It makes sense to keep the customers you have — boosting retention rates by just 5% has been found to increase profits by between 25% and 95%. But what does making your business accessible to all have to do with customer retention? When consumers feel unwelcome, underserved, unsafe, or unsatisfied in a store or on a website, they may not return. As the Bureau of Internet Accessibility puts it, "if customers can no longer or easily use your products or services, they are probably going to do business elsewhere."
Consumer research reports have found people who find an access barrier or encounter poor disability awareness at a brick-and-mortar or web business will simply move or click away to another site. Whether online or in-person, it’s very difficult to engage with and retain customers who cannot easily access your services and products. On the other hand, maintaining an accessible environment can result in a more satisfying experience for customers with and without disabilities. Satisfied customers are more likely to be loyal, repeat customers.
Accessibility: an important aspect of customer experience, service, and loyalty
Many customers will only give a business one chance to prove it can effectively meet their needs. A 2015 report from the U.K.’s Business Disability Forum reported 75% of people with disabilities and their families said they had left a business because of poor disability awareness. In 2019, a U.K.-based customer-experience report (PDF) that focused on people with disabilities found only about 8% of people who face an "access issue" online would choose to bring it up with a business. Close to 70% of people in this situation will click away from the website.
When people can easily access a company and its services, both virtual and physical, they tend to have a better customer experience. Microsoft commissioned a study in 2016, Assessing The Value Of Accessible Technologies For Organizations (PDF), and found that 79% of organizations agreed accessible technologies helped them improve the customer experience.
The Bureau of Internet Accessibility suggests businesses think of "accessibility as an important part of customer service… Companies can keep [customers] longer by demonstrating they value their business through accessible digital and customer service experiences." And effective customer service can create repeat customers — a 2017 Microsoft Customer Service Report (PDF) found 96% of customers said customer service plays an important role in their brand loyalty.
Accessibility can benefit all customers
Businesses that prioritize the rights and needs of people with disabilities can connect with an immense market — about 25% of people in the U.S. have a disability. According to Forbes, people with disabilities in the U.S. hold about $544 billion of annual disposable income. Globally, when family members and close friends of disabled individuals are included, this market controls close to $6.9 trillion annually in disposable income.
And accessibility measures can serve both people with disabilities and those without, giving businesses the opportunity to build more satisfying relationships with any customer. Along with equal access, accessibility measures can provide human-centric and user-friendly modifications. Innovations like voice control, auto-correct, lower sidewalk curbs, and automatic door openers were all inspired by a specific population and later became widely adopted. They illustrate how accessible features can make business environments functional and appealing for all customers, regardless of their abilities. The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) points out, "Accessible design considerations often lead to improvements in general customer experience and loyalty," and that "accessibility provides options that are useful to all customers in various situations."
Along with being business-smart, accessibility is a legal requirement — the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination that prevents equal access to public goods and services of public accommodations. Most private businesses that provide goods and services to the public are covered by ADA Title III. Both the ADA and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide foundational regulations and guidance for accessible business practices.