Read The Signs: Working With Deaf Customers
Communication barriers can often be the cause of a lot of problems when trying to provide a customer with exceptional service. In our culturally and ethnically diverse society we oft en think that these issues arise when there are two different languages being spoken, say English and Spanish. But what if the communication barrier is because the customer is deaf? How do you provide these customers with the best customer service and bridge the communication gap?
According to Gallaudet University, the world leader in education and career development for deaf and hard of hearing students, there are more than 19 million deaf and hard of hearing individuals over the age of 18 in the United States. This is a segment of the population; who with a little care, courtesy, and common sense can become loyal customers who will refer you to their friends, family, and coworkers.
Setting The Appointment
Setting an appointment with a deaf customer may not be any different than setting an appointment with a hearing customer. It all depends on how you have set up your business. Here are some things to consider:
- Does your website have an email address or contact form that customers can contact you without having to call?
- Do you have a Text Telephone (TTY) number and is it clearly listed on your website?
- Are your employees trained to use the TTY? TTY is probably one of the easiest ways to let your deaf customers know that you are ready, willing, and able to provide them with the service they expect and deserve. The process is similar to chat on computers, where one person types text to the other on these devices. Both individuals in the conversation must have a TTY at each end of the telephone line in order to communicate.
If you don’t want to invest in the equipment for the TTY, because you don’t know how large the deaf population is in your area, you could encourage your customers to contact you via the Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS). The TRS is basically a phone translation service that is similar to an in-person translator.
At The Appointment
So, you’ve made the appointment, but now there is another set of situations that you need to deal with that may not be familiar to you.
Do you normally call your customers to let them know that the technician is on their way? If you are using the TTY or the TRS, then you can simply make the phone call as normal. But, what if you aren’t? You are likely asking your customers for an email address, so you can always send an email. Or, why not ask for a cell phone number that you can send a text message to? Deaf customers will likely not have any reservations at providing this information as it makes communicating easier.
When the technician arrives, there will also be some slight communication barriers. While it would be great if you could simply dispatch a technician who is fluent in American Sign Language (ASL), this probably isn’t the case. Thankfully there are more than a few ways to ensure that there is clear communication with the customer. Here are a few scenarios and tips for making communicating easier:
Using An Interpreter. Some deaf customers may have a family member or friend who can act as an interpreter. This is an ideal situation, so that your message gets across clearly. Just remember, you should always look at and address the person you are speaking with, not the interpreter.
Lip Reading. Some deaf customers may be lip readers and this can make communicating easier. Again, remember to look directly at the person and speak clearly. You do not need to yell or talk at an unnatural pace. However, if you naturally talk fast, you may want to slow down a bit to ensure your message gets across correctly.
Write It Down. Sometimes the best way to make sure the message gets across correct is to simply write it down. This ensures that there is no confusion and that both the technician and the customer are on the same page.
All in all working with deaf customers really doesn’t present too many challenges. In fact, deaf customers tend to be extremely loyal to, and highly recommend, companies who are willing to put forth a little effort to overcome the communication challenges and provide excellent customer service.
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