Working With Customers Who Have Physical Disabilities


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People with physical disabilities have jobs, hobbies, homes, and families just like you do. Their disability doesn’t define them. They want to be treated just like everyone else; as individuals. By providing for their specific needs, you are putting out the welcome mat for no small demographic!

According to the Americans with Disabilities Report from the US Census, approximately 18% of the population has at least one disability. For those aged 80 and over, the percentage climbs to 72%. The aggregate income of people with disabilities tops $1 trillion, which includes $220 billion in discretionary income. If you are not providing adequate service to this segment of the population, you are passing up opportunities to build your business and to educate yourself.

Giving your customers individual respect and courtesy is the foundation for outstanding customer service. People with disabilities expect nothing less. Treat them as you would like to be treated and put the person first.

Providing a winning customer service experience

When you meet a person with a physical disability, it’s considered appropriate to offer to shake hands. Don’t feel you have to avoid shaking hands with someone with an artificial limb or some form of prosthesis. It’s also acceptable to shake hands with the left hand. The strength and type of handshake should be left up to the person with the disability.

Here is a rundown of basic etiquette when interacting face-to-face with customers who have disabilities.

  • Relax and smile!
  • Show a willingness to find a way to communicate.
  • If you don’t understand, don’t pretend you did. Politely ask again.
  • Make eye contact, but don’t stare.
  • Speak directly to your customer, not to the person with them.
  • Don’t touch wheelchairs without approval.
  • Don’t pet or talk to a service animal.
  • If you’re unsure, ask your customer what you can do to help them.

Customer contact via telephone

Communicating over the phone may be challenging for some customers who have physical disabilities. Here are some tips to help you with a productive conversation.

  • Don’t concentrate on how your customer’s voice sounds. Concentrate on the information conveyed.
  • If you’re uncertain whether you heard something correctly, repeat it back to the customer.
  • Don’t interrupt or finish your customer’s sentences.
  • If you can’t understand at all, arrange a call back time when you can speak with someone else.

Luke Weiden of Town & Country Services in Tonica, IL, suggests that you prequalify your customers over the phone when setting up the appointment. “Ask the customer if they have any special needs ahead of time so you can make accommodations,” advises Weiden. It will enhance your customer’s experience.

Serving a customer with a disability at home

When providing service for a customer with a disability at home, it’s important that you fi t in with their routine. Some may have strict schedules for physical therapy or medicine.

Rick Cronholm of Johansen & Anderson, Inc. in Joliet, IL, says his company uses special soft ware that keeps track of customer information, including any special instructions. “Our detailed fi les allow our dispatchers to meet any needs our customer may have, including any additional contacts we need to make for the appointment, such as a caregiver.”

Some customers crave familiarity. Shelley Faoconer of Air-Rite Heating and Cooling in North Aurora, IL, says her company keeps specific customer information that allows them to provide this service. “We keep notes on customers who feel comfortable working with a specific technician who is aware of their special needs,” she says.

Be sure to confirm all details before the appointment. Don’t arrive early, because the customer may have scheduled an interpreter or attendant for the appointment time. Don’t refer to the customer’s disability, and don’t use outdated verbiage such as “handicapped.”

Introduce yourself in a clear voice. Remember that a customer with a vision disability may have a password that is necessary to gain entry into her house because of an inability to read your ID card.

If you find it necessary to move any of your customer’s possessions, make sure you put everything back in its proper place. Customers with certain impairments may navigate by the location of objects such as furniture.

Inform your customer about what you’re doing and provide timely updates. If you are unable to finish the job, clearly explain the next steps. Schedule an appointment for follow up, and make sure the customer has your phone number in the event of a problem.

The golden rule

When interacting with customers who have disabilities the main thing to keep in mind is that they are people. Their disability is just one of many characteristics that make them who they are. People with disabilities have the same essential requirements we all do, and the primary need is to be treated with dignity.

