Improving customer service with disability awareness training

Chris Jay explains how training customer facing staff to be more aware of disability can help businesses access a new customer group.

Every business wants to appeal to as many potential customers as possible, yet 90% of companies in the UK are neglecting the needs of nearly 20% of the population, and this costs them a staggering £274bn per year.

That group is people with disabilities, and whilst many may believe the journey to becoming more accessible requires huge organisational changes and bottomless budgets, it is a lot easier than you think.

The best place to begin when embarking on a journey to improve accessibility is training customer facing staff to develop a more inclusive mindset and a stronger understanding of disability.

So, what is ‘awareness training’?

Disability awareness training is designed to empower and equip staff to become more understanding and empathetic about disability.

This is usually achieved through bespoke training modules, activities, workshops, and discussions, enabling staff to gain a deeper knowledge of the needs of people with disabilities, allowing them to consider things like correct use of language, different types of disability, customer requirement, etiquette, communication, legislation and access to physical environments.

Ideally, this training should be user led, meaning the course is facilitated by a person who has a disability themselves, as they are able to draw on their experience and knowledge, and speak with understanding and authority on the topic.

Patience, respect, understanding, empathy, attentiveness, and awareness are all cornerstones of excellence in any form of customer service.  

A training provider should offer a bespoke programme that will raise the confidence of your staff by removing any barriers that may exist, usually as a result of a lack of training, understanding or knowledge of disability.

Why should we train? 

You may feel that staff within your organisation are broad minded, considerate, and already good communicators, but if they have not had disability awareness training, your customers with a disability may think otherwise.

Take for example a recent survey undertaken by Scope where it was found that 67% of people in the UK admitted to feeling awkward or uncomfortable around people with disabilities. Now, imagine how that statistic may be impacting the way in which your team interact with your customers and clients.  

Training promotes a positive understanding of disability and raises the confidence of staff, helping them to get over any barriers, which may be causing them unnecessary awkwardness. 

And, if you are wondering how important that is to your business, consider this: The Walk Away Pound Report (2015) made a strong case for training when it revealed that 75% of disabled people and their families have walked away from a service provider because of poor disability awareness.


Undertaking staff training would have most likely prevented a large number of those customers from walking out of the door.   

So which staff members should I train?

If your aim is for your organisation to become fully inclusive, staff awareness training should be rolled out across the entire workforce. However, the best place to start is always with staff that interact externally with your customers (or anyone else in the public).

It is highly likely that a person’s first experience of your organisation will involve someone in your customer service team, so it is paramount that these workers are trained to be disability aware.

This can include those working in physical retail outlets, offices, in online chat rooms, at your company reception desk, on all social media platforms and responding to customer emails. If these staff are trained, when the needs or requirements of a customer with disabilities are recognised, they will have a foundation of knowledge in how to respond or assist them.

This will not only improve the way in which your brand is perceived as an accessible organisation, but also will improve your customer service in general. Why? Because patience, respect, understanding, empathy, attentiveness, and awareness are all cornerstones of excellence in any form of customer service.  

Training for hidden disabilities and avoiding assumption

One key area of disability awareness training is to understand that a majority of disabilities are not visible. And whilst staff can be well prepared, in terms of how to assist a customer when disability makes itself known, it’s crucial that they avoid making bold assumptions about what a customer does and doesn’t need.

The best way this is done is through the development of communication and enabling staff to know how to subtly ask if a customer is in need of any additional support. Such subtleties generally make a vast difference in terms of the customer service you offer.

These can be simple things like giving someone more time, providing clear instructions or simply being generally aware of someone’s particular needs.

In summary, rolling out awareness training will educate workforces by changing the way both people and the organisation itself perceives disability. This also creates a more inclusive working environment and so staff members will be more comfortable disclosing their own disabilities, and generally feel better supported.

Training staff to be prepared and equipped in making slight adjustments to the way they interact with customers will also elevate your service standard for all, whilst leaving a lasting impression on a vast new customer group for your business.


About the author

Chris Jay is the managing director of Bascule Disability Training and a recognised and prominent voice on the topic of disability awareness. 



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