Inclusive customer service is a concept that asks organizations to put people first and provide flexible service options that offer unique solutions to individuals while incorporating customer feedback into the process to improve the quality of service provided.
Reddit user Leckzluthor recently wrote about difficulties she has faced receiving shopping as a person with visual impairments using a service dog. “Grocery shopping is a more involved process for a blind person, I have to ask a staff member to assist me. I also have my guide dog, Gumbo, inside with me. The dog in itself increases the instances of bad experiences.”
One security guard went so far as to ask her for proof of her disability, “So you are blind? Can you prove it in any way?”
Lecksluthor’s account may seem extreme, but similar stories are common in the disabled community.
Tips for providing inclusive customer service
Inclusive customer service—that is, customer service that prioritizes equitable access to services rendered—is a critical tool in combatting ableism in organizations with customer-facing employees. Due to a number of reasons, employees may not know how to interact directly with patrons with disabilities—they may feel uncomfortable, unsure, or nervous about what to do and how to do it.
It leads to further ‘othering’, or treating a group of people as intrinsically different than oneself.
At its core, inclusive customer service is about:
- Putting the person first.
- This doesn’t involve not ‘seeing’ a disability at all, but rather treating a person with disabilities with the same respect and friendliness as everyone else.
- It includes person-first language education on accepted terms versus outdated ones (‘crippled’ is no longer a used term and is quite offensive) and ensuring dignity (allowing all customers access without second-class treatment).
- Willingness to adapt or change certain policies or services in order to meet the individual needs of people.
- Doing this without placing the burden on the customer requesting accessibility, forcing them to accept lesser service, or treating them as an afterthought.
- Understanding that all services may not work for all people.
- Ability to welcome and utilize comments and suggestions for improvement.
How does inclusive customer service impact staff and business?
Staff needs to be flexible, patient, and empathetic, understanding that providing inclusive and equitable service may take more time than they are used to. Learning and implementing inclusive customer service exposes staff to diverse ideas and concepts they may have never experienced before, making them a more well-rounded employee and placing more responsibility in their hands.
Exposure to inclusive policies and ideas allows employees to grow and adapt on their own, fostering a culture of communication and sharing of improvement ideas. Any company with open dialogue and free sharing amongst employees has higher morale overall, leading to a happier workplace.
Implementing inclusive customer service
Fundamental company processes and beliefs need to be provided with clear and understandable information.
Creating a ‘best practices’ policy in a concise format for staff will help, especially with those who haven’t had much experience helping people with disabilities. Building pillars or core principles into your customer service policy will embed the beliefs and concepts into your organization and lead to a more responsive and inclusive culture overall.
For example, the City of Brampton has outlined its Core Principles of Inclusive Customer Service in their policy as follows:
- Independence: Freedom from the control or influence of others, freedom to
make one‟s own choices, freedom to do things in one‟s own way.
- Dignity: All customers are valued and deserving of effective and full service.
People facing barriers are not treated as an afterthought or forced to accept
lesser service, quality, or convenience.
- Integration: All customers fully benefit from the same services, in the same
place, and in the same or similar ways. Integration means that policies, practices,
and procedures are designed to be accessible to everyone including people with
- Equal opportunity: Having the same chances, options, benefits, and results as
There are abundant resources online with sample policies, and the Equality Commission of Nothern Ireland has a great two-page overview of accommodation practices and engagement strategies available for download.
Inclusive customer service allows for more accessibility for customers with disabilities and creates a more supportive and open environment in general. It may take time, but providing the training necessary will improve the customer experience your staff provides and give staff tools they may not have had access to to improve their understanding of disability rights.