Top ten 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.

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.

When great customer service makes an impact

Katherine Beavis wearing a headset

Katherine Beavis

As told to Ebunola Adenipekun, Business Disability Forum

‘My name is Katherine, I’m in my 50s and I have been working from the age of 15. My long term condition is congenital right-sided semi-hemiparesis with spasticity, partial epilepsy and bilateral schizencephaly. Apparently, there are only an estimated 7,000 cases reported. Schizencephaly is the second rarest known brain malformation. According to a study in the UK, the probability of having Schizencephaly is 1.48 for every 100,000 births. But hey, I am no one special and just get on with it and try and enjoy life to the max.

I like travelling, listening to music such as soul, jazz, funk, fusion and rare groove – and a variety of other sounds too and love a good dance. I also love socialising and meeting new people and being with my family, as well as my pet cats Yin and Yang. Also I do like to solve a Sudoku puzzle! I always wanted to be an announcer or do voiceover work for characters in adverts and films etc.

What mostly impacts my day-to-day life is some people’s assumptions of me, e.g. some people assume I don’t have a life, don’t have a social life, assume I haven’t worked my entire life, never had relationships of any kind and don’t have certain capabilities, so I’m “disabled” according to them. What’s worse is some people thinking and saying what they “know” of me but never bothering to “really” get to know me. But that’s their issue, not mine.

The range of customer experience I get from day to day varies but one place that sticks out is my local Halifax branch in Fulham Broadway. Maria Gouveia, one of the Bank Consultants is so caring and devoted and that’s with also with the rest of the team. Maria gives you all the time you need, not just on financial matters but on your welfare/your wellbeing, on any other personal issues you may have and even will talk to you if you’re pet lover about pets too. She has been by my side from the start on how to finance and purchase my bike/mobility scooter –  Maria is a brilliant person, a real people’s person.

Going to my local family-run shop Best One & Post Office in Fulham, we always have a laugh and some banter, but they are also very kind and helpful e.g. one of the members changed my light bulb in my home because I couldn’t do it myself and fixed my curtain rail when it came down and he didn’t charge me to fix it back up and I know if I asked if I could pay on another day they would let me.

Great customer service to me is when you listen to your customers and you show that you care when someone is buying a product or service, but also great customer service when it goes wrong can also turn out or lead to a great outcome e.g. you brought a product and it wasn’t what you asked for as a customer – but then the customer service gets involved and pulls out all the stops for you in trying to solve the problem/s, constantly keeping you (the customer) in touch with progress and reassuring you (as the customer) they are on it. Most of all getting the product/s right for his/her customer leaving the customer totally satisfied by the end of the day.

Another place is my local Sainsbury’s (Fulham Wharf branch), most of their staff are friendly, helpful and so approachable and are willing to serve you.

I have chosen the Halifax branch in Fulham Broadway as nominee for the Disabled People’s Choice Award because they are just very helpful and very supportive towards me in my day-to-day life, have been for many years and they always let me know that they will always be there for me and will serve and protect me in the best way they can.

The reason I think Disability-Smart Awards and Disabled People’s Choice Awards are important is because I believe individuals and companies/organisations deserve to get recognition for their hard work in giving the best service they can to the general public and it’s good for business.’

You can nominate for ‘Disabled People’s Choice Award for the most inclusive service provider, employer or experience’ here

 

Partner Group Reception 2018: Bringing your whole self to work

By Ebunola Adenipekun, Business Disability Forum

“Bringing your whole self to work no matter your disability, this will be the ‘New Normal'” stated John Brady, from Royal Bank of Scotland, host of Business Disability Forum’s Partner Group Reception.

John Brady, RBS at the lectern

John Brady, RBS

This key point honed in on the theme of the event as we rang in our new financial year:  ‘Identity’, as we also heard from disabled people about how their disabilities inform and overlap with their own identities.

Business Disability Forum’s Partner Group Reception, held at the RBS / Natwest building in Bishopsgate was turned into a Summer Serenity Garden on 26 July.

Floral archway entrance to the Partner Group Reception

Entrance to the Partner Group Reception

Partner Group Reception: Water fountain

Partner Group Reception: Water fountain

It felt fitting, given that it was one of the hottest days of the year, to ‘bring the outside in’ for the event, creating a tranquil indoor garden for our Partner Groups to network and talk about the themes of the Reception.

Signs to the Serenity Garden & Bar as well as the Lecture Theatre

Signs to the Serenity Garden & Bar as well as the Lecture Theatre

Oliver Lam-Watson talking into a microphone

Oliver Lam-Watson

As we turned to the speeches, one of our speakers was Oliver Lam-Watson, who won second place at our Film Festival in 2017. Oliver’s speech asked the question: “Is your identity something that other people give you or something you create for yourself?  The choice to create it for yourself can be a profoundly personal journey.”

This was a question Oliver had faced himself, in the form of preconceptions and assumptions by his peers about what he could or couldn’t do. Oliver has lived by the maxim that having a disability doesn’t mean being any less able to do whatever you want, and in addition to being a filmmaker Oliver is hoping to qualify for the next Paralympics as part of Team GB. In conclusion Oliver made a great point about disability and identity; that it needs to be something that is not imposed on someone by society.

Lucy Ruck talking

Lucy Ruck

We also heard from Lucy Ruck, Business Disability Forum’s Technology Taskforce Manager, about being an amputee has shaped her life and ambitions – from being a trainee hairdresser to taking on leadership of our Technology Taskforce which turned 10 this year. Before losing her leg after she was hit by a train when she was 17, she had never met a disabled person before in her life and she became disabled overnight. And she has shared a conversation about it with Diane Lightfoot in our new podcast series “Who are we? The people behind the job title”.

