A report into the accessibility of telephone banking and insurance services to limited English speakers.
Research was carried out into how the contact centers of British banks and insurance companies handle phone calls from people speaking with limited English. The research was conducted by thebigwordGroup, a global provider of language services.
Research calls were made to 15 of Britain’s major financial services providers between January and May 2007. Calls were to nationally advertised numbers. Calls with the aim of opening a bank account were made to:
Calls asking for a quotation for car insurance were made to:
Calls were made by 12 researchers, each speaking a different non-English language. The researchers were all non-English native speakers resident in the UK. Each researcher was given a script to work through. They first asked, in their own language, to speak to someone who could understand them. The researcher then rated the responses on how the call was managed.
The choice of languages was based on the most widely spoken European languages in the UK and the most common languages handled by thebigwordGroup’s telephone interpreting service. Languages used were:
In 2005, net migration into the UK was 185,000. That is the equivalent of adding 500 people a day to the UK population*.
Of those people that came from the eight central and eastern European countries that joined the EU on 1 May 2004, almost 85 per cent came with intention of working*. A UK bank account is essential for these workers and many of them will need to purchase and insure a vehicle.
Opening a bank account or taking out insurance is an important financial transaction. The Association of British Bankers voluntary code, subscribed to by most major financial institutions, advises that customers should be given clear information on products and services. This is not possible if language barriers come between the customer and the bank or insurance company.
*Source: Office of National Statistics.
Out of the 180 calls made, only 3 resulted in a solution to the language barrier and the researchers obtaining the information they required. HSBC was able to track down a Spanish and a Bengali speaker, whilst Direct Line found someone who spoke broken German. The best response of the insurance companies was from the RAC who eventually called the researcher back in French a few days later.
Researchers reported they did not receive an overall positive customer experience in 92 per cent of the calls to banks. For insurers the figure was 84 per cent. Of the 9 banks approached only HSBC and NatWest would be used again by more than 2 of the researchers. No researcher said they would use Alliance and Leicester, Citibank, Lloyds TSB or Nationwide again.
Of the 6 insurance companies only Norwich Union and Prudential would be used again by three researchers out of the 12. Of the banks approached, NatWest proved the most willing to help, with Bank of Scotland scoring the lowest. Norwich Union were the most willing to help of the insurance companies, with Churchill and Privilege at the bottom of the 6 companies called. Of the 12 researchers 8 researchers reported a positive initial response from Citibank and HSBC and 9 experienced a positive initial response from RAC, NatWest and Norwich Union.
Some researchers made interesting comments about the financial services providers they called:
This report demonstrates that the UK’s financial services companies are failing to provide sufficient customer service levels and are unable to communicate effectively with a large number of their potential customers.
Some British financial services providers may be taking measures to overcome language barriers at high street branch level. However, there is still a striking lack of services available to support inquiries made by limited English speakers to bank and insurance company contact centers. Telephone interpreting services, such as those of thebigwordGroup, are readily available in the UK.
Calls from limited English speakers can be quickly connected to an interpreter, who can join the call. Help is also available to identify the correct language being spoken, if it is not obvious. Many government departments and agencies already provide such a service.
The UK today is a multi-language society. Pressure is mounting on the public and private sectors to ensure equal access to services, irrespective of language. However, bank and insurance company contact centers do not yet have the capability to be able to speak to every customer who calls them.
thebigword is a translation service provider. Services provided by thebigword include: interpreting, multimedia voice over, eLearning, and web site translation and localization.
Published: Friday, August 31, 2007
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