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20 Business Leaders Share How Call Centers Can Address Increased Customer Vulnerability

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The Team at CallMiner

February 04, 2021

young couple receiving foreclosure notice letter, man on phone

More customers are vulnerable today than ever before, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has led to increase in health and financial crises. While customer vulnerability isn’t new, it’s time companies take action to identify vulnerable customers and implement solutions to better equip company representatives and customer service agents to interact with customers experiencing vulnerability.

More effectively identifying and managing customer vulnerability isn’t just a benefit for consumers, companies that can successfully support vulnerable customers deliver better customer service and improve customer retention and loyalty.

Download our white paper, The Vulnerability Blueprint: How to Identify, Support and Retain Vulnerable Customers, to learn more about how your organization can identify and support vulnerable customers.

To learn more about how call centers can address customer vulnerability, we reached out to a panel of call center experts and business leaders and asked them to answer this question:

“How can contact centers address increased customer vulnerability?”

Read on to learn what our experts had to say about the most important steps call centers can take to address an increase in customer vulnerability.

Kevin Lee

@JourneyPure

Kevin Lee is the CEO of JourneyPure.

“One thing contact centers need to get better at is…”

Identifying vulnerable customers so that agents can take the appropriate course of action. Firstly, contact centers can make use of call analytics software to analyze past call recordings and use them to train agents how to identify vulnerable customers. Call analytics can often identify keywords and phrases that a customer may use when they are vulnerable so that agents know what to look out for and when to be on the alert when they hear the customers use certain keywords.

Call center managers and supervisors need to train agents on the course of action to take for a vulnerable customer, and they also need to communicate regular feedback to agents to help them get better.

Adrian Travis

@trindent

Adrian Travis is the Founder and President of Trindent Consulting.

“The pandemic has made it difficult for customers to establish contact with many businesses and government departments…”

Often, the only way a customer can contact an organization is through the contact center. Despite the pandemic, customers have retained the expectation that if they call you, you’ll be there for them.

Now more than ever, organizations need to actively manage the Average-Speed-of-Answer (ASA) metric. Many client organizations were caught flat-footed with the migration to a work-from-home environment, lacking the technology and capability to handle calls remotely. In the case of especially important customer inquiries, a customer’s inability to reach an agent results in multiple call attempts, which injects unnecessary call volume. We are also seeing that when persistent customers’ attempts to reach an agent fail, there have been unfortunate instances of hostility when they finally do.

Our recommendations in this circumstance are typically to dramatically rethink call routing, menu options and agent staffing to maximize ASA. As well, a specific focus on compressing Average Handle Times (AHT) allows organizations to maximize their limited capacity. If human connection and empathy is central to the customer experience, the ultimate objective is answering the call.

Jeanine Duval

Jeanine Duval is the co-founder at Edelwyn.

“It’s important for both contact centers and customers to build a long-term relationship rather than a short, transaction-based one…”

That way, contact centers have a chance to have close conversations with customers in which they can address feelings of isolation and increased vulnerability. Especially when for some, it’s easier to talk about their feelings on the phone instead of face-to-face.

When someone from a contact center notices that the customer is open for a longer conversation, they should take that chance. Often, the best way is to listen to someone and allow them to talk about it, rather than asking direct questions. Being there, even if it’s on the phone, is a great way to support each other.

Yaniv Masjedi

@YanivMasjedi

Yaniv Masjedi is the Chief Marketing Officer of Nextiva.

“Contact centers can offer a flexible payment plan for their clients…”

With a flexible payment plan, consumers only pay a percentage of their actual bill during their vulnerable period. Doing so ensures clients can still avail of the company’s services without fully draining their finances.

When the client manages to become financially stable again, they can pay the amount due. The delayed payment can either have an interest or not, depending on the two parties’ discussion.

Carol Tompkins

@accountsportal

Carol Tompkins is the Business Development Consultant at AccountsPortal.

“Now more than ever, contact centers need to remain reachable…”

And they need to ensure that all of their agents treat each customer that reaches out with empathy and care.

Contact centers also need to communicate the issues raised and problems faced by financially vulnerable customers to their managers as soon as possible so that practical, flexible solutions can be developed, implemented, and communicated to the vulnerable customers.

Andrew Roderick

@creditrepaircos

Andrew Roderick is the CEO of CreditRepairCompanies.com.

“Dedicate your calls to empathy and understanding…”

In a world of finance, many customers will be needing help in a difficult time. To get ahead of your competitors, engage with your customers and show them the empathy that they need at this time. Engage with them on the phone to understand what their real situation is and work with them to find a way to resolve the situation. As the whole world isolates, it is your contact center that is going to ensure that your business does not get isolated from your customers.

Courtney Quigley

@rizereviews

Courtney Quingley is a Reputation Consultant from Rize Reviews.

“Let customers realize that throughout this tough period, the business acknowledges…”

The desperate social conditions at stake and worries about more than just gaining income. Understand and sympathize with those impacted by COVID-19, and illustrate the actions you implement to support consumers, workers, and other stakeholders. The business’s social networking sites and client mailing lists are perfect mechanisms for doing this.

