12 tips for great customer service – and why welcoming disabled customers means welcoming everyone

Regent Street

By Bela Gor, Business Disability Forum

Purple Tuesday is a reminder of the significance of the Purple Pound and that disabled customers deserve not just to be able to get in to a shop, store or website but really great customer service as well.

The spending power of disabled people in the UK is around £249 billion per year and likely to increase as we live longer. This means that quite apart from being the right thing to do as an ethical retailer, it makes good business sense to design premises and websites that are both accessible and usable and to train customer facing colleagues on how to provide excellent customer service to disabled people. If you can do this then you will be providing the best shopping experience for everyone, regardless of disability.

Receiving good customer service is important to everyone, but it can be particularly important to disabled customers and clients who may have very specific needs and be concerned about how these will be met by your organisation. When surveyed about access, 72 per cent of disabled people said that were more likely to visit somewhere new if they were welcomed by staff or the venue appeared to care about access.

What makes for great customer service?

  1. Know your customer
  2. Obvious really but disabled customers should be treated with the same courtesy and respect as anyone else.
  3. Be aware of your legal obligations – although if you are committed to providing the best possible customer service, you will more than meet the requirements of the law.
  4. Nevertheless, ensure that disabled customers can access your service in the same way or as close as possible to the same way as customers without a disability.
  5. If this is not possible, you must offer a reasonable alternative. This may mean doing things differently and providing the service in a different way. The level of service should not change, however. This is an opportunity to think flexibly and creatively about how to provide great service while meeting the needs of your disabled customers.
  6. Make sure signage is clear and direct.
  7. Grant access to assistance dogs. Assistance dogs provide vital support to a wide range of disabled people and people with long-term conditions.
  8. Ensure that customer service and sales assistants know the building. There is no point in making your premises as accessible as possible if customers aren’t told about lifts, accessible toilets, ramps, and hearing loops. Schedule regular checks to ensure these facilities are working and make sure you inform disabled customers and offer alternatives. You can’t help things breaking but you can and should make contingency plans for when they do. Remember to tell your customers about the alternative ways in which you can provide the service to them. It shouldn’t need saying, but telling disabled customers to come back another day when things are fixed is not an acceptable alternative!
  9. Be aware of emergency evacuation procedures and how they affect people with disabilities. Be ready to explain procedures to people if needed.
  10. Always be on the lookout for people who may need extra assistance and offer help regardless of whether or not you think the person has a disability. Most disabilities after all are not visible.
  11. Some people may need extra time paying for goods or completing a form. Always be patient and never rush the customer, even if other customers are waiting.
  12. Have local public transport information available including numbers of accessible taxis.

Disabled customers are more likely to return if they receive good customer service. Providing such service gives out a positive message to everyone about how much you value all your customers. Good customer service goes beyond days like Purple Tuesday. This is an opportunity for retailers to get it right and to keep getting it right every day of the year for all their customers.

The unsung people helping millions stay in work – and why we need to acknowledge them

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photos

Angela Matthews

By Angela Matthews, Business Disability Forum

At Business Disability Forum we put a big focus on the idea of ‘Going Places’ – being able to get into work, to get on at work, and to lead a productive life. The conversations about this of kind social mobility for disabled people tend to focus on what businesses and government can do – making buildings accessible, adapting workstations or interviews. But there is another critical factor that seldom discussed, and that is the GP or general practitioner.

“GPs are the bedrock of the NHS. They are the first port of call,” Matt Hancock (Health and Social Care Secretary), announced at the National Association of Primary Care’s conference in October. He was talking about GPs’ roles in ‘preventing’ ill health, not their role in the lives of the some 26 million people in England who are ‘managing’ long-term conditions.

But GPs are also the first port of call for millions of people working with a disability or long-term condition. Put simply, without the role of the GP, many would not be able to stay in work.

I am one of those people.

GPs roles in the ongoing management of people’s conditions is severely under-recognised and rarely celebrated. Yet without GPs, many people would not be able to manage their conditions in a way that also enables them to work, take part in leisure or social activities, or be as independent as many of us are.

