The importance of signposting

Getting your service users to the right place at the right time

The importance of signposting

9th November 2022

By Connect Assist

The world of advice and support services can be a confusing one – especially for a caller in distress.  People need help navigating their way around, and your helpline advisers could be perfectly placed to do just that. 

So how do you ensure that your organisation gets signposting right? At Connect Assist, we’ve got teams of helpline advisers who are trained in knowing when, how and where to signpost. Here’s how they do it.

What is signposting?

First up, it’s time for Dictionary Corner! What is signposting, and how is it different from referral, or information and advice?

Information, guidance and advice is the bread and butter of your helpline. Somebody calls your money and debt helpline with a problem about debt, and your trained advisers provide them with information to address that issue.

Signposting is the practice of giving a service user the details of other organisations who can help. So if a caller to your money and debt line mentions that they’ve got a housing issue or a gambling problem too, you provide them with the contact details of services which can help. It’s up to them to make contact.

Referral is more formal, and it puts the ball in the other service’s court. You pass on the client’s details (abiding by all data protection regulations, of course), and the client waits to hear from that service. 

Now, let’s take a look at signposting in more detail.

What are the pros of signposting?

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why you need to signpost.

Cons of signposting

The big drawback to signposting is that it can be too much for some clients. A recent report from the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute highlights the fact that one in four people using mental health services are also in problem debt. It’s hard for them to call multiple helplines: even phoning one takes a huge amount of courage.

And the Ask Us project looked at the barriers preventing young people seeking help. These include:  having negative past experiences of advice; lacking trust in advisers due to being let down previously by carers; practical accessibility issues; and having trauma in their background. 

All these can prompt people to give up if they’re not offered the support they need at the first time of asking.

So if you don’t believe your client is capable of chasing up further services, then it might be better to refer them instead to an organisation that provides across-the-board support: social services, social prescribing, or link working

And if you do signpost, then it’s vital to do it well.

How to signpost well

So how can you do your best to empower rather than discourage your clients? Here are our top tips:

1. Research other organisations in advance

Put some time and effort into setting up a knowledge bank that your advisers can draw on. It should contain information about each service, its opening hours, and eligibility criteria. Make sure you keep it up to date!

You must signpost only to services that you’re confident are worthwhile. Otherwise, it could distress your client, and reflect badly on your own organisation.

2. Have a clearly defined remit and pathway

It’s important that your service is clear about what it can and can’t do. Don’t risk offering bad advice: stick to what you know. 

So that means knowing when it’s time to stop advising and start signposting, using the database you’ve already developed (see step 1).

3. State clearly at the start of a call what you can offer

With your clearly defined remit, you can tell service users at the start of a call what issues you can help them with. Explain that you might have to signpost them for further support. That way, they are less likely to feel let down or disappointed when you can’t help straight away.

4. Listen actively to get to the root of the issues

If somebody calls with several issues, it can take time, patience and care to untangle the problems. Listen actively! That means your advice will be more accurate, you’ll build up trust with your client, and be able to signpost more accurately.

5. Manage expectations about the new service

This is a tough one. When people call your helpline, you know that they might be disappointed to be “fobbed off”. So it’s tempting to promise that the next service will wave a magic wand and solve all their problems!

But you’re setting that service up to fail if you over-hype it. Instead, keep your language measured. However….

6. Be encouraging

You don’t want to put too much of a downer on the caller, so motivate them to make that next call. Explain that the next organisation is the expert in this field, with bags of experience in helping people in similar situations.Perhaps you know of other clients who’ve been happy with the alternative service? Tell your caller about them – anonymised, of course – to encourage them to take the next step. 

7. Make sure the client is eligible for the service

You don’t want to waste anyone’s time by sending service users from pillar to post. So do a quick check of eligibility criteria before you pass on details.

Contact Connect Assist today

At Connect Assist, we pride ourselves on the quality of our helpline advisers. We want to give these highly qualified and trained professionals the tools they need to do the very best job they can. 

We provide excellent tech that gives them easy access to knowledge bases, so they have all the signposting information they’ll need at their fingertips. 

To discuss outsourcing your contact centre services to Connect Assist, give us a bell or drop us a line today. 


If you need our help in developing more effective, meaningful connections with customers, get in touch today.