The Plain Numbers Approach

We always want to put our customers first, as part of our vision to create a world where insurance is personal, inclusive and a force for good. Richard Beaumont, Design Chapter Area Lead at DLG, explains how we are working with the social enterprise Plain Numbers to make numeracy simpler for our customers.

A big part of Direct Line Group’s vision is to be a force for good. Sure, we want to be successful, but it’s in our DNA to care about how we get there. That’s why we decided to get involved with Plain Numbers, to simplify how we communicate with our customers.

Launched in early 2021, Plain Numbers is a social enterprise that works with partner brands across different industries to help them support customers who struggle with numbers. According to the 2011 Skills for Life Survey, poor numeracy affects approximately half of working age adults in the UK, so it’s important that what we say is easy for everyone to understand.

The collaboration with Plain Numbers complements nicely the working partnership we’ve fostered with the disability equality charity Scope. After all, we serve a diverse mix of people and making our products and services accessible to everyone sits right at the heart of what we do. We’re incredibly proud to have worked alongside Plain Numbers, research agency Kantar and the rest of the partner brands, Thames Water, ClearScore, Octopus Energy and Atlanta Insurance. This has allowed us to not only see how people understand what we tell them – but it also gave us the opportunity to share our learnings with our partners – and share their learnings with us.

The Plain Numbers approach

By testing a company’s existing customer content with an alternative version, Plain Numbers aims to demonstrate where people struggle and how we can adapt how we communicate to make things easier to understand.

The Plain Numbers approach involved putting each version of the content in front of 500 people and asking them five questions in order to assess how well they understood it. By seeing how many people answered the questions correctly, we get an insight into how easy the content is to understand.

What we tested

When you’re buying car insurance, one of the key decisions you need to make is how much excess you’re willing to pay if you need to make a claim. We already knew that customers can struggle to understand this concept, so we decided to take the opportunity to dig deeper into the issue.

Working with Plain Numbers and Kantar, we came up with an alternative version of our content, which explained excess in a different way.

Kantar then tested our existing version and the alternative version, to see if we could improve how well people understood what we put in front of them.

The existing content was shown to half of the participants, and the new version to the other half. They were then asked five questions to see if they understood what excess is and how changing it affects the cost of their insurance.

What we found out

Only 24% of participants who saw our existing version were able to correctly answer at least four of the five questions we asked them. For those who saw the Plain Numbers version, this increased to 30%.

We also found there was a difference between what people thought they understood, and what they were able to understand. With the original version, 60% of people said that the document was ‘presented in a clear and fair way, and I understand it’. This increased to 64% with the Plain Numbers version. This insight has highlighted a great opportunity for us to work even harder to help our customers fully understand what they are buying.

Increasingly our customers are choosing to buy their policies and interact with us online, so we need to make sure that we present information on our websites clearly and simply.

What else did we learn?

The issue isn’t unique to insurance. In all of the studies, people struggled to answer the comprehension questions. None of the original versions scored more than 35% of people answering at least four out of five correctly. The opportunity to embrace simple language is one that we can all embrace.

Where do we go from here?

Seeing how brands operate in different industries to tackle their accessibility issues gives us a great opportunity to bring some of their learnings into our world. We can use what we’ve learned to improve not only how we talk about excess, but also to influence how we explain all our products.

And it doesn’t need to be limited to our relationship with our customers. Even internally there’s opportunities to take what we’ve learned to communicate more clearly with each other.

Our work with Plain Numbers is not done yet. We’ll be building our relationship, testing ideas and sharing what we learn along the way.

You can find out more about the Plain Numbers Approach and read the full report on the Plain Numbers website