How to alienate and loose disabled customers

It’s coming up to our first wedding anniversary and as we haven’t had a holiday together this year, we thought we’d celebrate with a trip to Scotland.  I’d always wanted to go but as yet, we haven’t got round to it.

We settled on a few days in Edinburgh and as one of my friends works for a Travel Club Elite, I decided to ask her if she could find me a good deal on a hotel.  After some searching around, she found some serviced apartments not too far from the City Centre. Before we booked, my friend wanted to ensure that they were wheelchair accessible. I must confess that this is something I sometimes take for granted but I am particularly grateful that my friend insisted on checking, not once but twice.  When she phoned their customer service team, they informed her that the apartments hadn’t been adapted to cater for wheelchairs .  They didn’t know if the doors were wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.  However , she was assured that the building had a lift.

As I have some mobility and the apartments appeared to be fairly new, I reasoned that in this day and age, they must be able to accommodate at least a manual wheelchair and for a few days,  they would be suitable and so my friend proceeded with the booking.  But I didn’t have too long to get excited.

Within an hour, I got a call from my friend who told me that contrary to what she had been told, the apartment building didn’t actually have a lift after all.    She had double checked the website and discovered somewhere under their FAQs, that the building couldn’t accommodate a wheelchair.  When she phoned the complex to point this out, she was offered an alternative apartment block but at a higher price!  Needless to say, I turned down this offer and cancelled the original booking.

There are several lessons in this story for other businesses, whether they are large or small and regardless of their sector.   Firstly, the customer service team had very little knowledge of what they could provide to disabled customers and even gave incorrect information.  As I’ve mentioned previously, disabled people in the UK have a huge spending power, overall it’s reported to be about £50 billion per year.  So, if a business fails to have even a basic disability awareness, then it is turning its back on a very profitable customer base.

Secondly, accessibility isn’t just about physical access and adaptations.  It’s just as much about accessibility of information.  If the website had been clearer and easier to navigate, I probably would have booked the accessible apartments to begin with and would be none the wiser that they were more expensive.  By being offered the more expensive apartments as an alternative, it felt as if I was being penalised for being disabled and so out of principle, they lost my booking.

Remember the saying:  A customer with a good experience will probably tell 2 or 3 other people but a customer who’s had a bad experience will tell at least 10.  So go right back to basics in your business.  Take a step back from your business and ask:  How do we stack up for our disabled customers?  If you’re not sure, contact Flyinglady and request one of our Accessibility Assessments.  It’s really important that you and your staff are aware of how accessible your business is and if necessary, understand and implement changes to make your business more accessible.

Then consider this:  Are you losing out on sales because of a lack of disability awareness among your staff?  It turned out that this company could in fact meet my needs as a disabled customer.  They had what I wanted to purchase all along but their lack of knowledge about what they could offer me and the inaccessibility of the information caused them to loose the sale.

So make sure your business isn’t needlessly losing sales due to a lack of knowledge. Get your staff knowledge up-to-date by booking a disability awareness session.

Now, where to go for our anniversary . . .?!

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