Customers have a right to be treated with equality and not be discriminated against based on an identifying feature such as religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent or gender. Businesses risk violating these rights if they engage in practices that target vulnerable customers. Businesses should have procedures and practices in place that clearly outline the contractual obligations and rights of all customers and ensure customers from diverse backgrounds understand their obligations. This will minimize the risk of exposing vulnerable customers to products or services they cannot afford, resulting in the accumulation of large debts and associated knock-on effects where such debts cannot be met.
Examples of vulnerable customer groups include minorities, those with language or learning difficulties, the elderly, children, and low-income individuals. Customers may find it difficult to understand the product or service that they are buying and the associated risks of the product or service. Where the product or service is complex, vulnerable consumers may find it difficult to distinguish between marketing information and important information about the product or service. Vulnerable customers may also be influenced more easily, compared to other customer groups, as they lack an understanding of the product or service or are belong to vulnerable groups in society. Vulnerable customers under financial stress may also find themselves in difficult positions if they purchase products that end up causing even more financial strain.
By employing ethical practices, businesses can develop positive relationships with customers, increase customer satisfaction, build a positive brand and reputation, reduce the risk of pressure from stakeholders and activist groups, and limit potential legal and regulatory risks. Businesses should put in place policies and procedures to identify and evaluate the types of harms to which their customers may be susceptible, and to ensure that sales and marketing activities targeted towards such vulnerable customers do not amount to unfair or discriminatory treatment. Such policies and procedures should include a procedure for handling customer complaints appropriately.