How to ensure you offer accessible customer service to all

Welcoming and helpful customer service is the number one issue for access citizens wanting to participate in public activities and events. Find out how your business can get this right.

A cheerful yellow infographic, with the header "The top enablers of accessibility", followed by a smiley face and the words "Welcoming and helpful customer service", and an icon denoting a website with the words "Accessible online information".

In our recent Access 2020 survey, we asked people with a disability/access need for their views on access to public activities and events. Their answers showed just how important customer accessibility is for businesses.

Why is accessibility important?

In our survey, 52% of access citizens reported that because of poor accessibility they are unable to participate in activities such as shopping, going to restaurants and cafes, visiting museums and galleries, or attending the theatre or sports events. That’s bad for them, and it’s bad for business too because that’s a lot of custom you’re missing out on.

The good news is that the key changes for making your business more accessible are not hugely costly or difficult. And customer service is a good place to start.
Welcoming and helpful customer service came out as the top enabler in our survey: in fact, 40% of respondents said that this would enable them to participate in public activities and events. Conversely, unwelcoming or unhelpful customer service was one of the top barriers (69%, second only to inaccessible physical spaces at 70%).

How to make your business more accessible

Accessible design is important, but access isn’t just about buildings – it’s also about people. That means the way you treat customers once they are there.

For example, we worked with Kiwi Property to improve the accessibility of their shopping centres and commercial buildings. But as well as looking at how accessible their buildings were, we also provided accessible customer service training. Staff at the Plaza shopping centre in Palmerston North underwent training with Be. Lab specialists to think about how they could be as welcoming as possible to all customers.

This meant thinking about different scenarios, some of which might not be immediately obvious. A parent with a pram will have access needs, and someone with an invisible disability such as a sensory processing disorder might find the noise, lighting and busyness of a shopping centre overwhelming.

In fact, another challenge identified in our survey is around perceptions: 53% of respondents with a personal disability/access need said that it isn’t easily noticeable.

This is something you will need to take into account when developing more accessibility-friendly customer service. It might mean thinking outside the box about what you can do to help all your visitors and customers.

How does a business get started with accessible customer service?

There are two main principles here: respect, and consideration

Respect means remembering that customer service for people with access needs is the same as for all your customers: treating everyone with the courtesy you would want to receive yourself. For example, speak directly to the customer, not to their companion.

Consideration includes thinking about ways to make communication easier. This could be as simple as speaking clearly and facing the customer directly, in case they have limited hearing and need to look at your face and lips as you talk.

It also means looking for other practical ways to help. It’s useful if you have accessibility information on hand, for example about where customers can find the nearest accessible restroom. You should also make it easy for the customer to make a request – all you need is a statement on your website (or online booking form), or a sign at the counter, inviting customers to let staff know if they have any specific needs.

If you’re in the hospitality business, a hearing-impaired customer might prefer to sit in a quieter area of a bar or restaurant or if you’re in retail, someone using a power chair may need a larger changing space. Accommodation providers might be asked for a connecting room for a caregiver. If you are putting on events, customers might need a large print schedule, a Sign Language interpreter or a wheelchair space.

By asking them what they need, and engaging with confidence, your customers will feel welcomed and valued. And that’s what all customer service is about.

If you need help improving accessibility for your customers, we can work with your organisation to put together a bespoke strategy. Find out more at our One-Stop Shop.


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