Guidelines published to help call centres, including fundraising agencies, deal with vulnerable people

Direct Marketing Association has produced free training materials with practical tips on ensuring people make informed decisions

Guidelines issued for call centres
Guidelines issued for call centres

The Direct Marketing Association has today published a set of free training materials for telephone contact centre agents on how to deal with vulnerable people, including flash cards summarising the characteristics of some of the most common vulnerabilities.

The DMA, which has also updated its guidelines - first published in 2012 - on dealing with vulnerable consumers, says the new materials are available to any charity, fundraising agency and commercial organisation that wants guidance, even if they are not a DMA member.

It comes after the government announced last month that it would introduce amendments to the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill, currently going through parliament, to require all new contracts between charities and fundraising agencies to state how the vulnerable are protected.

Age UK, Alzheimer’s Society, Dementia Action Alliance, Rethink Mental Illness, ActionAid and the National Autistic Society were among the organisations that contributed to the new materials. Their production was led by the consultancy ReynoldsBusbyLee and the telemarketing company Blue Donkey.

The materials include a series of flash cards summarising the characteristics of 20 common conditions, including autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia, and how these might come across over the phone. They give practical tips on how agents should respond if they encounter a person with these characteristics.

"It might be that you switch it from being a telephone conversation to sending some literature through the post or emailing, or arranging for a call back when someone who works with them on their financial matters is with them, so that the right person is involved in the conversation," said Elaine Lee, a director at ReynoldsBusbyLee.

The need for updated guidance and training materials became apparent after the DMA carried out a survey of 322 marketers in June and July 2013, which found that only 4 per cent said they always knew when they were speaking to a vulnerable person and 92 per cent said that training would help to better meet vulnerable customers’ needs.

Lee, a former vice-chair of the Direct Marketing Association's Contact Centre and Telemarketing Council, said that the working group developing the materials had taken care to convey that not all people with certain conditions were vulnerable. "We wanted to avoid being overly protective and discriminating against people who are more than capable of making their own decisions," she said.

The Institute of Fundraising already has guidance for fundraisers,Treating Donors Fairly, which takes into account the needs of people in vulnerable circumstances. It was published in December.

Lee, who was also on the working group which produced this guidance, said that the DMA’s guidance was more practical. "It gives front-line agents help, tips and advice on what practical steps to take," she said. "It’s the practical support that makes a difference.

"The IoF guidance was developed with a view to building on it at a later date," she said. "What’s become very apparent is that there’s a need to do that quickly and it may well need to have different policies for different-sized charities."

Lee said the DMA also planned to introduce further guidelines on dealing with people in vulnerable circumstances for marketers using direct mail.

She said that the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association recently approached the DMA for support with an e-learning module it was developing to help train face-to-face fundraisers on how to deal with vulnerable people. "They are trying to incorporate some of the practical steps from our training materials into their e-learning guidance," she said.

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