Using behavioural insights to support customers in distress
Effective responses to distress are important for the emotional and mental health of customers. See how we helped frontline staff develop skills and resources to respond with confidence.
Customers impacted by mental and emotional distress, including suicidal thoughts, may display signs of distress when interacting with frontline staff.
What we did
We partnered with a NSW Government frontline agency to understand how their staff currently interact with customers in distress and where behavioural insights could be used to improve their response.
What we found
Which behaviours matter?
Staff should respond compassionately to all signs of customer distress, create a supportive environment, and take action to help. Staff also need to look after themselves and others after helping customers in distress.
What gets in the way of these behaviours?
- Lack of confidence and knowledge about how to respond to customers in distress.
- Role and responsibility.
- Many staff thought acknowledging and responding to customer distress was outside their role.
- Scarcity of time and mental resources.
- Staff often felt responding to distress was time-consuming and took them away from addressing customer queries.
- Frictions in staff accessing support for themselves.
- The pandemic and working from home made it harder for staff to recognise when colleagues were struggling.
- Lack of clear referral pathways for customers who needed further support.
What supports these behaviours?
- Social influence from skilled staff members and managers.
- Staff were more likely to exhibit skills in responding to distress when they had colleagues with these skills and managers who modelled these skills.
- Motivation to help customers.
- Staff cared about their customers and were strongly motivated to help them.
Our research found three ways behavioural science can help your staff support customers in distress:
1. Create clear defaults
People tend to follow the default option. Staff can:
- create a clear set of actions for staff to take when they encounter a customer in distress
- use visual cues and tools to help them follow these practice.
2. Close the feedback loop
People often seek help when unsure what to do. Staff should:
- make sure managers have the training and tools to coach staff on how to respond to distress
- create formal pathways for staff to connect and debrief with each other
- regularly share positive feedback from customers.
3. Align the environment
Compassionate responding should feel consistent with other behaviours that staff do. Staff can:
- check that policies, performance frameworks and workplace training reinforce compassionate responding
- address structural barriers to compassionate responses, such as heavy workloads and unclear referral pathways.
We have successfully piloted tools to address these barriers at our partner agency, which are now being rolled out to their staff. We are now building on this work with other agencies across government.
If you would like further information about how to assist customers in distress, see the guide. For all other queries