Key Steps to Addressing Customer Vulnerability in Digital World

February 13, 2023

4 min read

Dasha Fomin

vulnerable customers


When talking about digital businesses and the customer experience in the post-pandemic era, one cannot ignore that Covid-19 made us all feel vulnerable. Apart from health and economic crises, people were facing the unknown and dealing with stress – sometimes unbearable. Three years in and we carry on in different shades of crisis: with tech layoffs and looming recession. So, there are lots of people who are actually coping with difficult life situations. The FCA estimates that 27.7 million customers are now ‘vulnerable’, meaning they are likely to experience harm and have additional needs. Here we’d like to talk about what businesses can do to better understand and address customer vulnerabilities. And how technologies can help.

Register vulnerability


So, who is a vulnerable customer? FCA states it’s “an individual who, due to their circumstances, is especially susceptible to detriment, particularly when a firm is not acting with appropriate levels of care.” The condition can be temporary, sporadic or permanent and come in a range of guises: from poor health to cognitive impairments to low financial resilience or emotional shocks and low capabilities. This year’s FCA report stated that the overall proportion of UK adults with characteristics of vulnerability grew to 24.9 million as of May 2022. And these people live among us, buy products and use services.


That’s why registering a vulnerable customer is arguably the most important step to offering proper service. Still, just 4% of contact centre agents know what classifies such customers – DMA’s Contact Centre council reports. This is frustrating because brands’ reputations depend on frontline support staff’s abilities to handle sensitive issues. The next step is telling the difference between the shades of that vulnerability. Is it temporary or transitory? Because customer circumstances may change. Proper training will give first-line employees the confidence to know when and how to make reasonable adjustments for each customer. Having a customer well-being checklist at hand also helps with a timely assessment.


But they may be more likely to have additional or different needs which, if firms do not meet them, could limit their ability to make decisions or represent their own interests, putting them at greater risk of harm. So, the level of care that is appropriate for these consumers may be different from that for others.

Augment customer support

Still, even well-trained support staff might overlook signs of vulnerabilities. Or sometimes, agents concentrate too hard on helping customers and can’t pay attention to little details. In this case, businesses can augment employee capabilities with technologies.


Businesses can rely on behavioural analytics to search for signs of hesitant or impulsive behaviour. Voice recognition technology catches signs of distress in customers’ vocal input – even the way they breathe. All that can help understand customers’ conditions.

In fact, businesses can delegate vulnerability assessment to virtual agents. An AI-powered bot can recognise customers at risk using NLP and speech analytics and then transfer the call to a properly trained human agent if necessary.

Create stigma-free environment

Customers from stigmatised categories or with self-stigma are often less likely to ask for help or use certain services. While it’s a very complex issue that needs a lot of work on many different levels, there are some things businesses can do. While I’m a fierce believer in “a human needs a human approach”, sometimes new technologies really save the day for customer experience.


Embrace multimodality and meet your customers where it’s most comfortable for them: some prefer text-based communications and would rather use chatbots or a live chat, while others are used to phone calls and expect someone to pick up or at least arrange a callback.


Offer simple interfaces to people with limitations and learning disabilities. Thus, voice is the most natural form of communication, so adding voice search capabilities to your website can help customers discover what they need faster.


Address language barriers: often customers with heavy accents are left frustrated with the customer experience. Fortunately, there are solutions that allow for real-time accent translation. This can dramatically improve the contact centre experience.

Tailor situational customer treatment


Of course, a friendly conversation with the customer is the best way to find out the cause of the vulnerability. It may relate to health, resilience, financial capabilities, life events, or a combination of factors. Once the type of vulnerability is clear, businesses can suggest tailored opportunities for customers. For example, customers with low capabilities might need extra support and simplified information. In case of a significant life event, businesses can offer breathing space to ensure the potential vulnerability doesn’t worsen.


Naturally, it is time and resource-consuming for contact-centre agents to interview vulnerable customers. Not only does it require additional training, but it’s also often economically impossible to provide vulnerable customers with the treatment they need. One of the solutions may be scaling support employee expertise with a virtual assistant. An AI-powered contact centre agent can handle a hundred queries simultaneously and empower self-service to those who prefer it.

Offer guidance


Businesses can support vulnerable customers on their digital journey in a number of ways. The choice of solution will depend on a particular case. If customers lack confidence or have trouble accessing services or paying bills, educating them and providing support will dramatically improve their overall experience.


To educate their audiences, businesses can rely on a variety of options such as video, interactive tutorials or chatbots. For example, an AI-powered virtual assistant can notify customers who are behind on their payments in a friendly and subtle manner. If necessary, it can guide customers through the bill payment process or help prolong payment terms, without being overbearing or accusatory. Of course, organisations can customise and personalise their tools for individual customer needs.

Adding a guiding function to the customer experience can make a great difference even in such stigmatised industries as debt recovery.



Of course, addressing customer vulnerability is always a work in progress. As a society, we have a long way to go before we destigmatise certain groups. However, should you decide to augment your support staff capabilities with new technologies, scale their expertise with conversational interfaces or create a vulnerability-focused virtual assistant, you should always remember to be a human first.

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