I often think that a GPs working environment can be challenging: particularly in rural areas where they are often based in poorly maintained physical environments, ever-increasing workloads, and more demands being made on their time alongside continued budget pressures at Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) level, to name just some examples. Yet the UK is desperate to attract more people into the profession to ensure we have a primary care service fit for a more populated ageing future.

Consider that, while facing these challenges, my GP is the key professional figure that makes my life work. My GP speaks to me most months about how I am getting on with my medications and treatment. For example, he might ask is my current formula manageable with what I am currently needing to do at work? If not, we can change it. Or how does this medication work if the first part of your day is sat on a train commuting into the city?  How easy was it to get your medical supplies this month?

When my hospital team need to change something in my treatment, they write to my GP requesting him to make the changes on my prescription. I log onto my patient app and I can see it has been done within a few days. I no longer go into the surgery just to request my medication. Neither do I send an email, or make a phone call. I request this through the app; I send any comments to my GP via this app, and it also allows me to see when my GP has sent my prescription to the pharmacy, which always happens within just a few days. I get off the train from work in the evening, collect my car, and go to the pharmacy which is open until 10.00 pm to collect my supplies. It is a perfect example of how the future is in finding that intelligent ‘sweet spot’ between humanity and technology.

Before this, I had to work reduced hours for a week each month while convincing my previous GP what I needed, checking the pharmacy could get what had been prescribed, and facilitating communication between surgery receptionists and the pharmacy about the complexity of my prescription requirements. I am not alone; I hear of many people who do not work or have to reduce their hours because they literally ‘don t have time’ to have a job while managing their medical condition.

As per the Government’s Work and Health Strategy, the primary healthcare setting is absolutely pivotal for retaining and increasing the employment of people who can work but need to manage complex and fluctuating medical conditions every day of their lives.

A switched on, understanding GP can be everything for sustaining the social and economic contribution of the tens of millions of individuals managing their work and personal lives with long-term medical conditions today.

World Mental Health Day 2018: ‘Young people in a changing world’.

By Charles Clement, Business Disability Forum

When I started my first proper job for a large insurance firm about 20 years ago, I remember we had a welcome reception with wine and cheese (now that shows how long ago this was).

This was a chance for new recruits to meet senior staff and was part of the formal induction process. After quite a lot of cheese and some wine I got talking to a Director from a different part of the business. My tongue loosened by the wine, I told her that I was very unhappy in my new post. I didn’t think I fitted in, felt very anxious and I was probably depressed, having experienced depression in the past. After a few awkward moments the Director excused herself and went to mingle and I went home. The next day I went in to work and was immediately asked in to a meeting room by my Manager. I was told in no uncertain terms that he did not appreciate me talking about the department to other colleagues and that if I wasn’t happy then maybe it wasn’t the job for me. After this things were, not to put too fine a point on it, awkward – and I left soon after. To be honest Mental Health wasn’t widely spoken about back then so I don’t hold any ill will towards my Manager and as a new entrant to the labour market, I thought his reaction was pretty normal.

I contrast my own experiences to those of someone fairly new to the world of work. I recently spoke to Andrew who has been a Management Consultant at EY for about four years. Andrew, like me, had experienced depression at school and university. When looking for a graduate scheme to join, EYs reputation as a people centred business played a part in Andrew’s decision.

EY logo

EY

When he joined EY, Andrew wanted to explore whether he could create a wellbeing programme that was tailored to young people joining the world of work supporting them to manage their mental health and wellbeing, – perhaps they had moved to a new city away from family and friends for instance. Not only was this project supported by leadership at EY, it was positively encouraged. Andrew knows he can be open with his managers about his depression and has the flexibility to balance his own time with client needs in a way that works for him. So, it does appear that times, are changing.

So what does the future hold? Undoubtedly, mental health is spoken about more widely and has a greater profile in the media. This has gone some way to removing the stigma associated with poor mental health. However, as mental health becomes more widely discussed in the workplace it’s important that it doesn’t drop off the agenda or become a ‘non-issue’. Line managers should still be equipped to have conversations with employees who look like they are struggling with their Mental Health.

