Heather Lishman, Director at Hospitality Assured asks the question; How do we ensure we give respect to all our guests, including the vulnerable?  I am sure that each person who is asked that will respond differently, depending on their own life experiences.  Everyone can be vulnerable at a moment in time.  The vulnerability could be situational, transient or permanent.

It is worth discussing it as a team.  Some organisations will be servicing vulnerable people as a matter of course, others will have more intermittent demands.  Can you truly say that your approach to vulnerable people aligns with your values, allowing an authenticity of behaviour?

Does each member of your team know how they can make a difference?

The Starfish Story Original Story by: Loren Eisley One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “Young man, what are you doing?” The boy replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.” The man laughed to himself and said ” don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!” After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, “I made a difference to that one.”

 How can we, as organisations, ensure that we recognise vulnerable customers, and treat them with compassion, empathy and respect?

Customer Research

Work with experts who understand (or are) your vulnerable customers – ‘nothing about us, without us’ and ‘seek first to understand, then seek to be understood’ Stephen Covey.

Challenge people to feedback on their experiences, and take note of how you could have improved.

The Customer Promise

Put the Customer Promise at the heart of your organisation.  It may be beneficial to define it as a Charter, and show what can be expected throughout the customer journey.

Business Leadership & Planning

Internal engagement, customer satisfaction and share-price go hand in hand.

What works well?  What could we do better?  What is the ideal?  How close can we get to it?  Where can we learn about best practice?  Who else do we need to influence?

Operational Planning & Standards of Performance

It’s not about intention, it’s always about impact.  Make sure your processes and procedures support accountability and that your teams take responsibility.


Are your teams given the tools to do the job?  What additional resources would help to improve the impact on vulnerable customers?

Training and development

Are our teams capable?  Re-assess what skills they need – emotional as well as mechanical.  Ensure that your culture and values are embedded in all the team.  These should shine through.

Service delivery

Dare to Care!  Enable your teams to be customer focused and ‘do the right thing’.  Test what you do, and independently verify success.

Service Recovery

Collect as much feedback as possible, listen to it and discuss it as a team and action.  Ensure that everyone is accountable to live the values every day.  Don’t look at complaints as a ‘fail’ but as a ‘first attempt in learning’.

Customer Service Improvement

Build relationships and networks with appropriate charities and network groups.  Keep ahead of the curve.  What does the new ‘ideal’ look like?  It should be a continuous improvement cycle.

About the Author: Heather Lishman

Heather, Director of Hospitality Assured is a Fellow of the Institute of Hospitality (IOH) and currently serves on the IOH Executive Committee. A trained Hospitality Assured Assessor since 2011, Heather has assessed 40 business across the hospitality sector, and she now runs a successful hospitality consultancy.