With the number of digital accessibility lawsuits in 2023 on the rise, it begs the question, “Do I really need to consider the needs of 1 in 4 Americans when it comes to their ability to do business with me?” The increasing litigation says yes. Let’s take a look at how you can minimize your exposure to a lawsuit while providing a great experience for all your customers through proven best practices for digital accessibility feedback management.
Have you ever:
- Worried about being sued because someone may claim your digital website or mobile app is not accessible?
- Wondered why some companies are sued for not providing an accessible experience for users of their website or digital product by a customer with a disability?
- Questioned if you should only be concerned with the accessibility of your website and mobile app, or are also vulnerable for the accessibility of any digital interface you provide your customers such as kiosks, consumer electronics interfaces or product manuals?
- Wondered if the feedback process that customers use to provide input to your organization is efficient and easy to use?
If any of the above questions piqued your curiosity, then read on for the scoop on the importance of proper feedback management with regard to customers who have a disability.
Did you know?
- 1 in 4 Americans has some type of a disability
- Anyone at any time can develop a permanent, temporary, or situational disability that changes their life and impacts how they conduct business
- People who have disabilities are like everyone else, they want to be heard and respected, contribute to society by being productive, be successful, live life to the fullest, and consume your products and services with no barriers
- Digital accessibility benefits everyone
For this blog post, we make some assumptions:
- Your organization provides some form of digital content to your customers
- You are engaged with ensuring your products and services are accessible to users with disabilities even if you are at the beginning of your journey to understanding the entire digital accessibility concept
- You have a website that offers customers a way to provide feedback through different avenues
- You may or may not have an accessibility statement on your site
No one in the disability community expects perfection when it comes to digital accessibility
They do expect someone to listen, understand, and provide a solution that works to solve their problem when they are facing a barrier. Most people with disabilities just want to do business with you. They are not in it to make a dollar by filing a lawsuit against your organization. When they are reaching out for assistance or to provide feedback it is to improve the process, look at this feedback as a gift. This is hard to do if certain practices aren’t followed for managing the feedback when received.
Problems brought to your attention by your customers may not be able to be immediately fixed and most people realize this. Providing a workaround while a more permanent solution can be implemented is an acceptable way to proceed. This is where the accommodation process comes into play.
Don’t abuse the accommodation process or you will end up with larger problems. Only accommodate when you are pressed for a solution to solve an immediate problem. If you have a customer that needs access to a PDF statement and it can’t be read by their screen reader, having a customer service representative read it to the customer will work for a few months as an accommodation, but this is not a viable long-term solution. Even manually converting the statement to an accessible file and providing that won’t last too long if it is a different process the customer must follow as they are expecting a long-term solution to be put in place to solve their problem.
No matter where you are on your digital accessibility journey, you need to take feedback from your customers and react to it accordingly. One of the best ways to avoid a lawsuit is to allow your customers to voice their concerns and challenges.
This doesn’t mean you can fix every problem presented and make everyone happy immediately, but it does mean you will have to review feedback, respond accordingly, and attempt to provide good service to your customer who has taken the time to make you aware of their struggle to do business with you. Ignoring customers with disabilities is the best way to eventually be sued.
Let’s take a look at some elements of good accessibility feedback management
- Provide a way to easily submit feedback
- Monitor your organization’s feedback channels frequently
- Train your customer service representatives
- Develop a process to get the feedback to the right area for resolution
- Offer alternatives to solve the current problem while the issue is looked into
- Close the loop when a problem is resolved no matter what the outcome is
- Monitor discovered feedback trends and adjust accordingly
Provide a way to easily submit feedback
Submitting feedback should be a snap! If possible, the starting point should be from your accessibility statement web page, which should be linked from the footer of your site. If you don’t have an accessibility statement, consider developing one and publishing it on all your digital properties.
Accessibility statements go a long way to letting the customer know you care. An accessibility statement doesn’t mean you are perfect and everything is accessible, they simply state where you are at in your journey–that you care about the experience of customers with disabilities and that you are trying to improve. This statement page is the perfect place to provide the entry point to give constructive feedback. I sometimes use them to submit feedback just to say thank you for having an accessibility statement and acknowledging my needs as a user of assistive technology.
Providing feedback should be easy to submit in as many ways as you can offer, including an online form, e-mail, phone, or physical mail. The best way to receive feedback is from an online form where you can guide the questions you need answered to provide a great experience.