Technology is developing at an incredible rate. This allows us to have more agile and flexible workplaces, which can be of great benefit to someone who needs to work from home because of their mental health. Often, this new technology allows employees to work at times that suit them, which can be very useful if sleep patterns are erratic or a person is fatigued at certain times of the day. However, it is important that we make time to ‘check-in’ with our colleagues who work flexibly, to make sure they have the support they need. As in all things in life, getting the right balance is important.

Charles Clement

Charles Clement

The future provides challenges, certainly, but also many opportunities to get it right around mental health. I have worked at Business Disability Forum for six years and the progress made in that time makes me even more hopeful that in another six perhaps mental health will be discussed in the workplace, in the same way we discuss physical health.

Interested in more about mental health?

Business Disability Forum recently undertook a survey of 16-24 year olds to gauge their attitudes to mental health and the role of businesses and universities. While a huge majority of respondents wanted to talk more about mental health, few felt able to do so at their places of work or study, showing how outdated approaches are holding back the next generation.

For the full findings, visit our Media Centre. A report on the findings will be released in January 2019.

What winning the Senior Disability Champion award meant for Tony Cates, KPMG

171116_bdf-192.jpg

Tony Cates accepted the award for Senior Disability Champion remotely

By Sam Buckley, Business Disability Forum

We run our Disability-Smart Awards to show what organisations can achieve by becoming disability-smart—welcoming the biggest possible group of customers and employees and creating a welcoming, open and supportive place to work.

One of our most important awards is for Senior Disability Champion, recognising leaders who act as a powerful voice for disability inclusion in their organisations.

Last year, our award for Senior Disability Champion went to Tony Cates, UK Partner at KPMG.

Tony set out to change the way businesses work with disabled people across the UK and beyond, following a simple mission statement: “Empowering people with disabilities to be the best they can be is the right thing to do.”

Reflecting a year on from receiving his Award, Tony said:

“Since winning the BDF Award last year, KPMG have been involved in some exciting activities in relation to disability and mental health. I am the board level sponsor for disability and mental health at KPMG – and have been championing this agenda for a number of years. Something I have observed over this time is that there is still a real lack of visibility and representation of both disability and mental health at board level.

“Everyone has their own story or perspective on how disability and mental health issues are present in their lives. Personally, having hearing loss on one side has made me acutely aware not only of the challenges a disability or health issue may present, but also of the additional skills and capabilities that can be developed in response to these challenges.”

“We want KPMG to be a magnet for all talent. That means accessing the widest possible talent pool, which we will only achieve if we treat inclusion and diversity as a board level issue.

Tony’s work has included sponsoring support networks for disability and mental health and also sharing expertise with companies that KPMG works with across the UK. Colleagues have said that Tony “is known not just internally at KPMG, but he is an executive disability champion who is recognised elsewhere across multiple sectors.”

This leadership has seen KPMG gain one of the highest scores in Business Disability Forum’s Disability Standard, an internationally used tool measuring organisation’s commitment to disabled people, in 2017.

KPMG gained a Silver status, the second highest certification under the assessment, with Tony Cates’ leadership cited as a key driver of the achievement.

Tony was also instrumental in KPMG gaining the highest-level of accreditation in the government’s Disability Confident scheme, becoming one of the first organisations to do this since Disability Confident was launched last year.

“I set up a Disability Steering Group that looks at disability and mental health holistically, with heads of all key parts of the business represented and reporting in to me. In fact the steering group was set up following our Silver award on the Disability Standard in July 2017, with the aim to make improvements across the firm. Business Disability Forum have helped us to set out our action plan. They also provide us with great support and consultation from our BDF Consultant, Brendan Roach. We also took part in the Mind Workplace Wellbeing Index, and were awarded Silver, something we are very proud of but keen to push forward and improve upon.”

