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Why “Dementia Friendly” Is A Win For All Customers

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Find out how a non-profit partnership can accelerate accessibility of service for all customers.

Creating accessible services for customers is something that all businesses increasingly need to deliver to meet consumer needs, and a fundamental part of EQ’s (Equiniti’s) purpose, to care for every customer.

In the first of a series on Customer Accessibility, we explore how a non-profit collaboration with Dementia Friends has equipped our teams with the specialist skills to support people with dementia, which in turn has unlocked wider benefits for all customers.

With the number of people living with dementia in the UK set to rise to over 1 million by 2025, businesses need to address its future (and present) impact on both their staff and customers. This growing group rightly has big expectations and wants to deal with companies that can effectively support them and their families. Those who fail to do so can expect the loss of customer faith, reputational damage and even major regulatory implications.

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The digital barrier

Telephony and online channels can be particularly challenging when it comes to identifying and acting on signs of dementia. The absence of face-to-face interaction means non-verbal clues are often lost.

In a call centre environment, it’s unlikely that a customer will be routed through to the same adviser more than once, reducing the opportunity to build familiarity or to spot repeat patterns of behaviour.

On the flip side, the anonymity can make it easier for the customer to disclose their vulnerability without embarrassment.

A call to a bank, filling in a form or checking a balance online are simple transactions many of us take for granted, but the Alzheimer’s Society is clear that these can be fraught with difficulty for someone with dementia:

“The symptoms of dementia can make interactions with financial service providers difficult, particularly if a person experiences forgetfulness or difficulty following processes. This can have significant consequences – for example forgetting to pay a bill could result in debts. With support and adjustments from financial service providers, people affected by dementia can continue to independently manage their finances.”

Be the change

Your organisation might want to make these adjustments, but where to start?

Understanding is key. People experience dementia in different ways and will respond to situations and others differently. A partnership is essential if businesses want to rapidly gain the specialist insight needed to improve their experiences.

EQ began its own journey through the Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friends programme, which aims to transform the way the nation thinks, acts and talks about the condition.

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What is a Dementia Friend?

Becoming a Dementia Friend means learning about how dementia affects a person and then, armed with this understanding, making everyday adjustments that help.

For example, taking a little more time on a phone call to make sure the caller has understood, or reassuring them that they are not under any pressure. Guidance centres on communicating clearly, whether talking, listening or providing practical support.

Over 400 EQ colleagues have completed Dementia Friends training so far, including 85% of agents at our Customer Experience Centre, where the vast majority of EQ’s customer interactions take place.

Five steps to a strong dementia partnership

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Defer to the experts

Dementia is a complex condition – accept that you won’t have all the answers and team up with a specialist organisation that does. Find out more about Dementia Friends.

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Get buy in from the top

Customer Experience Centre leadership were EQ’s first colleagues to be trained as Dementia Friends – senior first-hand experience helps drive the agenda.

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Nurture champions

Once you’re able to deliver training in-house, it becomes much easier to share it with more colleagues. Nurturing these skills within your team is a big plus.

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Recognise success

Recognition never goes unappreciated – one way is to call out your Dementia Friends through internal communications and this helps to attract more new recruits too.

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Take it further

The more you do with your partnership, the more colleagues become invested. For us this has gone from training, to fundraising and next to skills-based volunteering.

A surprise benefit is that those trained are improving the overall standard of their service by using the techniques more broadly across all calls, enhancing the experience for all customers and supporting EQ’s purpose to care for every customer. It has also meant colleagues feel more empowered to deliver a flexible service to meet the customer’s needs, for example speaking with family members if confusion arises.

Building a network

A handful of colleagues have also gone on to become Dementia Champions, growing their knowledge and allowing them to deliver the essential training to others in the business. Establishing Champions like Training Team Leader, Leanne Trevis, has been crucial in driving the number of colleagues involved in the initiative so high. Every time a champion delivers training, they head to the charity’s website and log their new Dementia Friend; Leanne now boasts more than 150:

Next steps

EQ is well on the way to delivering Dementia Friends training to all its customer facing colleagues, and is working towards becoming accredited as a ‘dementia friendly’ organisation. We’ll continue to roll-out awareness training for key colleagues, to position internal champions across functions and locations; a strategy we’d recommend to other businesses.

The Alzheimer’s Society have approached us to use our Dementia Champions to deliver training in local communities, including local colleges and Scout groups. It’s something we’ll be able to support once social distancing is relaxed further and which our colleagues will be able to use their annual volunteer days to get involved in.

Of course, training and awareness amongst customer facing colleagues is just one step towards customer accessibility. Inclusive system design, providing the right tools for customers and embedding solid customer experience values are amongst the others which Amanda Rochford, EQ’s Head of Customer Accessibility & Inclusion is focusing on. Amanda is leading a Group-wide vulnerable customer programme which officially launched at the start of the year. She says the benefits of the Dementia Friends partnership have been far-reaching. 

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“The concept of ‘dementia friendly’ is being proven to be good for all. Dementia-friendly schemes encompass so many different aspects such as accessible environments, supportive customer service, and awareness which will benefit other customers. Businesses where staff are aware of people’s different needs and trained in patience, respect and understanding, will be equipped to support all types of customers with differing vulnerabilities, learning disabilities, hidden disabilities and other needs.