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Disability Awareness Day: How inclusive are your CX offerings?


In celebration of Disability Awareness Day, Christine Hemphill speaks to MyCustomer about the work she’s doing at Open Inclusion to help improve inclusivity within the CX sector – discussing why customer experience inclusion is being overlooked, the need for companies to listen more intently to customers with additional needs, and what the future holds for inclusive customer experience. 

14th Jul 2023

Inclusion is a universal human right, and there have been great strides taken by the business world in recent years to improve inclusivity. 

The field of customer experience should be at the vanguard of this movement - after all, brands should want to be viewed as welcoming and accommodating customers from all backgrounds. 

However, despite large strides being made across the business world in the area of inclusion, inclusivity within customer experience seems to be comparatively slow out of the blocks. So why is this - and what can be done to drive genuine and permanent change?

We put these questions to founder and managing director of Open Inclusion, Christine Hemphill – who has extensive experience in both inclusion and CX, and whose company works with businesses to help improve their inclusivity for people who have lived experiences of disability and those over 65 years of age.

Christine Hemphill: Well, it's interesting because it's changing. Leading organisations are very conscious of inclusion at the moment; in fact, it’s a super hot topic. Inclusion tends to firstly mean gender and racial inclusion, it next tends to mean sexual orientation and identity, and then the poor cousin tends to be disability and different access needs.

So I think inclusion is having a real ‘moment in the sun’ right now. But I'm hoping that it isn't just ‘a moment in the sun’, but it’s actually a change in people's mindsets. Because there is a significant commercial and strategic advantage to be gained from delivering more consistently across a consumer base (specifically including disabled consumers) who are being overlooked.

MyCustomer: You touched on the idea of inclusion being a ‘moment in the sun’ versus genuine change, what do you think needs to be done to make sure that it is more a move towards genuine change?

CH: Beautiful question. I think recognition of the underlying value of inclusion is crucial. Companies need to realise that this isn't just  feel good marketing to try and get Millennial or Gen-Z support for your product, this is actually a really, really significant market.

It is a market that is growing and it is a market that is increasing in its expectations. Because as organisations move forward, that also moves customer expectations forward. And this generation of disabled young people have had a different level of education to those previously.

Those who we refer to as the silent generation - those who grew up through depression and war periods – they were very accepting of difficult circumstances. Whereas, the current older generation – the baby boomers who didn’t deal with the same level of trauma – they are the most demanding of any generation that we have when it comes to customer experience and customer service.

They will not accept poor service; they will not accept deteriorated experience just because they're incurring access needs at very high rates right now. So the expectation on the customer side has changed and will not go back.

Current customers will not accept deteriorated experiences – it’s a ratchet that can’t go backwards again.

Therefore, the opportunity to really step forward as an organisation into that demand, and be seen as a leader in that has moved up in a way that I don't think we'll step back from – it's a ratchet that can't go backwards again.

And what's really delightful is we're seeing technology organisations like Apple, Microsoft, and Google, but also some of the entertainment organisations like Disney or Merlin, doing incredible work in the disability inclusion space. These companies are really raising that high waterline, resetting expectations but also showing it's not as hard as people think.

MyCustomer: Why do you believe inclusion is so important to customer experience, specifically?

CH: All customers vary. Every single human varies in how we move, sense, think and feel; that is the fundamental truth that underpins all the work we do. And to me, "disability" the point at which design fails to support these differences, whether it's a physical product, a built environment, communications, or a service. This is the point at which inclusion of the solution can be valuably improved, organisations can provide better more consistent experiences and disability exclusion can be proactively addressed and reduced.

So when we work with clients, we look at how we can reduce that point of failure so more customers experience more consistently delightful solutions aligned to the brand expectations and aspirations for that organisation.

It’s also important to note that 24% of the UK have a permanent disability; that is an enormous market in and of itself. And yet, that's just the permanent disability market. That's not people with temporary access needs or situational access needs, such as the parent with a young child in a pram.

And within this market, we find that the disability community tends to polarise towards brand advocates and brand detractors. If you consistently deliver just a good experience to someone with lived experience with a disability, you're getting an advocate. Because these people are so used to being failed, that just being consistently good is enough to get a very loyal and strong advocate.

MyCustomer: This is something you touched on when discussing why inclusion is so important to CX, but could you go into a bit more detail about the sort of work that Open Inclusion does to help improve companies’ inclusivity?

CH: At our heart, it's listening. It's also learning about the differences within the disabled community, which is such a beautifully diverse community.

So we design research and customer listening opportunities – whether that's one-on-one interviews, usability testing in an ethnography, or mystery shopping surveys – the full suite of mainly qualitative data.

We try to listen in all sorts of different ways, and narrow it down to whatever the most efficient way is for that product or that service at this moment in time. Our mantra is a little bit early and often.

At our heart, it’s listening – our mantra is a little bit early and often.

Ideally, we like to start working with clients early on in the design process of an experience, but sometimes that’s not possible. So we can start at any point within that experience, whether that’s a cognitive walkthrough of something that might be in the future, or even just problem identification or looking for a space for innovation within their domain where we think we can make improvements.

MyCustomer: What advise would you give to a company looking to integrate more inclusivity into their CX programmes?

CH: The most important thing, I think, with customer experience, is insight and understanding. You can understand what peoples’ experience of your organisation as a whole is, but if you're not asking, and really specifically listening to people with additional needs and differences, and you don't know their differences, you don't know why that experience was great/bad.

Customer experience that doesn't have inclusion built into it might not be able to correlate the good experience to the reason why it was achieved, which might be that the customer had an additional need.

It’s also really helpful to over index on customers with specific differences, because insight is never a true reflection of reality. It's like a map of reality, it's only ever a summarised perspective of what your thousands or millions of customers are experiencing.

And what's delightful about working in inclusive design is you might have one person who’s a middle-aged mother of two, with significant sight loss, and one who’s a young male student who is a wheelchair user. So whereas they may only appear to be someone with mobility needs and someone with sight loss needs, they also have other relevant characteristics to consider.

By focusing on customers with additional needs, you get a lot more insight per person.

MyCustomer: For our final question, what do you think the future of CX inclusion will look like?

CH: What we’re seeing with the current leaders in the space, is there is no difference between ICX and CX – inclusive customer experience and customer experience are one thing.

So the leading organisations are actually already innovating on the basis of over indexing on people with additional needs, and not just disability, but diversity across the spectrum of different characteristics of humans.

I think it will get to that stage in layers, just like any other movement, just like we've seen with customer experience in recent years. Some people embrace it really early and just absorb it and go, ‘oh my gosh, I can't believe we haven't been doing this before’.

There is no difference between ICX and CX – inclusive customer experience and customer experience are one thing.

And then you've got those other organisations that we won't name. But we all know that the last real listening they did was years ago, they do it in a very rigid way that listens to a part of the community not their whole community of users. And they've probably already excluded so many people for their products and services, they're not even aware of how large their market is.

Those organisations that are listening more fluidly and more consistently and more broadly, those are the ones that will thrive and that's where I see the future will be because they're the ones that are going to leave the others behind.

Replies (1)

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Steven Walden
By Steven Walden
17th Jul 2023 09:57

Disability is certainly important - a consideration in topic trees. Yes, being aware of sexual, race, age and disability discrimination is important. However, who is deciding what is inclusive and diverse?

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