Want to put your organisation forward for an award, or celebrate a champion of disability? You can enter our Disability-Smart Awards online now. You can find out more by clicking here.

Does ‘Blue Monday’ increase mental health and wellbeing awareness?

a-man-laying-in-bed-on-a-laptop

The third Monday of January is coined Blue Monday: ‘the most depressing day of the year’. And sure enough, this time of year often provokes thought around mental health and wellbeing.

However, as our Senior Disability Consultant Christopher Watkins has pointed out in a previous post, Blue Monday has no real connection with disability, In fact, it’s just the day on which is it easiest to sell you a summer holiday.

Created by Porter Novelli on behalf of Sky Travel about ten years ago, the idea of ‘Blue Monday’ claims to be based on a formula  including metrics including ‘travel time’, ‘delays’, ‘time spent packing’, and a number of other factors without defined units of measurement . By 2009 the formula had been reviewed to consider slightly more reasonable factors like ‘weather’, ‘debt’ and ‘time since failing new year’s resolutions’, again without any defined units of measurements but reassuringly (or miraculously) coming up with exactly the same day.

However, with recent research (from October 2016) indicating that 77 per cent of employees have experienced a mental health problem—and 62 per cent believing this was because of work[1], it is clear that poor wellbeing is not confined to ‘Blue Monday.’

A more difficult question is how to promote, or improve, wellbeing in the workplace. Indeed workplace wellbeing was subject of public debate between Christopher Watkins and fellow Senior Disability Consultant Angela Matthews at a recent event.

In many ways the dilemmas around workplace wellbeing promotional schemes mirror those of Blue Monday: whether it is valuable in promoting inclusion, or counterproductive because it promotes overly general ideas of what is meant by ‘well’ or ‘unwell’.

The solution for wellbeing schemes was found to be ensuring that they took individual employee needs into account, providing adjustments as employers would with a job – a tailored solution rather than a general one.

Similarly the best way to approach Blue Monday as an organisation might be to use the general subject of wellness and happiness to initiate and then widen the conversation about mental health, wellbeing and disability.

Although Blue Monday has no real link to disability, it can be used to start the conversation about it.

Needless to say  it needs to go beyond ‘the most depressing day of the year’. Businesses should keep mental health and disability as part of their conversations about well being all year round. This is why we encourage our Member and Partner organisations to keep in touch and make use of our Advice service and consultancy, your relationship with us can make a huge difference to the well being of your staff.

If  you are looking for guidance around mental health in the workplace take a look at our line manager guide Mental health at work.

[1] Business in the Community, ‘Mental Health at Work Report 2016’, p.3 (http://wellbeing.bitc.org.uk/system/files/research/bitcmental_health_at_work_exec_summary.pdf, retrieved 19 December 2016)

Is there really a business case for website accessibility?

By Rick Williams

home-worker-image-obscured-person-using-a-laptop-with-mug-of-coffee

Following the publication of the Click-Away Pound Report http://www.clickawaypound.com I’ve been reflecting on why website accessibility and usability for disabled people is still an issue after all these years. It is a puzzle to me that 71% of disabled users click-away from sites with access barriers and consequently displace £11.75 B to accessible sites. Why do businesses let that happen? It definitely isn’t good business on any level.

This situation exists despite:

  • The Equality Act and its predecessor – the Disability Discrimination Act
  • International standards
  • Government guidelines
  • A British Standard
  • Expert guidance and discussions
  • Campaigns

The traditional business case

It seems to me there are three key aspects to the broader business case:

  • Legal
  • PR
  • Commercial

These three issues are, of course, inter-related but are worth considering individually.

In reality the legal risks of having an inaccessible website are low in the UK. To make a case a customer would need to demonstrate a breach of the Equality Act which affected them personally and this would need to be done in a County or High court which would be expensive and time consuming. No cases in this field have been pursued to their conclusion; the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has initiated several cases against businesses with inaccessible sites but the cases were settled out of court, with the organisations involved agreeing to address the issues. The lack of cases coming to court probably explains why the law has had little impact in this area since its introduction (in the form of the Disability Discrimination Act) in 1995, although challenges are always a possibility. Interestingly, in the USA the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 allows for class actions and the imposition of much higher compensation payments. Even so, the US approach has not delivered a fully accessible web presence.

