Service design innovation

Reducing missed appointments using behavioural science

A guide to a new communication system

When a client doesn’t attend a debt advice appointment (‘no shows’), it means they are not receiving (or at least delaying receiving) debt advice which can dramatically improve their financial circumstances.

Advisers also have to prepare for each appointment, so every ‘no show’ not only wastes the time spent planning, but also the time reserved for the appointment itself. Among participants in this trial, the pre-existing ‘no show’ rate for debt advice appointments was 26%.

A new communication system

The Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) has developed a new communication system (NCS) intervention, based on behavioural science, designed to reduce the number of clients missing appointments across the sector.

The NCS consisted of sending up to three communications in advance of a debt advice appointment, using the latest thinking in behavioural science to be concise but more frequent, elicit greater commitment, make the key message more salient and reduce the complexity of the tasks involved.

The impact

Eight participant organisations were involved in the intervention which lasted for approximately five months. The results of the trial were clear – with the NCS in place there was a significant reduction in the number of missed appointments by almost a quarter (24%). At the same time, attendance overall increased, as did cancellations.

How the NCS works

The communication process below summarises how we propose debt advice providers implement the NCS. It is designed to provide flexibility to accommodate varying waiting times and current booking structure, developed from the learnings and the recommendations captured from the impact evaluation and interviews with front-line staff and clients.

Wider application

This same approach was also successful for other parts of the debt advice process. At one provider, similar techniques were used to increase the number of clients returning information required in order to progress their case to their adviser. By sending additional reminders in accordance with the NCS, the returns increased by 34% overall, while those being returned in the same week increased by around 80%.

We encourage debt advice providers to look at the report and use the learnings with the toolkit provided to review their current communications with clients. It is our hope that our findings will influence change across the sector by reducing no-shows and helping more people in debt.

The summary report looks at further application and includes practical guidance for implementation.

You can also download templates for email, post and SMS communication alongside a guide to the NCS.