Vulnerability is more complex than age and frailty; it is relative and dynamic as needs and ability change with time or circumstance.
We can become vulnerable as a result of an accident, loss of job or mental health issues at any point in our lives.
Common risk factors of vulnerability are:
Disability or sensory impairment
Mental health issues
Lack of basic skills: literacy or numeracy
Inexperience or lack of knowledge of a particular subject
Sudden change in circumstances, for example bereavement or illness
Difficulty accessing and understanding large amounts of information
Balance of power: lack of competition and or choice
Consumer vulnerability is a condition in which the person is at greater risk of mis-selling, exploitation or being put at a disadvantage in terms of accessing or using a service or in seeking redress.
It is more difficult to complain about poor goods or service if you are vulnerable.
An individual can become vulnerable through trauma or illness and be required to purchase specialist equipment or services. Companies that supply services or equipment for people with physical, sensory or cognitive difficulties are in a key position to make a positive difference to the consumer experience by providing empathic, tailored and inclusive products and services.
The experience for the consumer and their family/carers can be enhanced by inclusive design with consideration for poor vision, hearing impairment and the design of simple user interfaces with clear controls.
People who are living with dementia may require more time, clear and simple instructions and customer care that adapts to their individual requirements and changing needs. Cognitive problems are a hidden disability because they are not apparent from the outside and can be mistaken for mental health or anti-social/rude behaviour.
If people are purchasing products from a retail outlet there are environmental and access issues that enable stores to be more inclusive. These include good lighting, available seating, products displayed in visual and physical range for wheelchair users, and positive customer care with staff who add value to the experience of visiting a shop. This may include being dementia friendly and disability aware.
If you are interested in reading more about Consumer vulnerability the British Standards
18477:2010 outlines the causes of vulnerability and good practice that companies can adopt to address the issues.
Camtrain provides training to a range of different organisations on working with vulnerable customers and tailors the programme to meet the needs of the sector and client.
About the author
Hello, I am Caroline Hayden-Wright. I am an Occupational Therapist and run Camtrain, a Training Consultancy. I have over 30 years of experience as an Occupational Therapist and have run my own management and training consultancy since 2000.
Camtrain focusses on training related to older people, prevention and management of falls, living well with dementia and dealing with vulnerable customers. We deliver training across the UK (including Channel Islands) and work with our customers to design bespoke and relevant training programmes.
As part of our training we offer experiential learning exercises for training participants using glasses which simulate common eye conditions and our aim is to develop understanding and increase empathy.