How to Understand and Identify Vulnerable Customers in a Contact Centre

For any organization, understanding and identifying vulnerable customers in a contact centre can be crucial for customer retention, preventing any risk of damage to these customers or the organization’s own reputation. However, customer vulnerability can be difficult to define, and even harder to identify. This situation is clearly reflected in much of the diagnosis and provision on customer vulnerability in sectors such as financial services.

Furthermore, lacking the effective means to address the issue also translates to a demoralized staff at a contact centre, which may feel unsupported when trying to properly facilitate challenging customers.

In this guide, we will educate you on ways of identifying vulnerable customers in a contact centre and how emerging processes like voice analytics can help deliver better outcomes in this regard.

Identifying Vulnerable Customers – Types and Warning Signs

The FCA identifies four key drivers of vulnerability, namely:

  • Health –any long-term disability, impairment or illness such blindness, deafness, infirmity, speech impairment, age-related conditions, and learning disability.
  • Life events – major life events such as bereavement, loss of employment or relationship breakdown
  • Resilience – low ability to withstand financial or emotional shocks such as due to indebtedness, lack of support structure or a disempowered status.
  • Capability – low knowledge of financial matters, lack of digital skills or low confidence in managing money.

Customer vulnerability can be described as of two distinct states – actual and potential.

Actual customer vulnerability is easier to define and is normally permanent but may also be transient as customer circumstances tend to constantly change.

Potential customer vulnerability is an exceptionally broad category and is far more challenging to define and identify. They can hit at any time and if not promptly made aware of such an issue, lack of appropriate responsive processes by the contact centre staff can aggravate the vulnerable customer, heighten tension levels and worsen the situation.

To ensure that your staff is ready to handle contacts from vulnerable customers, it is essential that they are able to quickly pick up signals of vulnerability in any interaction so that they may adjust their customer engagement processes accordingly. As a simple best practice, for identifying vulnerable customers, a call agent should first proceed with CARE – picking up four signs under this acronym to assess customer vulnerability.

  • Comprehend – Is the customer able to follow and understand the discussion taking place?
  • Assess – Is the customer able to work out what they are being told?
  • Retain – Is the customer able to retain the information you give them? Do you have to repeat what you have said frequently?
  • Evaluate – Is the customer able to properly express, explain or communicate their decisions? Are they genuinely contributing to the discussion or merely agreeing with what you are saying?

Within these four signs, there are several ‘prompts’ that a customer may give off highlighting their vulnerability. Some of the most frequent ones include:

  • Constant repetitiveness on the part of the customer
  • Asking unrelated questions and making irrelevant points
  • A simple “yes” response to every question, even contradictory ones, clearly showing that they haven’t kept up with the conversation
  • Statements such as “My partner (or caretaker) dealt with all these things for me”, “I am not sure if I should be talking to you unsupervised”
  • The customer doesn’t talk much and takes a long time to answer a question
  • There is a clear sign of distress in their communications during contact
  • The customer sounds agitated or confused, indicating an illness or a disability

Once signals of vulnerability have been identified, a call agent can take steps to control the call and make the experience for the customer less stressful. Proactive steps that can be taken to better handle interaction with vulnerable customers include:

  • Acquiring from the customer their communication preferences if they are not comfortable with telephone or whatever other media through which communication is currently taking place
  • Avoiding making assumptions about the customer’s issue as it can lead to the delivery of wrong outcomes and add to the frustration.
  • Mentally visualising the customer so that they and their issue can be better related to and handled
  • Asking appropriate questions to the customer to ensure that they have correctly understood the conversation taking place
  • Summarising the call at the end of the session
  • Offering relevant support and advice for their area of vulnerability

How Voice Analytics Can Help with Vulnerability Identification

Even with proper training given to contact staff in identifying vulnerable customers, harsh business realities such as commercial pressure, meeting quotas, high customer traffic, and work exhaustion can make it difficult to do so. When handling queries from vulnerable customers, it is important that the contact staff feels supported and trivial processes are automated as much as possible to reduce the workload and allow them to focus their attention on what is truly important.

Many firms and companies are still reliant on outdated manual processes for identification and reviewing of vulnerability cases. Not only is this approach highly inefficient and time-consuming, but the risk of making mistakes is high with just one error potentially affecting the accuracy of the outcome of the whole chain of operation.

Voice Analytics is a process of recording and analyzing calls to gather useful customer insights and facilitate smarter interactions with customers. Voice analytics systems can pick up spoken keywords to assess the topic being discussed and the emotional character of the conversation and identify areas where the contact staff may need additional training, especially with handling difficult calls.

Additionally, a voice analytics system can isolate words and phrases used most frequently within a given duration as well as pick up changes in consumer behavior during an interaction, helping organizations better address customer vulnerability and make adjustments.

Contact centre staff can also benefit from the detailed intelligence reports generated by the system to spot examples of the best and worst practices when handling challenging calls from vulnerable customers as well as build better cost containment strategies.

Enterprise-level voice analytic system usually feature multi or omnichannel recording function, allowing all communication channels of an organization including phones, SMS, social media, email and knowledge bases to be processed on a single platform.


Increasingly complex regulatory environment for compliance and risk management, as well as the heightened necessity of employing intelligence in the day to day operation of an organization, means the old manual methods of customer identification are no longer viable.

Voice analytics can help improve the accuracy of customer vulnerably identification and allow companies to implement better strategies to cope with them, enhance satisfaction for both customers and contact staff, and generate higher productivity.

Feel free to contact us if you want to talk about any of the things we have discussed today.