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.

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