One of the most positive trends in recent years has been growing awareness in the business community around the needs of at-risk customers. In today’s day and age, there is no excuse for a customer to suffer a worse experience through no fault of their own.

However, at a time of increasing automation in the customer contact function, there’s a real danger that vulnerable customers could be left behind.

When deployed carelessly, automation can erect a barrier between a company and its customers and deliver a diminished or unfair experience to the most vulnerable. Organisations must have the safeguards in place to ensure this doesn’t happen.

When tech turns bad

Organisations should absolutely be exploring all the ways they can streamline the customer experience. Anything that reduces call waiting times or inbound traffic is worth considering.

However, they should be careful they don’t go too far and cut off some of the avenues vulnerable customers depend on. There are now many organisations whose first point of contact is an automated call answering service. While this reduces the pressure on agents, these systems are rarely advanced enough to answer complex customer queries.

The ability to talk immediately to a call centre agent can be a real lifeline to many at-risk customers. This is especially true if they can’t use the other channels available. If they find it difficult to reach the stage they want, they could drop off the line and never complete their customer journey.

The prerogative to personalise

It needs to be emphasised that every vulnerable customer is unique. Not all will want to speak to an agent right away. Each one has their own preferences and will respond differently to the channels you provide.

Organisations have a responsibility to be attentive to these differences and cater to them to the best of their ability. As with every customer, their top priority should be to guide them to the channel they prefer and get them the support they need as fast as possible.

However, vulnerability is a dynamic state, affected by both external and personal factors that can change very quickly. Your customer contact function also needs to be able to adapt to sudden changes in any potential interaction.

This more sensitive and attentive approach demands the deepest possible personalisation. As soon as the at-risk customer makes contact, regardless of channel, the company should know who they are, what sort of issues they face and what’s the best way to give them the support they need.

This can be achieved through superior data management and customer insight.  Identity and data working together to automate attentiveness and give higher priority to contact when it is needed. After the first interaction, a detailed virtual profile should be created for the customer. Every time they reach out again using known contact details, they can then be recognised and patched through to the channel or agent that is best for them.   

Another solution is to make use of natural language processing (NLP) capabilities. NLP is a form of AI that can recognise and interpret meaning from written or spoken words. If an at-risk customer can’t speak to an agent right away, NLP tools will notify the company of their vulnerable status.

For example, an NLP-enabled chatbot that’s programmed to recognise signs of distress in a customer’s voice, could automatically put them through to an emergency hotline so they can speak to a human agent.

No technology is harmful by default. What matters is how it is used. In one respect, automation may make communication more difficult for vulnerable customers. However, the application of NLP – itself another form of automation – makes it an easy dilemma to solve.

What’s clear is that organisations need to personalise where their customers intersect with technology, providing proactive customer service and identifying those who rely on using their service in a different way. Personalisation isn’t just a competitive advantage, it’s a social responsibility.

contact centre, contact centre agent, personalisation, automation, Strategic IT, Customer Experience, Customer Service