On the 23rd November 2023 we brought together 8 lived experts from our Lived Experts Research Community and over 60 business participants to explore what matters most to ‘customers in vulnerable circumstances’.
Together, the lived experts had experience of a range of different circumstances…
We spent most of the session in three breakout groups where the lived experts shared their experiences, good and bad, of interacting with businesses in a range of different sectors.
From these conversations, we heard that ‘customers in vulnerable circumstances’ want…
- To interact with people in businesses who have the freedom to be human. All too often the systems people are operating within force them to act against their natural instincts. Two contrasting experiences for a bereaved customer in credit card debt illustrated this clearly – despite seeking the same outcome one company was “amazing”, while the other “literally phoned me every other Sunday morning at 8am…it was consistently re-traumatising. It wasn’t the fault of the people asking the questions, it was the system.”
- To know that there is a safe space to disclose their circumstances if they choose. Ultimately it is the customer’s choice – “it’s my decision at the end of the day to come and tell you what’s happened in my life and my story, but I want to know that there is a safe space for me to be able to do that and there is a person on the other end of the phone who is not going to judge me.” A survivor of economic abuse spoke of a similar fear of being judged when asking if she would share her circumstances with her bank – “if they were understanding and going to use it in any way then yes but if they are going to see me as less or do the judgment thing then no… [these are] attitudes we need to address.”
- More understanding of needs for those with less visible circumstances. Small things for those who have hidden disabilities can make a big difference. One neurodivergent lived expert explained how her ADHD causes memory issues, however, “when I have shared that I have a memory issue, I have never had a company do anything about it to help”. “Sometimes they say they make conversation notes, but the next time I call I have to go through my situation again… Sometimes when I tell someone I have ADHD, they don’t know what that means.”
- For customer service to strike a balance between empathy and efficiency. People who have experienced a life shock, such as a bereavement, illness or redundancy, need two types of reassurance: that they are being listened to and understood; and that their situation is being dealt with efficiently and proactively, without them having to chase. “For me what I wanted was somebody to say ‘I’ve got this bit for you, that’s fine, we can do this, let me go off and do this, and I’ll come back and tell you when it’s done…”
- To not assume that sign-posting / workarounds are the end of the story. One lived expert in a wheelchair shared how accessibility is a huge barrier in his day-to-day life – so much so, that he described his feelings of relief when the things most people take for granted go right. At one station on the London Underground, after much arguing, the team’s solution was to book him a taxi and to tell him not to use that station in the future as the issue was with him and his wheelchair. “It just caused me a lot of stress. And then when I went up to wait for the taxi, the driver cancelled it. I started getting chest pains and I ended up in A&E, all because they wouldn’t get me a ramp”.
- For complaints not to require so much from the person complaining. Customers usually only get in touch when there is something wrong, not when everything is going well. Yet getting a timely solution to a problem often relies on the customer being persistent and investing considerable time – this asks a lot of anyone but is particularly challenging for those with vulnerabilities. One disabled customer described his experience of dealing with a food delivery app – “I had to start threatening them with action – I’ll put it all over social media, what are you doing to vulnerable people, I will contact the CEO etc. – and all of a sudden it went ‘bing, you’ve had a refund’ but there was no apology for anything, nothing.”
Inspired by these conversations, the business participants each shared three words that captured what mattered most to ‘customers in vulnerable circumstances’.
These discussions give just a taster of the depth of insight that comes from engaging directly with customers in a diverse range of circumstances. There is so much more to learn from the lived experts in our Community – people who want their voices heard in business and whose ideas can help you to shape better services and customer experiences.
Our work in this area includes:
- In-depth insight sessions with lived experts to help you learn about, and act upon, particular vulnerability circumstances
- ‘Pop up’ panels of lived experts with a range of circumstances in their lives to provide their views, come up with ideas and test solutions
- Inclusive design panels, made up of lived experts, to help shape and develop services
- Innovation processes involving charities and lived experts