Keep the message short and classy by engaging with the client on what you can give them. While customers definitely care for your company’s softer hand, don’t exaggerate it. Consumers will eventually worry more about the quality you offer them. Often, it may appear inauthentic to show so much emotion, and you risk fading into the melody of other businesses making the same point.

Ian Kelly

@NuLeafNaturals

Ian Kelly is the VP of Operations at NuLeaf Naturals.

“Addressing increased vulnerability will take training…”

Simply put, right now there is a sharp increase in that vulnerability that goes beyond the usual curriculum.

While staff may be prepared to handle one or two of these calls per shift, they now have to summon the empathy, stamina and professionalism to deal with three or four times the amount of difficult calls. These are calls that require intense emotional labor and extra care to delay bills or adjust in some way to give the customer some safety net.

Some new concerns, likely related to job loss or health, will be popping up, and these should be noted and emphasized in training. There will also be some common narratives that call center employees can prepare to tackle, such as narratives around layoffs, evictions or moving out of state due to the virus.

This is why recording calls and messages is so important. You can use AI to comb through and find the common themes and analyze which trends you need to prepare your reps to handle.

John Cho

John Cho is the Founder of My Pet Child.

“To address the growing vulnerability in call center customer bases…”

Coaching needs to happen in real time from management. The increase in special cases is growing too fast given the current global pandemic, and this requires more attention and guidance for call center employees than previously. This also gives management an opportunity to observe firsthand which subjects and needs are being brought up most. They can then incorporate serving customers with these specific vulnerabilities into training.

Eric Sachs

@Sachs_Marketing

Eric Sachs is the CEO at Sachs Marketing Group.

“Contact centers need to look at three opportunities for customer vulnerability and approaches to alleviate the risk…”

First, know your audience. During a stressful climate like the pandemic, already vulnerable demographics are experiencing increased vulnerability, and some new demographics are joining them.

Older citizens, the unhealthy, and those in low-income areas have always been targets for social engineering. They’re seen as easy targets because of their levels of economic stress or their inability to pick up on a dangerous scam. Now, so many more people are experiencing increased vulnerability, and hackers and social engineering cybercriminals are very aware.

Second, inform customers of what you’ll never ask of them. Do your customers a favor and let them know via email or on your website that you’ll never ask for certain types of information or that all of your information will come from this contact address. You can also inform them of their increased vulnerability.

Third, beef up your own security. Start with enforcing your security checks and teaching your agents how and why this needs to happen. Give them examples of social engineering attempts they may experience, such as rushed mothers, private customers who don’t want to share information, etc. Show them how easy it can be to allow someone to access the wrong information.

Nika Filipkova

@SupportYourApp

Nika Filipkova is the Chief Customer Officer at SupportYourApp.

“At SupportYourApp, we believe that intensive training is the key to success…”

All of our consultants undergo comprehensive training to enable them to deal with all kinds of situations.

With increasing vulnerability in our client bases, consultants need to identify vulnerable customers and provide the assistance that they require appropriately.

To Identify Vulnerable Clients

Consultants must listen carefully to the client to pick up signs of vulnerability. Look for:

  • Unfocused questions or points not related to the issue.
  • Constant repetition.
  • Little interaction or slow response times.
  • Signs that the person feels distressed or flustered.
  • Little hints that the client agrees with everything to hide the fact that they don’t understand. Clients say things like, “I’ve never dealt with this on my own before.”

Provide the Information in the Most Appropriate Way

It’s never appropriate to assume anything. It’s also not correct to let on that you feel that the client is vulnerable. It’s best to ask the client what format they prefer to communicate in.

At SupportYourApp, we provide support via telephone, email, text, co-browsing, and social media. This allows our vulnerable clients to choose the medium that’s most appropriate for them.

Our team members gently steer the conversation so that it stays on topic. When they’ve arrived at a solution, they provide a basic outline to allow the vulnerable customer to understand the steps they’ll follow next.

Grant Aldrich

@onlinedegreecom

Grant Aldrich is the Founder and CEO of OnlineDegree.com.

“If reports and feedback show increased vulnerability within the customer base…”

Training might be appropriate for the agents. Vulnerable customer training can help agents talk to vulnerable customers due to age, poor health, minority status, or infirmity.

Providing training on vulnerable customers helps agents feel more confident when talking to a wide range of customers. It can also make your customer-retention base more diverse and inclusive if the agents can successfully speak to more sensitive people. It will help them learn how to spot a vulnerable customer and meet their needs without being condescending.

Caroline Lee

@cocosign_online

Caroline is the growth marketer and co-founder of CocoSign.

“With the widespread impact of COVID-19, the number of potentially vulnerable customers has increased…”

Since it is hard to get in touch with customers face to face, the best way to engage with them is to contact them via phone. The contact center seems to be an effective platform to talk to customers directly and address their needs.

In order to come up with a better result, you need to make sure all the agents are professional across common areas such as quality, customer satisfaction, process adherence, sentiment, and vulnerability risk assessment. The agents should have the ability to recognize and manage customer vulnerability, which ultimately helps to drive customer lifetime value and shows their understanding to customers. It is important to provide flexible solutions when dealing with customers’ problems.