People with physical disabilities have jobs, hobbies, homes, and families just like you do. Their disability doesn’t define them. They want to be treated just like everyone else; as individuals. By providing for their specific needs, you are putting out the welcome mat for no small demographic!

According to the Americans with Disabilities Report from the US Census, approximately 18% of the population has at least one disability. For those aged 80 and over, the percentage climbs to 72%. The aggregate income of people with disabilities tops $1 trillion, which includes $220 billion in discretionary income. If you are not providing adequate service to this segment of the population, you are passing up opportunities to build your business and to educate yourself.

Giving your customers individual respect and courtesy is the foundation for outstanding customer service. People with disabilities expect nothing less. Treat them as you would like to be treated and put the person first.

Providing a winning customer service experience

When you meet a person with a physical disability, it’s considered appropriate to offer to shake hands. Don’t feel you have to avoid shaking hands with someone with an artificial limb or some form of prosthesis. It’s also acceptable to shake hands with the left hand. The strength and type of handshake should be left up to the person with the disability.

Here is a rundown of basic etiquette when interacting face-to-face with customers who have disabilities.

  • Relax and smile!
  • Show a willingness to find a way to communicate.
  • If you don’t understand, don’t pretend you did. Politely ask again.
  • Make eye contact, but don’t stare.
  • Speak directly to your customer, not to the person with them.
  • Don’t touch wheelchairs without approval.
  • Don’t pet or talk to a service animal.
  • If you’re unsure, ask your customer what you can do to help them.

Customer contact via telephone

Communicating over the phone may be challenging for some customers who have physical disabilities. Here are some tips to help you with a productive conversation.

  • Don’t concentrate on how your customer’s voice sounds. Concentrate on the information conveyed.
  • If you’re uncertain whether you heard something correctly, repeat it back to the customer.
  • Don’t interrupt or finish your customer’s sentences.
  • If you can’t understand at all, arrange a call back time when you can speak with someone else.

Luke Weiden of Town & Country Services in Tonica, IL, suggests that you prequalify your customers over the phone when setting up the appointment. “Ask the customer if they have any special needs ahead of time so you can make accommodations,” advises Weiden. It will enhance your customer’s experience.

Serving a customer with a disability at home

When providing service for a customer with a disability at home, it’s important that you fi t in with their routine. Some may have strict schedules for physical therapy or medicine.

Rick Cronholm of Johansen & Anderson, Inc. in Joliet, IL, says his company uses special soft ware that keeps track of customer information, including any special instructions. “Our detailed fi les allow our dispatchers to meet any needs our customer may have, including any additional contacts we need to make for the appointment, such as a caregiver.”

Some customers crave familiarity. Shelley Faoconer of Air-Rite Heating and Cooling in North Aurora, IL, says her company keeps specific customer information that allows them to provide this service. “We keep notes on customers who feel comfortable working with a specific technician who is aware of their special needs,” she says.

Be sure to confirm all details before the appointment. Don’t arrive early, because the customer may have scheduled an interpreter or attendant for the appointment time. Don’t refer to the customer’s disability, and don’t use outdated verbiage such as “handicapped.”

Introduce yourself in a clear voice. Remember that a customer with a vision disability may have a password that is necessary to gain entry into her house because of an inability to read your ID card.

If you find it necessary to move any of your customer’s possessions, make sure you put everything back in its proper place. Customers with certain impairments may navigate by the location of objects such as furniture.

Inform your customer about what you’re doing and provide timely updates. If you are unable to finish the job, clearly explain the next steps. Schedule an appointment for follow up, and make sure the customer has your phone number in the event of a problem.

The golden rule

When interacting with customers who have disabilities the main thing to keep in mind is that they are people. Their disability is just one of many characteristics that make them who they are. People with disabilities have the same essential requirements we all do, and the primary need is to be treated with dignity.

Melinda Wamsley
Latest posts by Melinda Wamsley (see all)

Posted In: ACCA Now, Customer Service

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