How Effectively Does Your Company Engage with Disabled Customers?

Lois uberI’m often surprised at how unaware customer service agents are when assisting people with disabilities. They often make assumptions about what I can and cannot do – like assuming that, because I can’t see, that I can’t sign my own name… or create an invoice for work that I’ve done for them, or type in my credit card code to approve a payment. Come on, people – I’m only blind!

I guess that’s a little unfair of me – after all, is it fair to expect them to know what is and is not possible for someone who’s blind, especially since we’re all different and have different strengths and abilities. So, yes, I guess it’s hard for a customer service agent to make a call on what assistance to offer.

On the other hand, surely it makes sense for organisations to provide at least some basic training for their employees who may come into contact with customers who live with a disability? Because it appears to me that a frighteningly small number of companies in South Africa do so.

Over the past few months I’ve been involved in customer service training projects for two large organisations, Vodacom and Uber. In each case the aim of the project was to develop a training video to demonstrate how to engage with a blind person with a guide dog. Neither video segment was long or complex. However, I’d be willing to bet that both will provide a valuable tool for customer service training in the future.

Of course, one has to ask the question of whether there is a need to train staff in how to engage with the disabled community – after all, how many disabled people are they likely to come into contact with? A recent article in Disabled World lists the number of people in Africa living with a disability at around 10%. Isn’t it in the interests of every company to provide basic training to their employees on how to engage effectively with these potential customers?

The image shows my guide dog Fiji and I with the team responsible for shooting the Uber Assist video.

Contact me to find out more about how your company could make their customer service agents more effective when engaging with blind and visually impaired customers. Let’s start the conversation…

Brrummm Brrummm Brrummmm

In my book, “A Different Way of Seeing”, I mention that one of the hardest parts of losing my sight was losing the ability to drive a car. It really hit me hard that I couldn’t just climb into my fire-red City Golf – named the Jean Genie after a David Bowie song – and go where I wanted, when I wanted.

Uber has given me back that sense of independence. Being able to open the app on my iPhone, enter my desired destination and voila… A few minutes later I have a ride! Is unbelievably liberating!

Please don’t think I’ve been left stranded in the past. My amazing family and friends have always been willing to rearrange their schedules to help me get wherever I’ve needed to. But It’s hard for me to ask for that kind of help sometimes – especially since I know people have their own lives and their own commitments as well. Uber gives me an alternative for those times when friends and family can’t help me out.

Okay, so I admit that learning the app had its up’s and down’s. The first time I used the app on my own I got so frustrated that I had to get help from a friend – thanks, Cindy! Then there was the time I wanted to Uber to a family party at my in-laws… and I couldn’t get the “order Uber” button to work, so I had to ask my husband Craig to order on my behalf – we later found out that the credit card linked to my profile had expired. But generally, the more I use the app, the easier it is… or maybe It’s just that I become more comfortable with it.

Here’s what I love most about Uber:

  • The in-built safety features – not only is there a permanent record of each of my trips and the details of the driver, but I can also send a link to whomever I’m meeting so they can track my journey. So, if anything untoward were to happen, there’d be a pretty good way to follow my route.

  • Uber’s policy about guide dogs – Every Uber driver is required to accept a guide dog as a passenger, as part of their agreement with Uber. Some of my blind friends have been told by other taxi services that they won’t take guide dogs, which has effectively stopped my friends from getting to where they needed to be. But that won’t happen with Uber!

I can’t speak highly enough of the service that Uber provides, of the wonderful Uber drivers I’ve met and how well they’ve looked after Fiji and me, or of the incredible sense of freedom that Ubering has given me.

Maybe you’re thinking that the degree to which I’m waxing lyrical about Uber is a little extreme… and maybe you’re right. But if you had the ability to go places and do things independently for the first time in 25 years, wouldn’t you also feel the same?

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