BDF - Partner Group Reception

Diane Lightfoot and Interpreter

One point that was raised was that some people don’t feel disabled enough to use that term or label, Graeme Whippy asked, if you adopt the social model of disability should you only use the word disabled about yourself if you have encountered barriers that disable you?

Graeme Whippy

Graeme Whippy, Disability Consultant

All the speakers had internally decided that their disability was just part of who they are and as John Brady also pointed out, once a disability is acquired you adapt to the “new normal” and society and employers need to accept and adapt to the new normal too.

Everyone is a three dimensional fully rounded person who can be “shallow as well as deep” in Fazilet Hadi’s words, and has different identities professionally and personally.

Fazilet Hadi from RNIB standing at the lectern

Fazilet Hadi from RNIB

A closing thought was that for organisations to succeed on disability they need to “maintain the tension”, that meaning continuing to focus on what needs to be done.

Other highlights of the event included the Roving Artist who impressed guests with his beautiful silhouettes – and of course, the networking!

A big thank you to everyone who attended!

Roving Artist and guest holding the guest's silhouette

Roving Artist (left) and guest

We look forward to hosting our Partners next year, find out more about our events here.

Disability-Smart Awards: Why it matters.

By Ebunola Adenipekun

Business Disability Forum believes inclusive and accessible customer service should be standard practice and that every workplace should be a great place to work. The Disability-Smart Awards aims to showcase and celebrate the most innovative and inclusive practice among employers and service providers. 

Mark Lomas, Head of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion, HS2 (below), who was one of the judges from the Awards last year, and will be rejoining the judging panel this year, said: 

“Being a judge on the Disability-Smart Awards panel is a great way to learn. Some of the submissions were absolutely brilliant – and I can be really difficult to impress! I really enjoyed it! And one of the things is to understand some of the innovative work that goes on and the impact that it makes.

“It’s encouraging to see so many organisations try and get better at becoming disability-smart. It’s great to see the breadth, the innovation, creativity and impact for customers, employees – and the public in general. It shows the impact you make when you do something a bit different.

Mark Lomas

Mark Lomas

“What companies can learn from these submissions is the impact it makes on different levels: for individuals, teams and across organisations as a whole.

“Why is it important to be a disability-smart organisation? Who wouldn’t welcome more creativity? A different way of thinking? To innovate? Yet, no-one means to go into a boardroom and exclude 20% of the population that could do that, so the work that people are doing here helps inclusion happen.

“I hope you’re inspired to submit an award!” 

Entries for all categories are open until Thursday 20 September 2018, so there’s plenty of time to get a submission together for one of our seven award categories:

1. Senior disability champion of the year
2. Inclusive service provider of the year 
3. Positive cultural change of the year
4. Workplace adjustment innovation of the year
5. Influential business of the year
6. Technology initiative of the year

7. Disabled People’s Choice Award for the most inclusive service provider, employer or experience’ 

Disabled People's Choice Award logo - purple and white

Disabled People’s Choice Award

We want to hear from you! Have you received great customer service? Don’t forget to tell us what organisation deserves an award in your opinion! Vote today!

Winners will be announced at the Disability-Smart Awards Ceremony in November 2018 (date and venue tbc).

Judges for all of these entries include leading experts in the area of disability, representatives from Business Disability Forum’s Member and Partner organisations and disabled opinion leaders.

Send us your entry today!

Disability-Smart Awards: The impact of winning an award

By Ebunola Adenipekun

Lloyds Banking Group – Last year’s winner of the “Nothing About Us Without Us” Award

Awards can make an impact, as one organisation shows here below:

Winners of last year’s customer-led ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’ Award Lloyds Banking Group’s David Oldfield, Group Director, Commercial Banking, and Group Executive Sponsor for Disability (below) said:

Lloyds Banking Group David Oldfield, Group Director, Commercial Banking, and Group Executive Sponsor for Disability

David Oldfield, Group Director, Commercial Banking, and Group Executive Sponsor for Disability at Lloyds Banking Group

“One of our key achievements in 2017 is that we won the ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’ Disability-Smart Award, recognising that we include disabled colleagues and customers in discussions and decisions which affect them.

“We won this award for the work we do through initiatives such as focus groups, the Assistive Technology User Group (ATUG), and the partnerships we have with various charities, including our Charity of the Year, Mental Health UK. These initiatives provide invaluable insights to help us make our organisation as inclusive and accessible as possible for disabled customers and colleagues.

“It’s terrific to be recognised by Business Disability Forum for displaying best practice.”

Business Disability Forum believes inclusive and accessible customer service should be standard practice and that every workplace should be a great place to work. We want to know where you have seen this done at its best.

Our new ‘Disabled People’s Choice Award for the most inclusive service provider, employer or experience’ is an opportunity for us to recognise an organisation that really cares about its disabled customers, service users and employees of an organisation that has been selected by disabled people.

If you have great experience of a business, organisation or employee that has made a real difference in your life or the life of a disabled person you know, then please do get in touch.

Perhaps an employer or a shop or small business? From libraries and schools, to charities or health providers, let us know what company, small business or individual sole owner that you, a friend or family member really values and should know how much you appreciate them.

Entries for all categories are open until Thursday 20 September 2018, so there’s plenty of time to get a submission together for one of our seven award categories:

1. Senior disability champion of the year
2. Inclusive service provider of the year
3. Positive cultural change of the year
4. Workplace adjustment innovation of the year
5. Influential business of the year
6. Technology initiative of the year

7. Disabled People’s Choice Award for the most inclusive service provider, employer or experience’ 

Winners will be announced at the Disability-Smart Awards Ceremony in November 2018 (date and venue tbc).

Judges for all of these entries include leading experts in the area of disability, representatives from Business Disability Forum’s Member and Partner organisations and disabled opinion leaders.

Send us your entry today!