The last article in our complaints and well-being series focused on how important accessibility is for consumers of all kinds.
While businesses and regulators need to ensure that legislation on equal access is enforced, this often relies on those with accessibility issues to identify problems and raise them with organisations. This can put already-vulnerable customers under further stress and strain and make complaints about accessibility issues even more fraught for both the company and consumer.
As well as helping our users advocate for their rights, we want to help business owners be better informed about good customer care practices so they can improve their products, services, and complaints processes.
At Resolver we are constantly trying to make our own service more accommodating to our users’ huge variety of abilities, situations, and circumstances. Rather than be defensive, we believe that the first step to improving accessibility is acknowledging that we can all be open to improvement.
While there are some businesses that have more to learn, there are also many doing a great job of accommodating their customers’ diverse needs. We want to use our knowledge of where companies get it right to help others do the same.
As well as covering what accessibility is, this article suggests some ways that, as a business owner, you can actively seek to improve your customers’ well-being by ensuring that your complaints process is as accessible as possible.
Accessibility means ensuring that your products and services, including your complaints processes, are designed to be used by anyone.
Whatever someone’s location, ability or socio-economic status, complaining should be accessible to them. In other words, the processes and communication systems that you have in place to allow your customers to get in touch shouldn’t create new barriers to communication.
Accessibility is not just desirable, it is non-negotiable. Making your product or service accessible to those with different needs and abilities is required by UK law.
Accessibility is essential for everyone.
Making something accessible is most obviously relevant to those who are considered disabled. People living with disabilities, such as visual, auditory, cognitive, physical, or speech impairments, must be offered a means for raising a complaint that is easy and straightforward.
Accessibility also includes things that everyone experiences from time to time, but which are often not thought of as a disability.
For instance, breaking your arm, losing your glasses or suffering from an illness that impacts on your ability to concentrate for extended periods of time are all examples of ‘temporary’ disabilities or impairments which also require special accommodation.
The same goes for ‘situational limitations’, where a particular environment limits the senses, such as a room that is too loud for conversing over the phone or too dark for reading small fonts.
Accessibility also applies to people with different socio-economic circumstances. If you can’t afford a laptop or high-speed internet, this shouldn’t prevent you from using a company’s website, accessing their product or service, or making a complaint.
Equal access and opportunity for people with diverse abilities and backgrounds are not just desirable but fundamental for any functioning product or service. The 2010 Equality Act makes it illegal to discriminate against various groups or ‘protected characteristics.’ This applies to both the public and private sectors.
As a business owner, you are legally required to ensure that your website and communications channels accommodate those with protected characteristics, such as people living with disabilities or the elderly.
As well as a legal and moral responsibility to help those who are often excluded, there is a strong business case for accessibility.
Accessible design is something that improves user experience and satisfaction across a huge variety of situations and circumstances. By making your products, services, and complaints process accessible, you will be enhancing your brand – showing that you are innovative and actively looking to take care of all of your customers.
For customers to have their voices heard, companies need to actively accommodate a variety of physical, cognitive, or situational abilities. This can be done in many ways that are often simpler than you might assume.
So for example, if a company only offers to speak with customers over the phone number, this would exclude anyone with hearing difficulties or chronic headaches. This could be made more accessible if there was also an option to communicate via email.
If the text in an email or document has a small font size or is against a background with little contrast, this would be difficult to read for someone with a visual impairment, whether permanent or situational. This could be mitigated if there is an option to change the format, zoom in or alter the level of contrast through the application or device on which it was being displayed.
If a video or audio file would only work with a very high broadband speed, this would also not be accessible to many people. Being able to alter the quality to a lower resolution would make it easier to load.
The first step for addressing accessibility issues is to create an accessibility statement. This can go in the ‘Help’ section of your website or as a statement at the bottom of communications. Include guidance on how users can personalise their experience of your product, service, or website, access alternative formats, and get in touch to report accessibility issues.
Even if there are aspects of your product, service, or communications channels that haven’t yet been dealt with, you can tell users about this. Setting expectations will ensure that they have a less frustrating experience.
When designing a product, service, or platform, get advice at an early stage. There are many organisations and resources available to support businesses that wish to improve the accessibility of their products and services.
This GOV.UK site has a great checklist for gauging your website’s accessibility.
Ability.net offer digital accessibility services that will save you money long-term by ensuring that you avoid obvious problems with user experience. Their My Computer My Way website has a lot of resources on how customers can use accessibility features built into computers, tablets, and smartphones to accommodate visual, audio, motor, or cognitive differences. They can also help with creating an Accessibility statement.
When designing and developing products, services, or web platforms use diverse personas to consider all types of users. The Business Disability Forum has some fantastic resources to help with this.
Remember that you should prioritise seeking consultation from the people most affected by these issues. As the expression ‘nothing about us without us’ suggests, actively engaging with the communities you are seeking to support.
When conducting user testing or creating focus groups recruit from diverse communities. Drawing on the immense expertise of those who are often overlooked or have their experiences excluded or minimised will ensure that you’ll be more effective in implementing solutions. This is not only going to improve your business but offer further support to these communities.
Help your customers by offering flexibility and alternative means of contact and communication. Remember that your customers have the right to request:
There are a number of charities who offer disability awareness training to help change perceptions of disability and give individuals and organisations a better understanding of accessibility. Enhance The UK is just one example of organisations that offer to work with businesses to achieve their inclusion goals.
For more tips on accessibility and help with your business’s online presence, why not check out Resolver Pro – Four brand new business packages created by the minds at Resolver – giving you access to insights and data tools, such as reviews, CMS and marketing.
If you have any questions or comments, or any suggestion for how we could improve the accessibility of the Resolver site, please get in touch with us via firstname.lastname@example.org