual’s challenges or difficulties, dealing with a human who is patient, understanding and empathic will improve their experience.

It is essential that call handlers are able to quickly identify signals of vulnerability in any customer interaction so that they may adjust their processes accordingly. Full support should be given to staff on how to deal with these situations. Some organisations had set up dedicated teams or champions who oversaw the support of vulnerable customers. They selected agents who were empathetic, patient and with strong listening skills to manage these calls.

The main customer request was “be patient with me” and so having a dedicated team to handle their enquiries means they can take their time and offer support in the customer’s chosen method of communication.

It was noted that levels of vulnerability among customers had been exacerbated by the pandemic with more people facing financial difficulties, bereavement as well as other challenges such as lack of digital skills and mental health conditions. For this reason, regular, ongoing staff training is recommended to support the identification and support of vulnerable customers, complimented by technology such as voice analytics software and other innovative solutions like customer profiling, to ensure the best possible results.

Ultimately, we could all be a vulnerable customer at some stage in our lives and therefore building services around the needs of those customers is essential and should be priority of every operation.

It was fantastic to see the commitment of our members, from the innovations already in place to the continuous development being done behind the scenes.

We’re strong believers that engagement between sectors within the contact centre industry to share best practice and learnings will play an integral role in how we collectively raise standards across the industry. Stay up to date with our calendar of events and training sessions 


Membership is open to any contact centre, shared service centre or IT helpdesk based in Northern Ireland. Membership also available to associates and suppliers to the contact centre industry.

For more details view our membership page.

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