“Our Getting the Message report highlights the importance of digging deeper into what clients are experiencing so that we can look to improve outcomes for those clients. In our 2022 report Mixed Messages, we urged firms to test and learn with their own collection communications. In Getting the Message we highlight the practical value of this work and show that firms’ success in implementing the Consumer Duty may rest on the quality of firms’ customer research.”
Peter Tutton, Head of Policy Research and Public Affairs, StepChange
Getting the message report
In September 2022 our Mixed Messages report found that the tone, messaging and presentation of firms’ communications to people in financial difficulty mattered a lot. These communications created feelings of anxiety and confusion among many recipients, and people disengaged as a result. Complex legal language put people off acting. Giving clear options and reassuring people that help was at hand encouraged engagement.
If this is true for collections communications, could it be true for the information about complex debt solutions that we send our clients after debt advice?
Not everyone taking debt advice goes on to take up a debt solution. Could StepChange communications be a barrier to our clients moving forward?
In Mixed Messages we promised that we would publish a second report on StepChange clients’ experiences of debt advice. Getting the Message takes up this story.
Key findings include:
Better debt advice explanations are needed: A large majority of clients we surveyed said they were anxious about taking debt advice. Information about debt advice in collections communications and referrals did not always explain how debt advice could help.
Debt advice helps to reassure clients: Once people got debt advice their worries were largely replaced by feelings of reassurance. However, 40% of clients told us they faced barriers that delayed or stopped them from acting on the advice they received.
Clients who delayed getting help were less positive about the information they received: Nearly all the clients we surveyed gave positive feedback about the information they received from us after debt advice. However, when we looked deeper, we found that clients who had delayed acting on advice were less positive.
Clients who react badly to our communications delay taking action: Clients who had a negative emotional response to the information we sent them were also more likely to delay acting on advice. Complex language in our client communications might have created the same barriers we saw with collections communications in Mixed Messages.
What we did next
StepChange has been continually reviewing and updating our client communications for a number of years. However, our work on Mixed Messages and Getting the Message shaped our thinking about the outcomes we want our client communications to achieve and the changes we need to make to get there.;
Our first priority was to review the language and presentation of information in our communications, so that we could improve the intelligibility and usability for clients.
Mixed Messages was a joint report with Amplified Global and we used their Amplifi tool to test and change the language in our client communications. Across over 1,200 documents reviewed, we were able to increase intelligibility by over 9%.
On the more complex documents the improvement was even larger, lowering the level of understanding from that of an A-level/degree holder to that of a 13-year-old. These communications are now much clearer and easier to read.
Getting the Message highlights the importance of digging deeper into what our clients were experiencing so that we could look to improve outcomes. With that in mind, the success of the FCA’s Consumer Duty may well rest on the quality of firms’ customer research.
In Mixed Messages we urged firms to test and learn with their own collections communications. In Getting the Message we highlight the practical value of this work.