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In this blog, our Chief Customer Officer, Sara Protheroe, shares some of the ways that we're making excellent customer service accessible to members with specific needs.

Our members often join us at a stressful time in their lives, after their employer or former employer has collapsed. Even if they haven’t lost their job as part of the process, there may have been a lot of uncertainty around the future of their pension.  

That’s why we want to make their onward journey with us as smooth as possible. We’ve always made outstanding customer service a priority and we’re proud to consistently deliver satisfaction levels around 98 per cent. 

But where do you go from there? We’re always looking for ways to make our service even better.  

We know that many of our members need extra help when dealing with us. Whether they're dealing with a mental or physical health issue, difficulties with sight or speech, or something else, we know that their confidence, capability and energy to deal with us may be affected temporarily or permanently. That’s the case for any consumer-facing business, and pensions organisations naturally tend to have a lot of older customers with specific needs related to age. 

The service and support required can be highly individual, but these customers have a common requirement for a service that shows understanding for their difficulties and finds ways to support them.  

We work with SignLive to receive calls from deaf members

To help British Sign Language (BSL) users communicate with us, as of this month we’re using online BSL interpreting service SignLive. While most things can be done on our member website, members who use BSL and want to call us can now use a free online BSL interpreter from SignLive to do so. 

All members have to do is register for SignLive once, through the SignLive website or app. Our team don’t need to do anything differently. When a member contacts us via SignLive, the team member our end is connected to an interpreter who relays the call to us. 

As Dementia Friends, we’re supporting members living with dementia

Since 2018 we’ve trained all our customer-facing staff as Dementia Friends, which means they have a good awareness of the kinds of experiences someone living with dementia may have and a better understanding of the support we can provide. 

Members can also nominate someone else to deal with us on their behalf, through a power of attorney, letter of authority or verbal authority, if the member is there to answer some verification questions.   

We offer different types of support to try to make life a little easier for members

Our team can also use Relay UK, a service which helps people with hearing and speech difficulties to communicate over the phone using the national relay service. We also take extra care to support members who have learning difficulties, and we can provide large print or Braille documents to anyone who needs them.

All these small ways in which we try to make life a bit easier for our members are only useful if people know they exist. We try to tell members what’s available through our member communications, and we also keep an ear open for any clues that a member might need some help.

Our team are trained to offer support delicately and sensitively – something I’m particularly proud of. Most importantly, we ask the member if it’s ok for us to make a record of what help they’d like, so that they don’t have to start all over again when they next contact us.  

Our websites are as accessible as possible

Our member websites’ content follows the internationally recognised accessibility guidelines produced by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). 

In practice, this means things like using colours that make text easier to read, and labelling links and images so that they’re compatible with screen readers. We also put captions on all our videos, including video guides to help people use our member website.  

Bereavement is hard, so we’ve reduced the paperwork 

Sadly – as other pension providers can relate – our contact centre team often receive calls from the bereaved relatives of our members, telling us their loved one has passed away. Our team are specially trained in dealing with these calls sensitively, but it’s never an easy conversation for the person at the other end of the phone. 

In 2022 we launched a bereavement notification tool that enables relatives of members to contact us online and upload documents easily, instead of having to tell us over the phone. 

Since then we’ve also become part of the Government’s Tell Us Once service. This is an optional, free service that makes it easier to report a death to most government departments and local councils in one go. For people who choose and are eligible to use the service, the PPF is now included in the departments and organisations that receive the Tell Us Once notification.

Our next area of focus is mental health

Last year we carried out some quantitative research among members with particular needs to find out what they thought of our service and how we could better support them. Mental health was an area that was highlighted in the research. Poor mental health can affect members’ ability to deal with us in various ways. The challenge is in identifying the condition and personalising the service around it. This will be our next area of focus, with training for our Contact Centre team beginning later this month.

We’re also about to start trialling a befriending service for members. We often receive calls from members who just want someone to talk to, and our employees will be able to use their paid volunteering time to chat with them.

Our ambition is to be as inclusive as possible

Last year CEM Benchmarking, which assesses our pension administration and customer service against other similar-sized pension providers, recognised the PPF as a global leader in adjusting systems and processes to support members with additional needs.

Implementing such changes aren’t simple; they take time, investment and sometimes require changes to working practices and training. But it can be done, with a long-range focus on excellent service for all customers and an ambition to be as inclusive as possible. My advice for any organisation looking to improve its service for customers who need extra help would be:

  1. Seek inputs from customers themselves to find out what they need. 
  2. Learn from what other organisations are doing. We took inspiration from the work Skipton Building Society did to become a dementia friendly organisation, and from Sky on a befriending scheme they operate. 
  3. Set specific, measurable goals for implementing changes. 
  4. Look for guidance from experts relevant to your customers’ challenges e.g. disability and dementia charities. 
  5. Make sure your customers know what support is there for them and how to access it.