There are potential PR risks if website accessibility is ignored and this has implications, albeit limited, for loss of reputation. Any business strategy based on customer-focus and inclusivity is quickly undermined by the lack of an inclusive website. Such stories are unlikely to generate significant coverage in mainstream media and result in PR damage unless a legal challenge is mounted, but they do attract attention on social media and generate ’mood music’‘ of negativity about the business’s understanding of the issues which can be damaging to the brand.

Even commercial judgements such as lost or displaced revenue has not driven business to ensure accessible websites; if it had there wouldn’t be this issue. This surely can only mean businesses don’t understand its size and implications.

Clearly this business case has failed to gain traction. What is the reality that business is failing to grasp?

The business issues

Considering the trends identified in the Survey and applying them to the national data is illuminating.

  • The most recent ONS estimate of the UK population is 65.11 million in mid-2015 of whom 87.9% (46.47 million) have internet access.
  • CAPGemini projected overall UK online spending to be £126 billion by the beginning of 2016 equating to an average spend per head of the UK population with internet access of £2710.
  • In 2016, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimated there were 8.6 million internet users with a disability in the UK
  • This Survey found that 71% of internet users with a disability have access needs; this translates to 6.1 million people
  • Taking an average spend per head of £2710, the online spending power of 6.1 million disabled people with access needs in 2016 is £16.55 billion.
  • The Survey found that 71% of the total 6.1 million disabled internet users with access needs (4.3 million people) simply click-away when confronted with a problematic website.
  • These figures equate to a click-away figure of £11.75 billion lost in 2016 from those sites which are not accessible.

These calculations are extrapolated from the Survey’s findings so care must be taken when considering them. Nevertheless, these figures are so large that even allowing for a significant margin of interpretation they are too large to be ignored.

This assessment is supported by findings from our wider work in this field which indicates that over 70% of websites present significant accessibility and usability barriers to disabled users. This means that over two-thirds of businesses are significantly undermining their own potential online customer base. This spend is not lost but simply moves elsewhere as disabled users with access needs turn to a website which is more user friendly. Two-thirds of online retailers are passing customers and sales to their competitors.

Conclusion

To answer the question ‘Is there really a business case’ I believe the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’, both nationally and at the level of the individual business.  However, business needs to get a better understanding of the bottom line implications and adopt a ‘business as usual’ approach to website accessibility rather than treating it as a ‘nice to do’ or ‘bolt-on’.

A brief look at the numbers in the Click-Away Pound report should be enough to persuade organisations that they are potentially ignoring and excluding a large number of potential customers. Also businesses need to bear in mind that if a disabled shopper clicks away from their site to one of their competitors, they show little inclination to return.

Take a look at the Click-Away Pound report and get an insight into the business issues and how inaccessible websites impact on your business.

http://www.clickawaypound.com

Blue Monday’s dirty secret (and why it doesn’t matter)

By Christopher Watkins


Today is the third Monday of January; so-called Blue Monday, apparently ‘the most depressing’ day of the year. It’s around this time of year that I get a glut of companies phoning me up to ask if I could speak at their mental health awareness event, run a workshop, or advise on the health & wellbeing activities they are planning to ‘celebrate’ the big day. And it makes a great deal of sense to do so: performance dips and sickness absence peaks are a well-recognised phenomenon in January, and such wellbeing exercises can minimise the effects of these on overall business performance. An eye-catching ‘day’ to attach an agenda to can also be a useful tool to raise larger issues across large organisations and promote cultural change.

