Five steps to create a winning disclosure environment - TellJO

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Five steps to create a winning disclosure environment

Published: Dec 19, 2023


Help your organisation to support vulnerable customers with these five building blocks to create a successful disclosure environment.

By Dominic Maxwell, TellJO founder.

If my bank calls me up and says “Mr. Maxwell, tell me about your mental health and how it’s affecting your ability to pay your loan” that’s not a conversation I am going to have.

By now organisations know a big percentage of their customers are going to be experiencing vulnerabilities. They have also worked out that those same vulnerabilities are barriers to payment, or they create detriment in other ways. For example a vulnerable person cashing in a pension in an inefficient way.

Organisations have been collecting debts and engaging customers in the same way for decades.

They send a letter, or call a customer and say, “You have missed a payment and you need to pay, if you don’t pay, this is what will happen to you”. At the bottom of the letter will be a link to debt advice. If it’s a call, there may be a pause for some self-disclosure.

Does this create the right environment for disclosure? Have a think about it from the customer’s view:

They are scared, they bury their heads in the sand, they disengage, they feel shame and have mistrust. The last thing they want to do, is engage with the organisation which makes these vulnerabilities visible.

The customer is most likely experiencing multiple vulnerabilities. The average Priority Services Register qualifying vulnerabilities comes in at 7.1 vulnerabilities per customer.

Why would a customer disclose vulnerability? It’s bad enough experiencing stress from a debt or a vulnerability, without it being compounded by letters and phone calls. What would be their motivation to disclose, what’s in it for them?

If a ‘solution’ is a self-help link like “If you are struggling – call X”. At what point does the customer experiencing multiple vulnerabilities, get a wave of positive motivation to make this life changing self-intervention?

For any organisations who say they get self-disclosure, remember it’s only going to be the motivated few. Like an iceberg most vulnerability is below the surface and you don’t see it.

For more insight from a customer’s perspective, I would highly recommend reading Scarcity, The true cost of not having enough by Sendhil Mullainethan and Eldar Shafir.

You can also hear from Emma’s real life experience, on this 2 minute video.

Support your customers better with these five steps to create a winning disclosure environment.

To help your organisation support vulnerable customers. Here are 5 building blocks to create a winning disclosure environment.

1. Mindset Shift

From: The customer is in difficulty, and we need to make sure the organisation does not experience detriment.

To: This customer is in difficulty, and we need to make a positive impact on their life.

Now this is easier said than done, business as usual is a difficult nut to crack. The radical approach of corporations doing positive customer interventions can promote some interesting conversations. Including “not our job”, “we don’t have resources”, “not profitable”, “we have always done it this way”, “we already adhere to the regulator guidelines” blah blah blah…

But the world is changing. The other day, I was speaking to a large Energy Supplier, and got a bit emotional when they said, “Not only do we want to identify our vulnerable customers, but we want to create positive outcomes on the back of that data to help those customers”.

In the six years I have been banging this drum, that conversation has never happened before.

A bold prediction is that organisations that innovate and build trust with their customers will be the most successful ones in the coming years as we embrace a more compassionate society.

The irony is, if you help someone build long-term resilience, they are more likely to be a reliable and profitable long-term customer.

Who wants to spend money on chasing customers for money?

2. Vulnerability Evangelists rule

There must be a Vulnerability Evangelist in every organisation who drives change and has the ear of the board. These are most likely entrepreneurs within organisations who have a passion to deliver great outcomes for vulnerable customers.

This is different from an audit style approach, where you take the regulatory guidelines and tick them off one by one.

This is about really understanding your customers and having endless curiosity about solving their problems.

Having the best outcome for the customer, is often also the best outcome for the organisation.

They must be steely determined, evidence driven and super compassionate, because this job is not easy. But customers need them, and the long-term health of the organisation will depend on these individuals, even if not everyone knows it yet.

3. Communicate with kindness and ask your customer if they are, ok?

Getting the tone right in how you communicate with your customers is vital. Business as usual often promotes lazy practice sending ineffective letters asking for money, or for your customer to act.

I have lost count of the number of times I have seen a customer with a plastic bag full of unopened letters, and most likely their voicemail box is also full.

If you can communicate to your customer with kindness, using an empathetic and human approach, you can create a positive environment for disclosure and problem solving.

Remember, the customer thinks organisations only contact them because they want something, money, or a tedious interaction.

Imagine in your communications you are offering something positive, in terms of help and support, can this be your key message?

Just by asking your customers if they are OK, you will drive positive engagement.

At TellJO, none of our communications asks for money, yet 75% of our respondents ask to make a payment arrangement. For customers experiencing debt, creating a positive environment and trust before giving them a payment option creates a safe space to resolve the issue in a proactive way.

If your letter or call just asks for money, then it’s a bit like asking someone to marry you on a first date…

Don’t believe me, split test your communications and see for yourself.

4. Make it easy.

Think about your own experiences dealing with organisations, and the frustrations you have.

I have a semi-hatred for an organisation who tells me my call is important to them, whilst I am held in a queue for 30 minutes.

Or an automated online chat that asks me loads of questions then directs me to a phone number to then duplicate those answers.

Organisations need to have an amazing customer interface when encouraging vulnerability disclosure.

We know that vulnerability is broad, TellJO captures 63 indicators, so to get the full remit from a telephone conversation is nearly impossible. It would require extensive training, and then the time taken on each call would be prohibitively expensive, and that’s in the unlikely event a customer discloses vulnerability to a person.

So, organisations must make it as easy as possible to disclose vulnerability and provide motivation.

The only realistic way to do this, is digital. The motivation is generated by showing a clear customer benefit to disclosing their vulnerability.

It could be reduced payments, a payment arrangement, going onto a Priority Services Register, a dedicated phone line to a vulnerability team etc.

If your customer can’t disclose their vulnerability using a thumb, then bin it and start again.

5. You can make a difference.

It is rewarding to a positive social impact. Many organisations are in the fortunate position where they see customers at the very early signs of crisis. Meaning they have a golden opportunity to create positive social impact.

Any old company can keep a list of vulnerable customers. It is meaningless unless you are actively doing something positive with that list. This could be super simple, like creating an affordable payment arrangement (don’t underestimate the positive impact of this) or creating outcomes, using partnerships with debt charities or specialist health charities like Kidney Care, Mind or The Samaritans.

By maximising positive outcomes, organisations don’t just create social value, there is also a business case to consider.

  • Improved payments because you have made customer more resilient.
  • Improved branding and customer loyalty because you are seen as an organisation who shows kindness.
  • Reduced overheads because you spend less time with the same recurring customers.
  • Reduced employee churn, because creating social value is more rewarding.

In summary

We are seeing a shift to a society that is kinder and more empathetic. I am having conversations now that I would not have dreamed of even a year ago. It will only take one organisation to get this very right, and they will have a huge head start on the competition.

Imagine if your organisation is celebrated by government and society for not only generating profit. But also creates positive social impact, prevents long term illness and homelessness, and improves the mental health of its customers.

Arrears are at an all-time low because the underlying problems are being supported, and incoming calls are drastically reduced.

And it will all be led by those wonderful Vulnerability Evangelists.

Originally published on the Collaboration Network.

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