The web is awash with advice on catering to millennials but with over a third of the UK population being 50 or over, what about looking out for older customers? We take a look at some ideas on how to work with older consumers.
1) How to work with older customers
We’re all getting older. There’s no escaping the tick of the clock. But the UK population as a whole is getting significantly older. As the Baby Boomer generation (people born 1945-1965) hits retirement, there are far fewer younger people coming along behind them.
But what does this mean in practical terms? Older people are more likely to own their own property than any other age group. They are also are one of the only demographics to increase their car use – this is particularly true of the over 75s. Research shows that many older customers make fewer purchases but are prepared to spend more each time, looking for quality and good value. Yet they are typically underserved by many companies, with advertising and marketing initiatives favouring younger customers.
So what is the best way to approach working with older customers?
Customer service should be a constant irrespective of the age of the consumer. Clear communication about work agreed, creating minimum disruption to the customer’s routine and clearly communicating any changes to processes should all come as standard. But there are some areas that you need to bear in mind when working with older customers:
People don't like to think of themselves as old.
‘Old age’ is relative – to a teenager it’s anyone over 30, to a 50 year old, people in their 70s and once you’re in your 60s up it goes again. Don’t refer to your customers as ‘elderly’. Older consumers are fitter, healthier and more active than ever before. They will choose products that enhance their self-respect – that make them feel good.
Courtesy goes a long way.
Older consumers want to be respected. While many people are used to being informal and switch instantly to first names, some older customers may prefer to be called Mr Jones or Mrs Smith.
Allow sufficient time in appointments with older customers to allow them to make decisions at their own pace. Nobody likes being hurried and some of your older consumers may prefer to work at a slower pace than you.
Have online and offline information and contact options.
Overall, silver surfers are the fastest growing demographic of internet users in the UK, with almost 70% having their own Facebook account and 90% checking their emails daily. Those who are online are likely to be heavy internet users, as they have more free time than average to dedicate to the internet and social media. But those who are not comfortable with tech may well prefer to avoid emails and online presentations.
Many older consumers would prefer to speak to a customer services representative than look for information or advice online. Maintaining a personal connection is important to them and increases brand loyalty.
Use larger print.
Many older customers complain that they cannot read packaging or instructions easily. Ensure any written communication is easy to read and offer large print versions if necessary.
Consider whether you need to adapt your premises.
While people don’t want to be reminded of their age, older customers do want you to cater for them. It’s a balancing act, but being inclusive of older consumers is ultimately good for everyone.
Business premises need to be readily accessible to customers with mobility problems. Providing ramps, lifts or level access to premises and accessible toilets is important for customers who find stairs challenging. Ensure all products are easy to access – not on high or low shelves.
If your business premises are large and involve customers moving to different areas, provide regular stopping points where customers can sit down.
Try marketing directly to older customers.
Recent research from Mailjet found that a quarter of older customers feel that brands are too focussed on targeting younger consumers. A similar proportion felt that there was a lack of emphasis on customer service and advice. Older consumers are waiting to be wooed by businesses that can provide them with excellent customer service and products that fit with their lifestyle – whatever that may be.
2) Cut the cost of heating your home
Spending on fuel is a significant amount of every home budget. We talked to a heating specialist to find out some ways you can reduce that cost
When the temperature drops outside, we all want to be able to switch the heating on. But with government figures showing rises in domestic fuel and heating bills almost every year since 2004, keeping warm can be costly with people spending an average of around £88-140 a month on fuel bills.
There areways of reducing those bills
Reduce the cost you buy in energy
Reduce your consumption
How to use less energy
We can all put on an extra jumper and make sure we turn the lights off when we leave the room but to really make a difference to those bills, we need to make our homes as energy-efficient as possible. There are some simple steps we can all take:
Make sure our doors and windows fit properly – 7-12% of heat loss in homes occurs around doors and windows. Draft-proofing around windows and doors can save £25-50 a year according to the Energy Saving Trust, and keeping the heat in means you may be able to turn the thermostat down, which could save you significantly more.
Which? Trusted Traders has glaziers, carpenters and builders who can help in your area now.
