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Finding vulnerable customers: an insight into how we do it

In our blog series spotlighting our work with vulnerable customers, we’ve focussed on just why it is so important to be having these conversations, our recommendations on the best methodological approaches, and what we’ve found so illuminating; but none of this is possible without being able to find the right customers to speak to – and a great deal of diligence, creativity and sensitivity is required.

We work with our recruitment partners, Acumen Fieldwork who are committed to going beyond traditional recruitment methods, making community connections, and reaching those who would not traditionally be targeted in research. With any project, we work strictly in accordance with the MRS guidelines around confidentiality, anonymity, consent forms and storing and handling of data. However, together we have developed additional policies and precautions when it comes to the recruitment of vulnerable customers.

Here are some examples of what we might do:

  • Weigh up the most suitable method of contact: phone screening may be essential for building trust with a respondent. However, voicing some questions in conversation may cause distress and therefore screening online may be more appropriate

  • Double check that the participant is somewhere private when contacting them

  • Create specific policies on how to respond to disclosures to ensure we meet our safeguarding responsibilities

  • Understand when it would not be beneficial to the individual in question to take part in research and signpost them to relevant help and support instead

We have also had to think creatively about how to reach particular groups: researching extensively, developing contacts, and individualising our screening style. For example, joining social media groups online, reaching out to community groups and various online forums, recruiting via friends and family, community groups and local connections for digitally excluded/socially isolated audiences (and adapting our communication methods to ensure all the information they need is relayed in ways comfortable for them such as phone and post).

We are keenly aware that transparency in objectives from the first contact enables participants to mentally prepare for the topics of discussion that will likely be covered. As such, we ensure that respondents are made aware at the recruitment stage that, rather than just a standard question on vulnerabilities or reasonable adjustments in a recruitment screener, one of the reasons for the project and subjects for exploration is their vulnerability.

With this prior knowledge, we have found that participants come ready to honestly talk about the impact of their vulnerability - and often leave the research feeling as though they have been genuinely heard. On a recent project, we brought neuro-diverse customers together to discuss how companies can best adapt their products, services and support for similar customers. John*, a customer with severe dyslexia explained how taking part in the project had been a positive experience for him “It’s been great to meet other people who I can relate to. I’ve enjoyed opening up about the challenges I face and being listened to”.

Working with other experts in the field like Acumen undoubtedly means we get to deeper, richer insights from vulnerable customers. It also makes it a positive experience for all involved.

Get in touch if you have a hard-to-reach audience – let’s find a way to bring their voices into your business in a positive way.

*name changed for confidentiality


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