When it comes to spotting and serving vulnerable customers, all organisations need to make sure that they are doing the right thing. My previous article on this can be found here.

So once we are agreed this is a key focus of our time and investment; how can we help our front-line teams to be even more mindful of the signs and identify someone as a vulnerable customer? What skills and development do they need?

The answer is complex. It starts with skills and attributes such as listening, patience, empathy and compassion. It doesn’t simply take IQ. It takes EQ – Emotional Quotient: in simple terms EQ is “the ability to handle the emotions of yourself, of others, and to read what is going on around you”.

Having IQ alone doesn’t make you a great leader or a great contact centre advisor. It certainly helps to open doors, but it takes more to actually achieve real success in the workplace – it’s your self-awareness and ability to get along with colleagues and customers that will really count.

Most human beings have an automatic ability to use their right supramarginal gyrus – the part of their brain developed for cognitive empathy (to see something from another’s perspective). However, there are two further types of empathy, which are: social empathy (to feel what someone else does alongside them – which is about being in rapport) and compassionate empathy (to react to that emotion and want to help them – the drive for taking ownership and solving customer issues).

This is a scientific way of saying, we all have the ability to tune in, connect and show compassion, and we don’t need specific knowledge to do this. Anyone whose brain functions are typical will have the ability to feel when something isn’t right and will instinctively want to help.

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So why do we need the FCA to tell us we should be doing more?

Often it’s because of commercial pressures driven by counter-intuitive targets and KPIs, coupled with a lack of systems and processes that consider and manage vulnerability properly. Combined, these elements drive a culture that short-circuits that natural human instinct and forces the advisor to worry more about self-preservation – “I have KPIs to meet, so I’m going to ignore my instincts and just follow the process.”

With an ageing population, austerity still biting and more awareness around mental health, this issue is already bigger than it’s ever been. And let’s not forget, it isn’t just that vulnerable customer that you stand to lose. It’s possibly their entire family and social network too.

So, while it is true that some advisors may need help in order to learn how to spot vulnerability and how to handle it effectively, that development will be largely useless if the organisation doesn’t demonstrate a consistent culture to prioritise vulnerability and empower its people to make those individual judgement calls. This is much more than just a lip-service training course.

Next, if your advisors have already all developed Olympic-level empathy…which means they can consistently feel and internalise what vulnerable customers are feeling and show that they accurately interpret what matters to them and what needs to happen next – there can be a downside. The energy this requires can also impact their resilience to handle this in multiple conversations every shift. Therefore looking after our front-line teams is critical. Supporting their emotions at work with great leadership and coaching, pleasant working environments, wellbeing support and development opportunities, makes a huge impact.

When we need to give attentive energy to others, it starts with ourselves. If we are feeling calm and happy, it can hugely benefit our ability to have a positive and patient interaction with others and avoid escalations and complaints.

Contact centres often get overlooked for some of the workplace benefits that can be on offer due to the inflexibility of the operation, so evaluating what else can be done for your front-line teams to help them feel calm and happy at work can be one first step in supporting their emotional intelligence.

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If you would like further information on facilitated or digital solutions to develop emotional intelligence and vulnerable customer management, please feel free to contact us.

To find out how the performance of your contact centre could be enhanced through bespoke classroom or digital training, email info@emberrealresults.com or telephone +44 (0) 20 7871 9797

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Carolyn Blunt

Director of Learning Solutions

After completing a degree in Management Sciences at Manchester University and a post-graduate Diploma in People Management (CIPD), Carolyn worked in HR and L&D for both large and small employers before becoming an in-house Training Consultant at Fujitsu Services in the Service Desk division. In 2003 Carolyn set up Real Results Training Consultancy and remained very much in the world of Service Desks, Contact Centres and Customer Services, working with clients such as United Utilities, Bupa, Serco and the Co-operative Insurance, designing both front-line and leadership programmes and huge culture change programmes. As well as running the company, Carolyn still loves to get stuck in with clients and relishes training design, delivery, coaching and speaking engagements. In her downtime, Carolyn enjoys relaxing with her family and horses.

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