Plug any external holes where cables or pipes enter our home. These will be sealed but caulk degrades over time and may need repairing
Ensure your house is effectively insulated. Many councils offer grants to help with insulation.
Use the sun to your advantage – even when it’s freezing outside the sun’s rays still bring some free heat into your home. Keep your curtains open during the day, particularly on the south side of your home and clear any branches or shrubs that block the light to your windows. Close the curtains at night to cut down on drafts.
Get your heating system up to scratch
The other side of the equation is making sure the way we heat our home is as efficient as possible. It’s often possible to update heating systems, without needing a complete overhaul. We talked to Which? Trusted trader, Tom Sullivan from Active Plumbing and Heating Solutions who suggested the following:
Install thermostatic radiator valves
Thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) are controls on your radiator which allow you to control the flow of water through the radiator. They don’t control the boiler itself.
The benefit of installing TRVs is that they allow you to ‘zone’ areas of your home. You may, for example, wish to have the bedrooms cooler than the living area. To do this, you would simply adjust the TRV, usually by turning a dial, to a cooler setting.
Use a seven-day, programmable thermostat
Programmable thermostats are cheaper than ever and can be easily retrofitted to an existing system. Because these thermostats account for different routines on each day of the week, they save energy by only heating the home when it’s necessary. They can turn down the temperature when you are out or asleep. You could, for example, allow for a regular Sunday morning lie-in or the evening when you aren’t at home until late.
These are a better alternative to mechanical thermostats which don’t allow for as much fine-tuning and can cut your heating bill by 10% or more.
Try weather compensation controls
Weather compensation controls account for the weather via a thermostat on an outside, north-facing wall. The thermostat sends feedback about the external temperature to the boiler and this, in turn, modifies the temperature inside the home.
A weather compensation system is a different way of heating your home and doesn’t suit everyone – the radiators don’t get very hot, for example, as the boiler maintains a steady temperature indoors as temperatures rise and fall outdoors. Some find it a more comfortable way of heating the home, though.
Use your controls effectively
Most central heating controls have to be configured to suit your routine and lifestyle.
While a boiler engineer can install all sorts of devices, they’re only effective if you learn how to use them.
Spending an hour or two mastering your thermostat now, for example, will save money over the course of the lifetime of the boiler or thermostat.
Ensure you have the right boiler for your home
If you’ve got more than one bathroom, a standard combi boiler may not be the most efficient way to supply your bathrooms with hot water.
Ask a boiler engineer about whether a pressurised hot water cylinder system as this might be a better alternative.
Give your system a regular check-up
It’s a good idea to service your boiler annually to keep it ticking over. Ask your plumber to give your whole system a once-over – rusted pipes and air-filled radiators aren’t going to heat your home properly.
If you want a review of your heating system, contact a Which? Trusted Traders central heating specialist in your area. A small cost upfront can take pounds of your bills over the rest of the year.
3) Stay safe and warm in winter
As energy bills continue to rise, are you worried about how you are going to heat your home during the winter?
Using a portable heater to stay warm is a popular alternative to centrally heating your home. But heaters are responsible for 4% of accidental house fires each year, as well as being responsible for a higher percentage of fatalities and serious injuries per incident compared to other items.
Most of these fires are caused by people making basic mistakes that could easily be avoided, including knocking heaters over, which is easily done, particularly if you have young children and pets running around.
Elderly people and children are particularly at risk, so when you are making sure elderly relatives and neighbours are warm, or your children are playing; follow our simple tips to make sure that they are safe.
Put your heater on a level surface, well away from anything that could knock it over
Make sure your heater is at least one meter away from combustible materials, such as paper, furniture or curtains. Never use it to dry your clothes!
Never leave your heater unattended whilst in use or while you are asleep
Never power a heater from an extension lead – they can easily be overloaded and cause fires
Regularly inspect your heater for damage and deterioration. If it isn’t in good condition, don’t use it!
Avoid second hand heaters. Make sure you buy from recognized manufacturers and retailers.
Electric blanket safety
To help you stay safe and warm in winter and to help reduce the number of unsafe electric blankets being used in homes, we recommend that you follow these simple steps when purchasing, using, storing and disposing of your electric blanket.
