Improving communications is key to more people accessing debt advice, says StepChange
7 December 2023
Part two of StepChange’s research into its clients’ financial difficulties journeys examines the charity’s own communications and finds continually improving and adapting them is key to the best client outcomes.
A new report, Getting the Message, by StepChange Debt Charity finds that people’s ability to access and then act on debt advice hinges on the language, tone and presentation of StepChange communications and argues for firms across the financial services landscape to continually test and learn with how they interact with their clients in financial difficulty in order to best help them.
The research follows the 2022 report, Mixed Messages, which examined the role communications from lenders and other creditors play in helping people resolve their financial difficulties. It found that firms’ communications to people in financial difficulty created barriers that delayed or prevented them from getting help, as well as evidence pointing to how these barriers could be overcome.
The new report, Getting the Message, picks up the financial difficulties journey at the point StepChange clients are about to seek advice and seeks to establish what further barriers they face when seeking a resolution to their financial difficulties through the charity’s services.
The report shows initial advice outcomes were positive, with 95% of respondents agreeing that by the end of the debt advice session they were clear about the different options that could help them.
However, the report also found that this understanding was not always translating into clients feeling fully equipped to take the next steps and act on the advice they received. A number of clients told StepChange that they were overwhelmed, experienced a negative emotional response or needed more help to understand the complex information and advice they received before they could take the next steps.
The report found the charity’s own communications could be complex, with debt advice jargon unfamiliar to the people receiving them. Working with Amplified Global, StepChange has begun a complete overhaul of its communications. So far more than 1,200 documents, including web copy, online debt advice, user interface text and statements advisors read out to clients have been reviewed, amounting to more than 70,000 edits across over 1,200 hours of work.
This has resulted in 9% increased intelligibility scores across all documents and a 43% improvement for the most complex documents, the equivalent of reducing the level of understanding from a 13 year old reader to an 11 year old reader – the same required to understand a tabloid newspaper.
StepChange Head of Policy, Peter Tutton, said: “In the first part of our Mixed Messages research, we called on firms to take a ‘test and learn’ approach to their communications to customers in financial difficulty. This report shows how a focused research and insight based approach can point the way to better customer outcomes.
“As a debt advice charity our purpose is to reduce the harm caused by problem debt. We need to ensure that once people finally get to StepChange our communications help them to act on the advice they have received in as informed a way as possible. Since we’ve made changes to our communications, StepChange has seen a steady increase in the proportion of clients saying they found our service easy to access. However, this is only the beginning of the journey for us and we will continue to build our understanding of why some clients don’t act on the debt advice they receive.”
Notes to Editors
- A copy of Getting the Message can be found here.
- A copy of the September 2022 report, Mixed Messages, can be found here.