Making up approximately 15% of the world's population, or over 1 billion people, the disability market continues to grow. Organizations should make accessibility a priority in customer service training and outreach initiatives. While some organizations struggle to consider or incorporate accessibility into their short and long-term performance metrics, some simple fixes and best practices will help entities remove barriers and improve customer loyalty.
Forbes on the benefits of accessible customer service
Astrid Pocklington wrote for Forbes in 2021 about how accessibility is good customer service:
If customers can no longer use your products or services easily, they are probably going to do business elsewhere. Because the cost of attracting a new customer is generally higher than keeping an existing one, it is wise for businesses to prioritize accessible customer service. Designing a customer service experience that is available to everyone, at any time and regardless of ability — or age or location, for that matter — is what customer service accessibility is ultimately about.
Organizations should train service representatives to ensure they have adequate knowledge about accessibility and appropriate behavior. This will help them respond to questions productively or take feedback well when someone runs into a problem. Train them to use respectful, appropriate language when a customer needs to discuss accessibility.
Accessibility can help promote trust and open the door to a larger pool of potential customers, as well as talented employees.
Disability equality as a Fortune 100 trend
A 2005 study found that many Fortune 100 companies had a trend of disability inclusion. Furthermore, countless top corporations all have one thing in common: a high score on the Disability Equality Index. The following brands earned perfect ratings on the Index:
- Bank of America
- Capital One
- Comcast Universal
- Dell Technologies
- Discover Credit Cards
- Fidelity Investments
- Goldman Sachs
- Johnson & Johnson
- JP Morgan and Chase
- Lincoln Financial Group
- Marriott International
- Northwestern Mutual
- TD Bank
- The Walt Disney Company
Accessibility breeds innovation for Fortune 100 cutting-edge corporations like Google. As John Brrownlee of Fast Company reported in 2016, Google has created brand-building inventions in the name of accessibility. With accessibility in mind, Google made Android phones usable by voice and eye-tracking capabilities. As Brownlee put it, “autocomplete and voice control are two technologies we take for granted now that started as features aimed at helping disabled users use computers.”
Accessible creations can help people of all abilities, not just those with disabilities, as Google’s Head of Accessibility said in the article. Accessibility allows companies to find solutions that set them apart from the pack.
Accessibility and your company's reputation
Just as bad accessibility practices damage your reputation, good ones can actually aid it. If you make an effort to go above and beyond to truly serve all of your customers and users, it will make your brand stand out not just in the eyes of the users that directly benefit from accessibility, but also those that most value social impact.
Conveniently, the two audiences that hold a brand’s commitment to doing things right in the highest esteem are exactly the ones that form the biggest proportion of the global consumer base: Millennials and Generation Z.
As these customers are the ones that are most likely to abandon a brand due to exposed bad practices, delivering subpar experiences potentially means losing out on a significant percentage of customers.
They also observed that “accessibility will boost your user experience (UX), which will boost your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts, which will boost your ranking, which will improve your overall brand. This indicates a direct positive correlation between commitment to accessibility and SERP ranking.”
According to Accessibility.com’s own 2020 Website Accessibility Lawsuit Recap, there were 2,058 website accessibility lawsuits in 2020. These lawsuits were particularly common in the consumer goods, apparel, food products, hospitality, and beauty industries.
Even large corporations have been hit with, and subsequently lost accessibility lawsuits. BankSITE Services reported that three household names, Wells Fargo, Domino’s, and Winn-Dixie supermarkets, were forced to change their inaccessible ways by the courts.
Wells Fargo lawsuit
According to a 2011 ADA settlement agreement cited by BankSITE, Wells Fargo was charged $16 million to compensate people who “experienced discrimination in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when trying to call Wells Fargo, access Wells Fargo's services, or visit one of Wells Fargo's retail stores.” Wells Fargo also had to fork over a $55,000 civil penalty to the US Treasury, as well as a $1 million donation to nonprofits that serve veterans with disabilities.
Winn-Dixie supermarket lawsuit
BankSITE also brought up the verdict of Juan Carlos Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores Inc., noting that
Gil, who is legally blind and uses a screen reader, sued Winn-Dixie after having difficulties filling prescriptions and downloading coupons on the grocery store’s website.
The Court described Winn-Dixie’s website as “a gateway to the physical store locations,” and the inaccessibility of the website denied Gil “the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations” offered to sighted customers. Although the case is still ongoing after the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals later held that websites were not places of public accommodation, the case has no doubt had an impact on Winn-Dixie's brand among its customers with disabilities.
Domino’s Pizza lawsuit
Finally, BankSITE drew from the ADA Southeast Court Decision Brief in mentioning Domino’s Pizza's messy, half-decade-long accessibility lawsuit. The case, which ended in June 2021, resulted in a decision that Domino’s broke California’s Unruh Act. The Act “provides protection from discrimination by all business establishments in California.” As a result, Domino’s Pizza was fined $4,000 and ordered to make its website WCAG-standard accessible. Even worse, the franchise racked up bad press from CNBC, USA Today, Fortune, Bloomberg, and Forbes.
Accessibility doesn’t just benefit people with disabilities: it benefits businesses. It generates loyal customers, innovation, improves a company’s reputation, and reduces the chances for needless litigation. With all this combined, there is no reason not to promote accessibility in your workplace and incorporate inclusion and accessibility in your customer service programs.