Helen Pettifer discusses how a technique called “signposting” can improve your customer support, particularly when dealing with vulnerable customers.
Many of your customers will approach you with multiple requirements. Whilst they have your attention, they are looking to you to help them complete a range of actions. Some may be routine; others are a little more complex or bespoke.
When it comes to vulnerable customers, their needs may be incredibly diverse. As an organization, you should make every effort to support them. Even with the best intentions, it is unlikely that you can meet all needs in-house. As part of your toolkit, signposting can be a valuable extension to what you offer.
This article explores what signposting is and what you need in place to action it.
What Is Signposting?
In the context of customer service, signposting is directing people to other individuals, charities or third parties who can help them. This could be to a specialist within your company who has the knowledge, skills or resources to best meet their needs. It could be to a non-related organization that could provide relevant support.
Effective signposting is dependent on a good understanding of other local and national organizations. It isn’t just fobbing someone off by pointing them in the direction of someone else who you hope will take over. It is recommending relevant organizations who you know can offer a level of specialist support.
Why Is Signposting Important?
None of us can fully understand another’s situation. If we are unable to help and that is the end of the conversation, it could be the last straw. That customer may see no other options; they may feel helpless. If the issue remains unresolved, that individual and others reliant on them could be at risk of serious harm.
This may sound dramatic, but imagine a confused dementia sufferer who is sitting in the cold through winter because they can’t understand a change in their energy company’s payment process. Consider the abuse victim who planned to leave, but has to return because the bank’s policy meant they couldn’t withdraw money from their account without their partner’s signature.
If you cannot help, but you can actively direct the customer to access support from someone else, it is not the end of the line. They can explore other options and have a better chance of getting the necessary support.
What Do You Need in Order to Effectively Signpost Vulnerable Customers to Other Organizations?
The first step towards effective signposting is to build knowledge of local and national charities that are directly relevant to your industry and your customers.
Developing a Signposting Resource
If you are a financial institution, you might start by exploring local debt management services and credit unions. You might make contact with the nearest benefits agency and a local will-writing solicitor. It is also worth considering the causes of financial vulnerability, including redundancy, relationship break-ups and gambling. Which organizations could you direct customers to, if they shared such information with you?
You can then begin creating a list of what services are available. To help get your list started, here are a few organizations that offer support with debt management: Step Change or Money Advice Service and your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau.
Clarify What Each Organization Offers
It is important to really understand how each organization can help – do they provide a listening ear or practical support? Is the service free and, if not, what is the cost for an initial meeting?
It is also useful to know how to access help. Is it a drop-in service, online support or do individuals need to call and speak with someone? Make sure to find out the relevant information, such as opening hours or a direct phone number.
The best option is often to meet with local organizations. You can then begin to build links that could be of real value to your customers.
Preparing Employees for Signposting
With signposting on the agenda, introduce it in staff meetings. Your employees may be able to draw on their experience and share customer issues that they were not able to resolve. This could help to identify relevant organizations that need to be added to the list.
Effective signposting takes more than pinning a leaflet on a noticeboard. The ideal is if your employees can clearly explain to the customer why they are directing them elsewhere. They should clarify how the other organization can help. They might even need to ring on the customer’s behalf to make an appointment.
Your employees should be given access to resources that help them to signpost. In addition to the list, this could include leaflets that they can hand out to customers.
Vulnerable Customer Training
Vulnerable customer training can help your employees to identify when additional support is needed. It can really make an impact and break down barriers if you invite an organization in to talk at a staff training event. This builds a deeper understanding of the support services and the impact.
Encouraging staff to participate in community involvement activities with local organizations is another effective way of building awareness and stronger connections. If they can see the challenges from a fresh perspective, they will be better equipped to know when it is appropriate to signpost and understand how this extra support can be beneficial.
No organization can meet all customer needs in-house. With the right knowledge and resources, your team can extend their support by identifying needs and signposting to relevant organizations. This strategy can be part of your Vulnerable Customer Policy and can make all the difference to the people that you serve.
It’s time to start building connections with community groups, charities and other third-party organizations!
Thanks to Helen Pettifer, Director of Helen Pettifer Training, for sharing this article with us.