Why being disability-smart means delivering for every customer

Welcoming disabled customers guide and a Legoland coaster

Welcoming disabled customers guide

By Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum

The most successful businesses are known not just for their products or services or their competitiveness on price but for their customer service – and this means excellent customer service for every customer.

But disabled consumers far too often still experience poor customer service. This usually isn’t because businesses don’t want disabled customers or even that customer facing staff don’t want to serve disabled customers, but is often because of fear; fear of saying or doing the wrong thing and giving offence which means that customer facing staff too often say or do nothing.

The good news is that businesses who instill the confidence in their people to be “disability smart” and to ask how to best serve all their customers stand to reap considerable business benefits.

Back in 2014, the Extra Costs Commission 2014 asked 2,500 disabled people whether they had left a shop or business because of poor disability awareness or understanding and 75% said that they had. This figure rises to around 80% for people with a memory impairment, autism or a learning disability. Within that 75% headline figure, seven out of ten (70%) had left a high street shop, half (50%) had left a restaurant, pub or club, and a quarter (27%) had left a supermarket.

As well as being the wrong thing ethically and morally, it also makes no sense for businesses, financially. The spending power of disabled people and their friends and families – also known as the Purple Pound – is huge and currently estimated at £249bn per year in the UK alone. And from that same survey, the Extra Costs Commission estimated that the 8.4 million people in the UK who “walk away” were losing British Business around £1.8 billion per month. It’s not just about disabled people either; Millennials – and all of us – are increasingly making ethical and values-based choices on where we spend our time and money. So, I believe that getting it right and providing brilliant service for disabled customers can actually become a USP.

The encouraging news is that businesses are finally waking up to this. The #Valuable campaign and the launch of the #Valuable500 at the World Economic Forum in January this year is all about the power of disability at brand level and the importance of including disabled people in products and services, right from the design stage. #Valuable500 aims to get disability on the agenda at board level in 500 – or more! – global companies and Virgin Media, Unilever, Microsoft and Barclays have already signed up. So how can you follow in their footsteps?

Just last week, with the support of our Member Merlin Entertainments plc, we were delighted to launch our new ‘Welcoming Disabled Customers’ guide at Legoland Windsor, to help every business provide brilliant service to disabled customers. Designed as a simple reference tool, it aims to give confidence to customer-facing staff with really practical and simple hints and tips.

Diane and a Lego model

Diane Lightfoot (right) and a Lego model

It’s split into sections so that it’s easily digestible and can be used as a quick reference guide when needed. It starts with practical tips on how to support customers with different types of impairments, for example, how best to guide a customer with a visual impairment up or down stairs, plus helpful information on etiquette, for example, that someone’s wheelchair is part of their personal space.

As anyone who has heard me speak knows (!), one of the stats I like to use is that over 90% of disabilities are not immediately visible. So, it’s likely that for a large proportion of the time, customer facing staff may not know that a customer is disabled. So, the second part of the guide gives general advice and things to think about and to be aware of, like being clear when communicating, not using confusing language or simply taking time to ask what someone needs: “how can I help you?” really can go a long way! In this way, we hope that the guide will have the added benefit of making customer facing colleagues better at serving every customer because if you can get it right for disabled customers you get it right for everyone.

Legoland Hotel, Windsor

Legoland Hotel, Windsor

It was great to see this ethos put into practice at our Legoland launch where the commitment to getting it right for disabled customers was obvious in every staff member. We heard some really moving stories from parents whose disabled child had been able to be “just another child” in their experience of Legoland and from the Legoland team whose passion for opening up as many attractions to as many people as possible was so apparent. We had the privilege of seeing not only the different options for accessible bedrooms in the hotel – we visited the “adventure” themed floor and it was great to see the different options available – as well as surely the funkiest Changing Places toilet ever and a very peaceful and beautiful sensory centre to enable everyone to enjoy the delights of Denmark’s greatest export (it’s something to build on). The fun setting (yes, we all had our photo taken with Lego sculptures and more!) didn’t detract from the fact that Merlin Entertainments plc are very keen to keep on improving in taking customer service for people with all kinds of conditions and disabilities seriously.

With World Consumer Rights Day on Friday (15 March) and Disability Access Day on Saturday (16 March), the spotlight is firmly on customer service delivery, this week. But, let’s ensure that it doesn’t stop there. Meeting the needs of all customers is something which businesses should be doing every day of the year. If you would like to know more, then why not get in touch to find out how we can help?

To learn more about being disability-smart, contact our membership team

Email David Goodchild, our Executive Director of Membership & Business Development

Diane Lightfoot

CEO, Business Disability Forum

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