Vulnerable customers – an agent’s view (Part 3)

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Capita Customer Management 31st August 2017 3 minute read

Vulnerable customers – an agent’s view (Part 3)

In our August 2017 edition of Intelligence, three Capita agents consider the issues around vulnerable customers from the other side of the phone. Abbey Glover is an advisor for one of our utilities clients. She has particular experience in working with vulnerable customers, and often trains other agents and new starters, helping them develop their skills in this complex and challenging area. Read on to hear Abbey's views.

When it comes to looking for signs of vulnerability there is a very large scope. Disability has many different forms that may not have been recognised by previous agents so might not appear on our screen prompts. It’s only by having an open and honest conversation with the customer that we can establish their vulnerabilities.

The signs you pick up on may include direct comments made by customers, but equally it can be about their overall attitude on the call.

Some customers come across as angry. That might just be a sign of dissatisfaction, but it could mean the customer is having a hard time in their personal life and that’s affecting their state of mind. Some may cry. Others may tell you their life story because they’re lonely and need someone to speak to. And there will be a lot of verbal clues such as being told I can’t bend, I can’t see my meter, I can’t get to the shop, I’ve got no money…

Other times it may be less obvious, like hearing them talking to children, or hearing huffs and puffs in the background when they’re moving about, maybe identifying mobility issues.

Overall you have to have a good sense of being able to judge someone’s character and situation over the phone, but at the same time try not to make assumptions.

The biggest secret to handling this type of call well is quite simply to be a good listener. A larger percentage of this job is to listen to our customers, to pick up on what they’re saying and register it. At the end of the day we’re not robots, we’re human beings too. We also pay for our energy and we may have money problems and life problems; we could do with someone to listen to us too sometimes! So a big part of the job isn’t just about dealing with meters and complaints but also about being a mini therapist to customers and making them feel valued and understood, even if it’s just for 5 minutes.

I think from a client point of view it’s easy to listen to calls and assume what’s right for the customer – but what’s right for one person might not be right for the next. No two people are the same. It’s always going to be a difficult conversation to have with a stranger about what is happening in their life and circumstances. For example, a customer wouldn’t walk up to a stranger and say ‘are you disabled?’, so customers don’t expect to be asked such probing questions by a gas and electricity company.

I honestly think the best advice you can give anyone dealing with a vulnerable customer over the phone is not to make assumptions, deal in facts, appreciate that every call and every customer is different and remember to be human.

To read the full interview with Abbey and learn more about how to identify vulnerable customers, check out the August 2017 edition of Intelligence, available on our Intelligence report hub.

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