MaPS trialled a way to reduce missed debt advice appointments using behavioural science. Eight partner organisations participated in the pilot. Louise Lee from Citizens Advice Derbyshire Districts shares how it affected frontline staff, what worked, and what they would do differently.
Why we joined the pilot
At Citizens Advice Derbyshire Districts we’re always keen to be involved in new initiatives which may improve the service we offer. Having experienced an increase in no shows, when we heard about the Money and Pensions Service pilot we decided it would be a great opportunity to look more into this and see whether we could improve the situation.
It was keenly felt that many of those missing appointments were the most vulnerable clients who really needed help.
We were given details about how the pilot would be implemented and what the aim was. We didn’t expect to see miracle results, but wanted to raise our own awareness of where things could be improved.
What we did
Through the MaPS pilot we implemented a new communication system based on behavioural science, designed to reduce the number of no-shows.
Under the new system, we sent up to three progressive communications to clients before a debt advice appointment:
- first, to acknowledge the effort they’d already invested and to prompt their commitment to attend
- second, to prompt the client to collect the relevant information, and
- third, prompting them to plan on getting to the appointment.
This intervention lasted for approximately five months.
How we measured outcomes
As we have a number of offices over a large geographical area, we looked at how best to capture the results, because one small outreach being excluded could skew the results by quite a margin, and we wanted it to be as true a reflection as possible of the reality.
We decided therefore to focus from the start on the busiest larger offices where we could monitor the true impact. One member of the admin team was given responsibility to oversee the reports and monitor the appointments.
As a team we were given a group training session so everyone understood what was being done and why, then the Admin person was given one-to-one training on the mechanics as we had to introduce mail merge and get used to technology we hadn’t used previously.
Being a local office, cost was always going to be a consideration, but the pilot anticipated our additional costs (mostly postage and admin time) and made a budget available so were could cover these. During the course of the pilot cost was not an issue but, going forward, if we were to keep to the original format, it would have meant a large increase in our postage costs and an additional workload for already busy admin staff.
Following the pilot we reduced the number of reminders as we couldn’t support the extra costs of postage on a long term basis. We agreed on one friendly reminder in the style of the pilot based on their behavioural science would be helpful when there is a longer wait to keep clients engaged.
One of our main challenges early on was that the admin worker who had been given responsibility for overseeing the day-to-day running of the pilot left suddenly for personal reasons, which we were not able to plan for. Luckily another admin worker offered to pick up the reins and MaPS provided urgent assistance to get him up to speed and provided additional support so we were able to remain in the pilot.
What we would have done differently
Wider team engagement
In retrospect, we didn’t work hard enough to explain to the wider team what the pilot was about and why we were doing it, so, because the bulk of the work lay with one person. Everyone else was aware but not overly affected by it, which is understandable, given the pressures of money advice. This was unfair on the admin worker responsible for the monitoring and reporting.
If we were to engage in a similar pilot I would use this experience to do things differently because if the whole team had bought into the wider goal and understood the pilot more, we would maybe have had more suggestions for improvement and more advisers help with gathering contact details which would have made life easier for the admin worker and more beneficial for the clients.
We did see a 15% reduction in the amount of no shows, which is positive.
However, the main benefit to us was that the monitoring process focussed our attention on the situation and triggered further thinking about next steps. The evidence proved a correlation between long waiting times and increased no shows. An outcome of this is that we have altered our systems so appointments cannot be booked too far in advance.
It has also improved the collection of contact details at first point of contact, and staff are more in the habit of doing this now.
The pilot was overall a positive experience and there was always friendly and efficient support available when we needed it. We have used the findings to improve our service and wouldn’t hesitate to take part in another pilot if we felt it relevant. Thank you to MaPS for the opportunity.