I must confess, however, that I have mixed feelings towards the ubiquitous mass of awareness days at the best of times. My cynical side is frequently frustrated by the idea that by simply ‘raising awareness’ of an issue we somehow make a meaningful difference to society or individuals’ lives. And then there’s so many of them! Did you know that next month is not only National Heart Month[1] and Raynaud’s Awareness Month[2], but Cholangiocarcinoma Awareness Month as well[3]? Within the first week of February alone, we have World Cancer Day (4 Feb)[4], National Doodle Day (for Epilepsy, 5 Feb)[5] and ‘Wear it Beat it’ (for the British Heart Foundation, 6 Feb)[6], before a week of Tinnitus awareness starting on 8 Feb[7]?

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photos

‘Blue Monday’ might just wind me up more than the rest put together, not only because it is an issue close to my heart, but because it hides a dirty secret; one which, I fear, those working in the area are embarrassed to admit lest it promote cynicism towards the wider agenda. I have taken to asking organisations planning their Blue Monday events what they understand the meaning of the day to be, and have heard responses describing it as anything from the day on which people are most likely to be off sick with depression, the annual peak for deaths by suicide, the day in which people are most likely to self-report as being depressed…

Unfortunately, the reality is that Blue Monday has about as much to do with credible research into the seasonal prevalence of mental ill-health as the 1983 New Order masterpiece by the same name. The third Monday in January is, in fact, the day on which is it easiest to sell you a summer holiday.

Or, more specifically, it is a widely discredited invention peddled by PR company Porter Novelli on behalf of Sky Travel about ten years ago. It claims to be based on an entirely nonsensical formula based on metrics including ‘travel time’, ‘delays’, ‘time spent packing’, and a number of other factors without defined units of measurement[8]. To be fair, by a 2009 press release the formula seems to have been reviewed to consider slightly more reasonable factors like ‘weather’, ‘debt’ and ‘time since failing new year’s resolutions’, again without any defined units of measurements but reassuringly (or miraculously) coming up with exactly the same day[9].

I’m not, to be clear, passing judgement on any of the causes or issues behind these awareness events and don’t for one minute want to suggest that they shouldn’t be taken seriously. It’s easy to see, however, how well-meaning businesses and diversity teams can get bogged down in a relentless calendar of ‘awareness raising’, to the extent that they might lose sight of what’s really important: the benefits to business, individuals and society as a whole delivered by diverse workforces and inclusive practices. My message is simply to take a step back and consider the purpose of any event or wellbeing exercise you are taking part in today, and specifically the value these activities add for the time, effort and money invested.

So, have I been turning down these Blue Monday speaking engagements on principle, then? Of course not. After all, almost every awareness day is essentially ‘made up’, and it would be foolish to dismiss them on this basis. If you are currently investing in mental health in your organisation, it makes great sense to attach your activities to a (rightly or wrongly) recognised ‘awareness day’. It’s also perfectly sensible to invest in mental wellbeing at this time of year because you have identified that performance or sickness absence issues peak in the winter months. But for the sake of not just pedantry but transparency and credibility, please let’s stop calling Blue Monday ‘the most depressing day of the year’ and rather see it for what it is: a potentially useful tool to promote meaningful cultural change and reap the benefits of a healthy and inclusive workplace and society, with no need for a fabricated ‘meaning’ beyond that. Let’s have the courage to be led by tangible and empirically-founded diversity and inclusion priorities based on business and cultural need, not the unrelenting calendar of awareness events!

[1] http://www.bhf.org.uk/#sthash.TroBQktw.dpuf

[2] http://www.raynauds.org.uk/#sthash.TroBQktw.dpuf

[3] http://www.ammf.org.uk/#sthash.TroBQktw.dpuf

[4] http://www.worldcancercampaign.org/#sthash.TroBQktw.dpuf

[5] http://doodle-day.epilepsy.org.uk/

[6] https://wearitbeatit.bhf.org.uk/

[7] http://www.tinnitus.org.uk/#sthash.TroBQktw.dpuf

[8] http://www.theguardian.com/science/2006/dec/16/badscience.uknews

[9] https://web.archive.org/web/20100221213456/http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/media/news-releases/news-releases-2009/13-january-2009


You can talk to Christopher at christopherw@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk or Tweet him at @chrispydubbs