Choosing an electric blanket
When looking to buy an electric blanket it is important to buy from a reputable retailer and to check that it has the UK Safety standard mark. Don’t buy second-hand blankets as they may no longer meet safety standards.
Using your electric blanket
Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions before use
Examine your blanket regularly for signs of wear or damage
Use the blanket only for the purpose the manufacturer intended, i.e.:
- over-blankets must only be positioned above the occupant of the bed
- under-blankets must only be positioned under the occupant of the bed
Check the manufacturer’s instructions for suitability to wash your blanket
Carry out a visual check of the blanket to make sure the blanket is intact with no visible signs of damage caused in transport when first purchased
If the fuse in the 13 amp plug requires changing, a 3 amp BS 1362 fuse must be fitted
Use the blanket whilst it is still folded, rucked or creased
Use a hot water bottle at the same time as using your electric blanket
Touch the blanket with wet hands or feet
Insert or use pins to hold the blanket in place on the bed
Use the under-blankets on adjustable beds, or if used on an adjustable bed, check that the blanket and cord do not become trapped or rucked, for example in hinges
Use an electric blanket on the bed of a helpless person, an infant or a person who may have a condition that makes them insensitive to heat
Allow the appliance to be used by young children unless the controls have been pre-set by a parent/carer or that you are satisfied that the child is able to use the appliance safely
Allow people fitted with pacemakers to use heated bedding for all night use
Routine visual checks
Before putting your electric blanket on the bed to use over the winter months, take a few minutes to check that the blanket is safe for continued use.
Your blanket should be replaced with a new one if:
Fabric is worn or frayed
Scorch marks or discoloration areas are visible on the fabric
Wires are visible or poking through the fabric.
There is damage to the flexible cord between the supply plug and the control and/or the control to the blanket.
The control is making a buzzing sound when switched on and/or is giving off a smell.
The connector fitted to the blanket is damaged or over-heating.
Storing your blanket
When your blanket is not in use, it should be stored as the manufacturer recommends and moth-proofing chemicals should not be used on it, or heavy items placed on top of it.
It can even be left on the bed all year round, or loosely folded and stored in a cool dry place.
Safe disposal of blankets
If your blanket is more than 10 years old, you should consider disposing of it and buying a new one.
Blankets should not be disposed of with general domestic waste, in order to comply with EU legislation under the WEEE Directive.
You should take your blanket to a recycling facility that accepts electric and electronic appliances. Check with your Local Authority for your nearest recycling center.
4) Electrical Safety for Elderly & Vulnerable People
Electrical accidents in the home can pose a more significant risk to older or vulnerable people. This is often due to old or poor quality housing that contains faulty electrics and appliances.
Statistics* show that one million over 75 year-olds live in homes that are not warm enough, are in a state of disrepair or do not have modern facilities. These homes can be dangerous as they don’t meet basic electrical safety standards, and don’t include life-saving devices, such as a modern fusebox, circuit breakers and PVC wiring.
Sometimes a health condition such as dementia or Parkinson’s can increase the risk of an electrical accident, as these conditions cause reduced mobility and memory. If you’re worried about your property, or concerned about a neighbour or relative, here are some simple things that you can do:
Check the fusebox
Your fusebox controls the electrics in your home, which is why it’s important that you check it’s working safely. All fuseboxes should have a main switch and fuses and/or circuit breakers. It should NOT have a wooden back, cast iron switches or what looks like a mix of different fuseboxes. If your circuit-breakers trip or fuses regularly blow, then it’s worth getting them checked by a registered electrician
Check for RCDs
An RCD (Residual Current Device) is a life-saving device that cuts out power if there’s an accident and can prevent you from receiving a fatal electric shock. To check whether you have an RCD press the ‘Test’ or ‘T’ button. If you do have one then pressing it will switch off the power to the areas of the home that it protects. If you don’t have an RCD in your fusebox or it’s not working then you should use plug-in RCDs for all the sockets in your home.
Plugs and sockets
If your electrics are over 50 years old they’ll need checking and updating. Electrics can also become damaged or faulty, which will require professional attention. Things to look out for include; round pin sockets, braided flex hanging from ceiling light-fittings, sockets mounted in skirting boards, damaged plugs and sockets, visible burn marks, crackling sounds or excessive heat being emitted.
