Service for Customers with Special Needs

special needs customer
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Photo by Mikhail Nilov

“Also note that invariably when we design something that can be used by those with disabilities, we often make it better for everyone” – Donald Norman

Within the customer service realm, the one thing that stands out is that all customers are to be treated with respect and as valuable members of the business. Irrespective of the size of a customer’s business to a company, each one must receive equal and empathetic treatment. The company’s endeavor should be to meet and exceed the expectations of each customer in the spirit of service excellence. Companies can also create self-service guides for their customers. This is possible using tools, like interactive decision trees.

Serving Customers with Specials Needs

While dealing with customers, a company should also serve customers with special needs too, at some point. These special needs could be anything physical or learning disabilities. They could be originating from a non-English speaking background, illnesses, or impediments that could be short-term or even, permanent disabilities. A very elderly person could also need help and in that sense, have ‘special needs’. A pregnant woman or a woman with young children could also need help while shopping at the store. All these are special needs since they are not common for all persons visiting your store or establishment.

Identify and alleviate difficulties for special needs customers

It’s the company’s role and its representatives to detect proactively special needs and the difficulties a customer may be facing. They need to do whatever it takes to lessen or alleviate the difficulty. Some companies fail in their duties towards customers with special needs. They are unsure of the best approach and demeanor towards such individuals. They are afraid of saying or doing the ‘wrong thing’ given prior experiences, typical biases, and prejudices held towards ‘special needs’. We know that all customers are different. They do not respond or react to a company in the manner that is expected. The job of a company and its service representatives is to serve customers, rather than judge their reasons and intentions.

Identify customers with special needs

Sometimes, it may not always be possible to tell that a customer has special needs. Other times, it may be obvious. A customer in a wheelchair or a visually impaired person would obviously have different and special requirements. Other disabilities and special needs become apparent when representatives listen and spend quality time trying to understand the customers. A customer may have forgotten their reading eyeglasses.

Hence, they may be unable to read the fine print on products. On the other hand, others may not be able to comprehend the labels due to language or educational challenges. All these constitute special needs. Instead of standing afar and observing, the service representatives should recognize such special abilities and offer help. It is prudent to ask if the customer requires assistance, to ensure that they are not ticked off or offended. Some customers with special needs may also bring in animals with them. They may be assisting them in some way. Even so, it’s allowed and acceptable.

Provide training to employees

Companies and their representatives are unable to provide good service to customers with special needs. It may make them feel unsure, uncomfortable, or even nervous around these people. However, it is the job of every company and its representatives to treat all customers with care. It’s imperative for a company to ensure that its employees receive training and adequate coaching on how to interact with and serve special needs customers. Proper training makes representatives more confident and comfortable when interacting with customers with special needs.

It takes the company’s customer service to a new level. Training ensures that employees refrain from using words that would be inappropriate and racial when speaking about special needs. The word crippled, for example, is no longer acceptable. Instead, physically challenged or differently enabled are appropriate phrases. A pleasant and smiling customer service representative can make a world of a difference to customers who may be facing several hardships and challenges. It’s a sure path to the success of a company.

Treat customers the same

When dealing with or speaking about customers with special needs, it is important to emphasize on the person rather than their ‘disability’. A person who is visually impaired would be the right way to express them rather than saying, a blind person. If in doubt, about the nature of the person’s special need, it would be best to ask the person directly. Assuming that can create trouble. Customers with special needs are not a burden. They must receive at least the same kind of service as other customers.

For example, pleasant greetings, attending to their needs, and encouraging them to return. Another person may accompany a person with special needs to assist her or him. It is imperative to treat the other person kindly too, but the conversation must remain directed at the customer. By diverting one’s attention to the assistant, the special needs customer can feel demeaned or ignored. That is not acceptable.

Be accommodative to special needs customers

While speaking to a customer with special needs, remember that you may need to speak to their ‘assistant’ to convey a message that may be difficult for the customer to comprehend. However, it is necessary to ensure that the customer is fine with such indirect communication. They should be able to convey that they are satisfied with what they have received.

The way to ensure that such customers receive top-class service is to remember that they are individuals who deserve similar attention and care as all customers. Customers with disabilities would also have their preferences, likes, dislikes, their individual personalities, and capabilities – just like every other customer.

It is the job of a company and its representatives to ascertain their needs and meet their expectations as they would with other customers. As mentioned, some may feel apprehensive and diffident about dealing with such customers. However, through proper training and coaching, it is possible to not only accommodate customers with special needs but also treat them with utmost care and respect because they are customers.

Be respectful

It is not that hard to serve customers with special needs. Remember, they need respectful and courteous service. If in doubt, ask them what they need, and listen attentively to avoid having them repeat themselves. These are the requirements of top-class service. When a company is able to make customers feel welcome, they continue to provide business. They tell others of the service they received. Such positive word-of-mouth publicity always works in favor of a company, leading to more profitability and success.

Give special needs customers extra attention

Customers with special needs may require extra attention and help. A company should ensure that they receive top-class service, along with access to all the facilities that everyone else receives. While it may be unnerving to interact with such customers, it’s imperative to relax, learn, and extend the best service possible.  Companies may not intentionally provide poor experiences to customers with disabilities. They avoid interactions for fear of saying or doing inappropriate things, which could be mistaken for rudeness, or poking fun, or even a misdemeanor. The stringent laws against discrimination against people with disabilities are the reason that most companies hesitate to interact and help.

The Verdict

Businesses must make time to guide, train, and instruct their staff on being polite, patient, considerate, and empathetic towards customers with special needs. Leadership must set an example. They should give confidence to the rest of the employees to manage interactions that may seem difficult and out of routine. The very premise of service excellence is to ensure that all customers – irrespective of who they are or what their abilities may be – receive the very best service from everyone in a company.

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