Seems a simple enough question right? Regulation directs us towards identifying and acting accordingly to any customer being identified as vulnerable or if we are lucky, self-declaring. This relies of course on customers being pro-active, or being comfortable and confident enough to reveal enough information to allow us the creditors to assess their situation and tailor our response accordingly. Sadly, only 1 in 3 will identify themselves as vulnerable or having vulnerable circumstances.
Essentially collection activity will first look for financial vulnerability seeking to understand the root causes, trying to establish whether this is due to a personal or social issue or is simply down to reduced finances or overspend. This information is not easy to mine and if your process is half hearted you won’t scratch the surface.
Customers don’t waive banners saying ”look at me I’m struggling here”. They try to deal with it, often with a robbing Peter to pay Paul methodology in the hope of muddling through or they bury their heads in the sand and hope it goes away.
So what do they look like? Well….like you and I. They may be working, they may not, they may have a family, they may not, but what is key is what is going on in the background, the variations of vulnerability can range from income failing to cover outgoings, ill health or mental health, right down to feeling suicidal, could well be a crucial factor in why they are where they are but hidden instinctually from nosy collectors.
We need to be pro-active and stop relying on customers volunteering the information we need just because we’ve asked them to disclose their personal and private details on a letter, or on a website, or via an agent trying and failing to connect with them because the customer is blocking through fear or embarrassment and the agent fears overstepping their boundaries or feels uncomfortable prying.
We need to push through and find new ways to engage them, new ways for them to trust they’re not walking into a trap that’s going to cost them in ways they know they can’t manage. We need to be demonstrably and actively offering support, advice and assistance over different mediums, catering for those who have no internet access or phone credit as well as those who are more comfortable with anonymous technology and would complete an on line income and expenditure schedule if they knew it would benefit them because then they don’t have to speak to them, or would happily have a web chat because again its less personal than a phone call.
Ultimately, we need to identify their financial difficulties as an immediate matter of course and this will drive the decision regarding their ability to pay, but if we don’t look at the root cause of this vulnerability we won’t know how to interact with them to serve them best and if we fail to do that we have no chance of securing a good outcome, either for the customer or for the creditor owed the money. Sounds simple doesn’t it? I wish it were!