Any signs of overheating such as curled labels, discolouration or scorching should be a warning sign. If you see any signs of cracking or burn marks around the light fittings, stop using them immediately and get them checked by a registered electrician
Cables should be in good condition with no signs of damage, cracking or splitting and should be enclosed in a PVC sheath. Cuts, damage or signs of excessive wear and tear mean that the lead or plug might need replacing. Try to avoid trailing cables across the floor or under carpets and rugs as this can be a trip hazard
Check the smoke alarm
Every property should have a working smoke alarm and batteries should be changed every year. You can test the smoke alarm by pressing the ‘Test’ button. If there’s no smoke alarm, contact your local Fire and Rescue Service.
Sign up to the priority register
Older people should ask their energy provider to add them to the priority service register, which means that they are eligible for a tailored billing service, free meter readings, and alternative facilities for cooking and heating if something goes wrong
Undertake a full electric check
If the property is over 50 years old and its electrics haven’t been checked in the last ten years, ask a registered electrician to carry out an Electrical Installation Condition Report, or EICR, (previously known as a Periodic Inspection Report, or PIR)
Assistive technology is an easy way to reduce the risk of electrical accidents in the home. Examples include:
Safety cut off devices for water, gas and electricity
Automatic switch off for electric cookers to prevent overheating
Electrical appliances with simplified controls, designed to be dementia-friendly
5) Look after your older relatives in colder weather
The vast majority of Britons have never discussed gas safety with their older family members. Gas Safe Register research reveals that three-quarters of Britons have never brought the subject up, leaving potentially 8 million older people unaware of gas dangers.
Over half the deaths from gas fire heaters at home are among the over-65, with 260 people injured by gas appliances every year* . As a result, Gas Safe Register is providing three tips to help keep older friends and relatives gas safe at home:
Sign up for an annual gas safety check
Only 16% of people speak to their older relatives annually about gas safety. To make it easier, sign up on their behalf for an annual gas safety check reminder at www.staygassafe.co.uk.
Get savvy with CO poisoning symptoms
One in 9 over 75s has little or no knowledge of the dangers of carbon monoxide (CO)** and less than half of Britons can recognise CO poisoning symptoms in their older relatives. Although CO has no smell, taste or colour, symptoms of poisoning include: headaches; dizziness; nausea; breathlessness; collapse and loss of consciousness – all of which can be mistaken for something else.
Recognise unsafe gas appliance signs
Just over half of Britons (53%) know the signs of unsafe gas appliances, which include: a lazy yellow flame instead of a crisp blue flame; soot or staining on or around the appliance; excess condensation in the room.
“Recently a man in his 80s was found by his stepson collapsed on his bedroom floor. His stepson called an ambulance and, on arrival, paramedics immediately removed the man from the property, taking him to hospital to be treated for suspected carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.
“We were called to investigate and our crews entered the property using breathing apparatus that monitored the CO levels within the property. The detector registered 650 parts per million (ppm), which is an extremely high and dangerous level that can potentially be fatal within minutes. The gas supply was isolated and the property ventilated.
“The man is very lucky to be alive. Although older people are at particular risk from the effects of CO poisoning, it is an indiscriminate killer and can be fatal to anyone. This is not an isolated incident – similar cases have resulted in fatalities that could potentially have been avoided if people had fitted a CO alarm in their property and had an annual safety check carried out by a Gas Safe Registered engineer.”Mark Jones, Station Manager, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, recalls a recent call-out handled by his team
Worryingly, older people are half as likely as other age groups to have a gas installation or service carried out by a professional to ensure their gas appliances are safe. Make sure they know to ‘Trust the Triangle’ by asking to see their engineer’s Gas Safe ID card and checking it to make sure the engineer is covered to check or fit the appliance in question.
Jonathan Samuel, managing director for Gas Safe Register, said: “We’re urging the nation to reach out to those who are more vulnerable when it comes to gas safety. Together, we can help prevent deaths and injuries and reduce the number of dangerous gas appliances.”