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What Can Businesses Do to Help Vulnerable Customers in South Africa?

What Can Businesses Do to Help Vulnerable Customers in South Africa?

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What Can Businesses Do to Help Vulnerable Customers in South Africa?

Mar 16, 2021

Colyn Dee
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Unemployment hit a record level in South Africa during the third quarter of 2020 at 30.8%, equating to 6.5 million jobless people. The country was already in recession before the coronavirus pandemic struck, a situation exacerbated by one of the world’s strictest lockdowns and a global drop in demand for South African exports, leading to an economic contraction of more than 17% between April and June 2020. Add to this the emergence of the new 501Y.V2 variant, and what we now have is a perfect storm of mass unemployment and economic problems.

The ongoing crisis has led to a rise in the number of vulnerable customers in South Africa. An increase that hasn’t gone unnoticed by South African businesses. Customers who were already vulnerable may have suffered further detriment, and newly vulnerable customers are finding themselves in unforeseen circumstances, unsure of where and how to seek the support they need.

Ensuring the fair treatment of vulnerable customers

While countries such as the UK and Australia have regulations in place to govern the fair treatment of vulnerable customers, as yet, there is no such guidance in South Africa. That’s not to say there isn’t a real appetite for it, with the Financial Services Conduct Authority (FSCA) recognizing the need for regulation, and businesses themselves acknowledging the importance of best practice when it comes to customer vulnerability.

Organizations are making efforts to finely tune their own processes and procedures to ensure the fair treatment of vulnerable customers. This is both out of a duty of care to customers and also because these businesses recognize the valuable, long-term relationships that can emerge from ensuring the continued wellbeing of vulnerable customers, particularly during a global crisis.

Identifying vulnerability amongst customers

Identifying vulnerable customers can be as difficult as deciding how to treat them. Some customers may not realize they’re vulnerable while others may not wish to disclose their vulnerability, and others may make their vulnerability clear from the outset.

Guaranteeing the timely and efficient identification of vulnerable customers is paramount for businesses to deal with their specific needs accordingly, and a combination of people and technology is the best way to achieve this.

Empowering your frontline staff

Training frontline staff to identify signs of vulnerability is crucial, whether those signs are verbal clues or patterns in behavior, which indicate underlying vulnerability. Diligently recording this information is the only way frontline employees can properly assess a customer’s situation. Circumstances can change on a daily basis, making it critical to be able to identify any vulnerability so businesses can respond accordingly.

Identifying vulnerability can be a subjective process, so some customers still slip through the net regardless of how well-trained employees are. Employees need the ability to take an objective view, assessing all the available information to reach a fully considered outcome.

Technology has a key role to play. Complaint management systems establish the right checks and balances to ensure customer vulnerability is front-of-mind during every customer interaction. These platforms facilitate both the identification of vulnerable customers and ensure all information is recorded correctly.

Intelligent workflows

Specific workflows take it one step further, leading frontline staff to follow a particular course of action aligned with a customer’s specific needs. Some customers require verbal and written communications, while others may need a specific font size. South Africa has 11 official languages, so it might be something as straightforward as ensuring communication is sent out in the right language.

Some consumers may be eligible for payment breaks or additional financial support, while others might require the help of a specialist department. It’s key that such considerations are central to case management lifecycles, not only for the benefit of vulnerable customers but to achieve an efficient, personalized response to all customers, regardless of their situation.

This should already be best practice for organizations who recognize the strategic and moral importance of a customer-focused approach. Businesses can and should pursue a culture where all customer needs are fully identified, with firms responding with nuanced, personalized communications, products and advice.

This is how South African businesses can provide the levels of care and attention vulnerable customers need. It’s an approach that fosters sustainable, long-term relationships for the benefit of businesses and customers alike, shaping best practice on which to base future regulatory guidance.

If you’re a South African organization looking for support in managing your complaints and improving the way you identify and support your vulnerable customers, contact Colyn Dee, managing director of Cirrus Techvue, to discuss your requirements or check out our new ‘Vulnerability Detection Feature’ here.

Tell us about yourself and an Aptean specialist will be in touch.