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Vulnerability is a complex and multi-faceted concept. It isn’t always easy to identify, and we know that anyone can find themselves experiencing vulnerability through financial dificulty. But by recognising every situation is unique, we can begin to find the support that fits each customer’s needs.


The question is not ‘is this customer vulnerable’? The question should be ‘how vulnerable is this customer and how is it impacting them paying this and their other bills?’ As humans, we are all vulnerable, so it is never assuming someone can or can’t pay – it is always about understanding if the customer is experiencing financial difficulty and what is the customer’s situation enough to provide the right solution.

When these approaches are imbalanced, organisations face consequences. Excessive focus on customer vulnerability and an abundance of definitions often lead to sympathy without practical outcomes for both the customer and staff. This results in customers underpaying (without due consideration) and staff experiencing burnout due to emotional investment in customers’ stories. This puts customers further into hardship and they come out swinging 3 years later with ‘no-one told me’.
On the other hand, too much focus on collections alone disregards the importance of working with customers and their challenges. This inflexibility and dictatorial approach during conversations can lead to increased hardship and the judgement and apathy that starts to kick in for staff members.
Both of these approaches, without strategies for staff wellbeing, result in staff burnout, negatively impacting both the customer experience and the business’s bottom line. We encourage banks to prioritise staff wellbeing and resilience by providing them with the necessary tools, confidence, and competence to perform their roles effectively. While activities like yoga, meditation, and exercise are valuable suggestions for after work, it’s not the gritty stuff businesses are looking for to support staff. We worked on a project with 63 hardship staff in an energy company and in addition to improvements in all areas including increased payments, improved Net Promoter Score (NPS), reduced Average Handling Time (AHT), and reduced debt levels, one that we hadn’t expected was reduced sick leave. Providing staff with the right skills reduces stress on the job.
So, what are our top tips for achieving the right balance?

Five considerations for organisations when addressing vulnerability for customers in arrears.


1. Navigate the complexities

Ensuring compliant conversations in a highly regulated environment is crucial. However, excessive checklists and transactional conversations can hinder active listening and flexibility for both vulnerable customers and staff. Robotic and unstructured conversations can have negative effects on customers’ privacy, staff engagement, and call times. There is a real opportunity therefore that exists to collaboratively incorporate language guides and toolkits to empower staff to let their personality come through on a call, to truly connect with a customer but within a guided and compliant framework


2. Teach the art of ‘discovery’

Most conversations we listen to lack ‘discovery’ – the art of asking the right questions in a naturally flowing conversation. When we work with operators to build their competence in communication, their fear is always what might come back at them. So, they either avoid asking or work to a clunky I&E checklist that is out of date, long winded and unhelpful if they ultimately don’t know what to do with the output. Here’s a test – take a basic scenario and role play starting with ‘I can’t pay’ and see what happens next. Someone I trained recently on this, told me the day after that she was ‘standing taller.’
‘Build the trust to earn the right to ask the questions’…. eMatrix 2019

3. Teach Empathy

Empathy is the key ingredient for collections, hardship, vulnerability, and complaint handling. It reduces emotional tension by acknowledging the customer’s situation and segways to problem- solving. Our research shows that for every 100 empathy triggers, on average 66 will go unacknowledged, 19 will have a sympathetic response and 15 with appropriate empathy.

4. Remove Average Handling Time (AHT)

I am going to go with an outlandish one here – the most counter-intuitive KPI ever invented. Say no more …. except: We have the EQ/psychology-based formula for reducing your AHT…proven only if you follow step 5.



5. Invest in teaching your leaders how to coach to the mechanics of a call

Leaders often excel at identifying what went wrong in a call and what operators should do. But when challenged with, “How would you coach me as the operator?” their responses usually fall into three categories (all of which are less than ideal):

1. Telling: Simply instructing the operator on what to do.
2. Self-analysis: Telling them to go and listen to their own call and come back with what they think they should do better
3. Crickets…

If you are looking on where to invest in training, our #1 recommendation is spending it here. Upskilling leaders in how to coach specifically for call competence is the best investment you can make. Add psychological safety in the mix, and teaching leaders how to hold boundaries when dealing with mental health and other complex day-to-day issues, the focus on leader skillset is more important than ever.
Let’s take a light-hearted look at coaching done badly!



This article was featured by Customer Owned Banking Association (COBA) in its recent newsroom for members. Click here to view it on Linkedin.


To find out more, contact Jodie Bedoya, Director of eMatrix Training, Australia’s leading Collections & Vulnerability Training Specialists, on 0438 391 500 or