Identifying Vulnerable Consumers
In order to address the needs of vulnerable consumers correctly it is important for us to be able to identify them. Risk factors can include bereavement, illiteracy, illness, disability or other impairment. In many cases more than one risk factor is present which increases the consumer’s vulnerability.
We are alert to the signs that the person we are talking to may not have the capacity, at that moment in time, to make an informed decision about the implications of the offer/agreement that they are being asked to make. This is not a diagnosis of a condition, it is just an extension of our existing skill of listening, identifying needs, and adjusting their approach accordingly.
The Mental Capacity Act says that a person is unable to make a specific decision if they cannot understand information about the decision to be made, cannot retain that information in their mind, cannot use or weigh that information as part of the decision-making process, or cannot communicate their decision.
Easi-Drive’s core values have always included values that apply to vulnerable people, such as Keep it simple, Compassion, Flexibility and Excellent communication. We aim at ensuring that we help and support older and more vulnerable customers:
- Share information about the customer’s situation with the appropriate people using our flexible systems effectively.
- Understand the customer’s needs and concerns, demonstrating compassion.
- Be Patient and take time to listen and to facilitate a proper conversation so the customer’s situation and concerns are fully understood and appropriate actions are taken.
- Primary Contact must be appointed for that customer’s case, ensuring consistency and familiarity for the customer.
- Observe the risk factors and triggers that create a need for help and advice and involve other staff or organisations that can provide help.
- Reward good practice in relation to vulnerable customers and recognise and praise it.
- Train all frontline staff to identify a vulnerable customer and to deal with the situation appropriately.
- Involve and communicate with all parties to the claim and ensure that they are aware of the issues and needs of the customer and are kept up to date.
- Use No Jargon, just clear and simple information and language, avoiding industry terminology.
- Give time and effort with regular and appropriate updates to the customer and relevant parties.
We look for signs such as:
- They ask you to speak up or speak more slowly
- Can they hear the complete conversation or are they missing important bits?
- Do they understand what we are saying?
- They appear confused
- Do they know what is being discussed?
- Do they ask unrelated questions?
- Do they keep wandering off the point in the discussion and talking about irrelevancies or things that don’t make sense?
- Do they keep repeating themselves?
- Do they say ‘Yes’ in answer to a question when it is clear they haven’t listened or understood?
- They take a long time to get to the phone and sound flustered or out of breath, indicating they may have a lack of mobility due to age or illness
- They take a long time to answer questions. They say “My son/daughter/wife/husband deals with these things for me”
- Where there is a language barrier they are vulnerable as they may not fully understand what is being said to them
- They say that they don’t understand their bill, a previous phone conversation or recent correspondence.
When Talking To Vulnerable Consumers
We aim to:
- Speak clearly and enunciate
- Set expectations for the call – outline all the information that will be required – account numbers, personal details, etc. – and how long the call is likely to last
- Be patient / empathise
- Not to rush them – if they need to put the phone down to find account details it could take them some time
- Guide the call to keep it ‘on topic’ – we constantly train on how to do this
- Not assume that we know what the consumer needs – it’s easy to rush through if the consumer is slow or not able to explain what they need
- Ask the consumer to explain to us what they understand the agreement to be
- Offer alternatives to dealing with things by phone – maybe they would prefer to transact the business by post or email
- Not to assume that the person we are talking to is sighted – they may be unable to read serial numbers or statement details
- Not to assume that the person we are talking to can hear everything you are saying – they may have a hearing impairment
- Remember that vulnerable consumers can sometimes be forgetful or overly trusting
- Give the consumer time to explain fully – don’t interrupt or show impatience
- Listen for what isn’t being said, not just what is – e.g. absence of price, commitment, timing type questions on the part of the person receiving the call should ring alarm bells
- Ask if there is a better time to call – e.g. some people will function better in afternoons than mornings
- Ask whether there is anyone else they need to talk to before making an enquiry.
Before Forwarding the Client to the Claim Specialist
- We ask yourself honestly whether a ‘yes’ is real agreement or just submission
- We consider whether the customer demonstrates that they have a general understanding of what decision they need to make and why they need to make it. Do they understand the consequences of making, or not making, this decision? Can they understand and process information about the decision? And can they use it to help them make a decision?
- We are careful to distinguish between verbal cues and agreement e.g. ‘oh yes’ could mean ‘I’m listening’ not ‘I’d like to go ahead’
- We ask the following questions: “do you need to discuss this with anyone else” / “would you like me to explain any part of this call again” / “did you want to think about this before making a decision” / “is there anything we can do to help you deal with us”
- If they say something that suggests they don’t fully understand what we have said, we are prepared to repeat or paraphrase to clarify understanding
- Not to assume that they fully understand all the implications of the offer/agreement. Explicitly and clearly confirm all the important information
- Make sure that the consumer is not flustered, agitated or in an emotional state when they make a decision
- We suggest that they talk it through with someone else and offer to ring them back. Where appropriate suggest that a guardian or carer could be present on the call
- We can arrange to send details of the offer/agreement/enquiry in the post or by email for them to consider, what format does the consumer require e.g. Braille, Large Print or Audio?
- Offer to ‘patch in’ a trusted third-party carer or family member, to the call if this would help.
What Our Staff Do When a Vulnerable Client Is Identified
- Once a vulnerable client has been identified, or the staff member reasonably believes that he/she is dealing with a vulnerable client, they should immediately refer the matter to their Team Leader who must then review the service provided.
- The Team Leader must satisfy him or herself that the client has particular needs, to ensure future communications are tailored to those needs. All staff are then under a duty to identify those client’s needs and vulnerabilities each time they are spoken with to ensure consistency of service.
- DPA 1998 requires that any information stored must be recorded with the full knowledge and consent of the client, and must be kept accurate and up to date. If the communication needs of an individual are due to a disability e.g. needs to be contacted by telephone only as they are blind, care must be taken about the recording of any medical data, as it is classed as sensitive and personal, and has to be checked for accuracy. It should be relevant but not excessive. The data will be deleted when the relationship no longer exists between Easi Drive and the client.
- A client’s circumstances can change so be aware of the fact that a client might be telling you that they now have recent health issues which would warrant handling them as a vulnerable client, and again the case should be escalated to the Team Leader.
- If a client does not want to be called again as a direct result of their incapacity or health issues, then the matter is referred to the Team Leader to respond with suggestions of alternative means of communication, to the client’s satisfaction.
- When a problem occurs as a result of the client’s incapacity, and perhaps lack of understanding, the Team Leader will have systems in place to track back and listen to calls to find out where the misunderstanding took place and identify what procedural changes or additional training is required to prevent it happening again.
- In some cases vulnerable clients will not have the capacity to make the decisions that are required to set up or administer their enquiry/account. The staff member will try to identify a carer or someone who is authorised to act on behalf of that. Evidence must be provided of that authority to act, along with appropriate ID, before any further private or confidential information is passed to that person.
- Ensure that authorised persons know exactly what is expected of them.
- We log client information into a database, where all future references by staff can be made, in order to tailor our service to the client’s needs.
- We have a rating system in place to classify the quality of the communication that was achieved with the consumer to determine whether they completely understood everything that was discussed.