Aki Hashimoto http://www.accessaudits.com 3m 650
The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
Whether you work in a restaurant, a beauty parlour, a library, an airport or a car dealership, you will likely encounter a customer with a disability at some point in your career. People with disabilities will travel, shop, enjoy community programs, do business and attend events, just like anyone else. If you work within a customer service role, it is your job to make sure that every customer that visits your business feels welcomed and taken care of. Your priority should be to treat everyone with respect and to assist them in any way that you can.
Here are some tips to keep in mind for providing better service to your customers with disabilities:
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- Concentrate on the person, not the disability. Get to know who they are and listen to what they are looking for.
- Speak directly to the customer rather than their companion or caregiver. People who are disabled find it insulting and annoying when people speak about them as if they are not there.
- Don’t assume that you know exactly what type of disability a person has. Some people in wheelchairs are able to walk for short distances, others cannot move their legs. Take the time to get to know your customer’s unique needs.
- Offer your help, but don’t just jump in. Your customers with disabilities may not want help, but if they do they know that you are there to provide it.
- Be patient. Give the customer some time to understand and respond to you, as people with some types of disabilities might take longer for this.
- If you cannot understand what the customer is saying, politely ask them to repeat themselves.
- If you will be speaking for more than a minute or two with someone in a wheelchair, get a chair yourself and sit down at their level. When you are standing, it is hard on their neck to keep looking up and it feels awkward.
- If your customer is vision impaired and has a guide dog, don’t touch the dog, feed it or interact with it in any way as this will distract it from its very important job.
- If you are leading a vision impaired person around a shop, don’t leave them in the middle of the room. Always show them to a chair where they can sit down or guide them to a more comfortable location.
- If you will be leaving them for a moment, let them know and tell them that you will be back. When you return, announce yourself again.
- Always ask permission before touching a wheelchair or another piece of equipment. One of the things that people in wheelchairs hate is being moved without their permission.
- If the person that you are speaking to wears a hearing aid, you can move to an area where there will be less background noise and they will be able to hear you better.
- Respect the personal space of your customer. Do not lean over them or lean on their assistive device, as this is entering their personal space.
- Don’t be shy about using common phrases such as “look at this” or “must be running along” in front of a disabled person. These phrases are figurative and your customer will understand that. They know that these are common figures of speech and they are not offended by them. You will make things even more awkward if you apologize for using them or try to avoid these phrases, as it shows the customer that their disability is on your mind.
These are just a few important tips to keep in mind in order to offer excellent customer service to a customer with a disability.
Aki Hashimoto is a blogger and customer service manager. The company that she works for recently underwent a series of access audits to ensure that their facilities were able to accommodate visitors with a disability.