Vulnerabilities – a voice to be heard

Let me tell you a little bit about myself, I’m Pip, and I have worked at Trinity McQueen for over three years. In my time here, I have seen the scope of research change not just through methodologies and deliverables but also in the participants we engage with. Whilst already common practise in public sectors such as education and health, we’ve noticed a growing trend in including vulnerable customers in the private sectors, it’s a big part of the work we do with utility companies. I feel it is time that we engage more vulnerable people across all our projects.

Ofgem have a duty to protect the interest of energy consumers and they define vulnerable customers as ‘pensionable age, have a disability, are chronically sick, on low incomes or living in rural areas’

There’s lots of statistics on vulnerability within the UK population. This does, however, cover a wide range of people, many of whom probably do not think of themselves, or wouldn’t want to be considered as vulnerable. To give an example of the numbers, the Vulnerability Report, 2018, by Ofgem, provides some sobering UK statistics:

·         11 million people have some mental or physical disability;

·         By 2025, there will be 1 million people with dementia;

·         In 2016, 18% of the population was over 65, this is expected to rise to over 20% by 2026, and 2.4% is over 85;

We have increasingly been including more vulnerable participant in our research here at Trinity McQueen. I want to tell you how we engage with these participants.

·         Recruitment - we consider whether to include more vulnerable participants in all our projects

·         Project timings - We build in more time to our projects that include more vulnerable participants so that we can introduce ourselves prior to fieldwork and reassure against any concerns

·         Fieldwork – We understand that fieldwork may well take longer than usual and may, at times, wander off-topic.  We’re sensitive in bringing the discussion back to the matter in hand

·         Flexibility– We’re happy for participants to bring a friend/representative/family member if it makes them feel safer, but we ensure that they don’t not influence the discussion

·         Analysis – We look at the customer’s experience from a variety of points of view, so that clients are better to meet the needs of ALL their customers

These are only a few examples of how we adapt to fit the situation and get what we need for the research.

We know it’s important for brands to meet the needs of more vulnerable customers. There has been an emerging trend recently of inclusivity in supermarkets and online retail brands, for example supermarket accessibility for wheelchair users and quiet hours for those with Autism. It is likely that this approach will gradually expand into other sectors as companies increasingly adapt their research to include this significant proportion of the population and seek to obtain and be receptive to feedback from more vulnerable customers.

Phillippa Toon - Senior Research Executive

Annabel Gerrard