Chris Laan

@DesignerShedsAU

Chris Laan is the Founder of Designer Sheds.

“One thing I’d keep in mind going forward regarding contact centers is…”

The importance of an omnichannel strategy, particularly when it comes to ‘outdated’ methods of communication. Right now, you’re hearing from first-time customers who probably never thought they’d even contact you as recently as last year.

You may have a well-built contact center that focuses on email queries and chatbots at the detriment of live answering services. If that’s the case, you’re simply silencing a good deal of your vulnerable customers by not offering the right path toward communication.

There are chances here to use new technology to diminish the impact of vulnerability. Video calls are one great way to bring more customers into a direct line of communication with your team. There will be growing pains at first, but those are expected – and far preferable to losing sales due to a lack of easily accessible service.

Michael Stahl

@SERVPRO

Michael Stahl is the chief marketing officer of SERVPRO.

“Empathy is always a must for contact centers, and it is perhaps more important now than ever before…”

Ensuring that your staff are prepared to listen openly and willingly try to help customers when they reach out is crucial right now. This year has been incredibly difficult for millions – people have been ill, they’ve lost jobs, they’ve lost family members or friends, they’ve lost livelihoods. People need help, so ensuring that your contact center can provide that to the best of your ability during these trying times is critical to ensure customers don’t lose faith in your services, products or brand. If that requires specific training for your staff or changes to call scripts to further show you are there for your customers, then that should absolutely be done. It is something our business does frequently, as every call we get is from someone in a state of vulnerability – whether they have had a house fire, flooding, storm damage, vandalism or COVID-19 exposure.

Jake Hill

@HammerDebt

Jake Hill is the CEO of DebtHammer.

“It’s the nature of our business that we’re often dealing with people who are very vulnerable, either by circumstance or systemic issues…”

Our agents are trained to tread carefully and use empathy above all else to help people. When you’re dealing with finances, the worst thing you can do is railroad someone and not actually listen to their concerns and insecurities.

Organizations that are now dealing with a greater influx of vulnerable customers need to closely monitor their agents and ensure they’re handling situations delicately. If they aren’t, training is in order.

Jonathan Newar

@cptnexperiences

Jonathan Newar is the CEO of Captain Experiences.

“The new normal isn’t so normal…”

As far as dealing with vulnerable customers, the climate we are living in is changing so rapidly that it can seem impossible to keep up with customers’ needs in this regard. What can be done is constantly assessing and analyzing phone calls. This can be done in real time by a supervisor who can give immediate feedback to the agent. Or, there is artificial intelligence that can analyze calls for you. AI solutions are great because they can look at certain words customers are using, even long pauses in the conversation. This can help you get a grasp on the issues that are coming up more and more and better plan for responses to them.

James Boatwright

@TheCodeGalaxy

James Boatwright is the CEO of Code Galaxy.

“Customer service is getting trickier and trickier, as well as more and more important…”

When people are having a hard time, a bad call can really put someone off balance and disrupt them. We have to acknowledge that things are a bit fragile right now, and your customers might be as well. Debriefing with call agents is really helpful. Sit down and discuss certain calls and what the challenges were and then talk out better ways they could have been handled, while still giving credit to the agent for their in-the-moment responses that were probably difficult.

Dennis Bell

Dennis Bell is the Founder and CEO of Byblos Coffee.

“In my company, assessing and analyzing customers’ vulnerability is of high importance…”

It prevents any risk and damage to my organization’s reputation. It’s hard to identify vulnerabilities, but using artificial intelligence is helpful. Contact centers can use AI to analyze words, phrases, and behaviors. It can even analyze periods of silence where there might be agitation from the customer. It can help them understand recurring conversations, which helps to better train employees to provide support to customers. Your employees must be ready to handle contacts from vulnerable customers and can pick up any signs of vulnerability in their interaction. Through this, they can adjust their customer engagement processes accordingly. When signs of vulnerability have been identified, your employee can take proactive steps to make the experience less stressful for the customer.

Identifying and understanding vulnerable customers is crucial for customer retention. Artificial intelligence can help improve the accuracy of customer vulnerability assessment and allows you to implement better strategies to enhance satisfaction for both customers and agents.

Ben Reynolds

@SureDividend

Ben Reynolds is the CEO and Founder at Sure Dividend.

“Contact centers can utilize AI to analyze words, phrases, pauses, and other customer behaviors they portray through the call that agents might not pick up on…”

It can help individual agents improve on identifying vulnerable customers as they comprehend patterns more quickly and handle customers according to their specified vulnerability.

This can make things progress more quickly in recognizing more vulnerable customers in the future and knowing how to be more empathetic, especially with more vulnerable customers during COVID-19.

Improving and making even the most challenging calls easier to handle can also increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.

 

What steps are you taking to identify and address increased customer vulnerability in your call center?

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The Vulnerability Blueprint: How to Identify, Support & Retain Vulnerable Customers

Learn how to identify, support & retain vulnerable customers