Feedback form questions might include the type of assistive technology used, the operating system and browser version, the page or feature that is causing a problem, etc. If email is your best option, provide a list of items to cover in their communication so you can best assist to resolve the problem. If you offer phone support either for assistance or to submit feedback you must train your staff on how to take a call, record the pertinent information and route it to the proper area for processing.
Calling an unprepared representative is a poor experience. If you are unable to take feedback online and your call center staff is untrained on how to route feedback regarding an accessibility issue and the only course of action is paper communications, it will reflect poorly on your organization.
Monitor your organization’s feedback channels frequently
Feedback should be monitored on a daily basis. It needs to be reviewed and prioritized and an action plan needs to be developed as soon as possible based upon the concern presented. The customer should be made aware that the feedback has been received and that someone is looking into the concern. Depending on the urgency of the problem, someone should reach out to provide a workaround to ensure the customer experience is maintained.
Train your customer service representatives
No matter what tool or technology you use to provide knowledge to your contact center staff, make sure they have the necessary resources to successfully get them through a call with a customer with a disability.
At a minimum, they need to know what keywords to enter into your knowledge system to pull up documentation to troubleshoot or document the request. Even if the documentation is nothing more than the steps to record the problem and direct it to the proper area for review, they need to know what to do to ensure the message delivered is received and properly handled.
If the customer asks for a concern to be directed to the accessibility department (or similar) and the agent can’t handle that request, it makes your organization look like you aren’t prepared to assist.
Have a process to get the feedback to the right area for resolution. Feedback that is not routed and managed is a lost gift. If your customer took the time to point out a problem or sticking point with your online experience, be respectful and process it in a timely and efficient manner.
Decide if the problem can be handled without support by an internal team dedicated to accessibility issues or open the right ticketing system to look at the problem and provide guidance. Report to the customer what is being done and when a solution might be available. Part of the process should be offering alternatives in the event a fix can’t be quickly implemented.
Offer alternatives to solve the current problem at hand while the issue is being investigated. No one likes to be inconvenienced, but there are times when our digital systems just can’t serve everyone. That is life, but you can ensure your customers are taken care of by providing alternative ways to achieve the desired result. Go out of your way to provide a good experience even if it must be a different experience while you look into the problem and correct the issue posing the barrier.
Closing The Loop
Close the loop when a problem is resolved no matter what the outcome is. No matter the resolution, communicate the status. Being left hanging is not good for the overall customer experience. Telling the customer that the feedback was received but at the current time nothing can be done is better than ignoring the customer at all. Try to provide alternative methods to solve the problem if possible. If you accept feedback from your customers, commit to using it and communicate back to the customer, even if it’s to say, “we don’t have a solution at this moment.”
Monitor Feedback Trends
A major part of a successful digital accessibility program is being proactive. One key part of doing this is monitoring your feedback channel for the trends in the types of problems people are reporting.
For example, if you provide a lot of video content for consumption to your customers and there are a lot of concerns coming in regarding missing captioning, start looking at what can be done to improve the video creation process to ensure all video content being produced has captioning available. If you are seeing a trend regarding color contrast issues, talk to your design team to ensure color contrast awareness, tooling to test and best practices for developing inclusive designs with good color contrast are all in place to start to correct for this trend.
Below are some additional things to consider in the feedback process.
Is dedicated support needed?
The list of large organizations providing dedicated support channels for customers with disabilities is growing. While the likes of Apple, Amazon, Google & Microsoft first come to mind, many large organizations in the tech and communications sectors also offer dedicated call center staff for people with disabilities.
These teams are specially trained in assistive tech and have a heightened awareness of the challenges people with disabilities face. The number of organizations providing this level of support is growing as large companies realize the importance of the buying power of the 1 in 4 Americans with some form of a disability.
If this level of support is not practical for your organization, don’t worry, just follow the best practices outlined in this article. Once implemented, you will be ready to serve customers with disabilities and improve your brand recognition if you just pay attention to their input and respond appropriately.
Do I need to be concerned with the accessibility of documents, kiosks, and consumer-facing electronic displays?
The simple answer is yes. While the majority of the litigation has been centered around websites and mobile apps, anything your customers use that is digital in nature is required to be accessible. Kiosks are just now starting to receive attention. Documents of multiple formats, but mostly PDF, are sticking points that can cause a lawsuit if not made available in an accessible format.
Must-haves to avoid or minimize your exposure to lawsuits:
- Create and publish an accessibility statement for your website
- Offer multiple feedback mechanism channels for customers to use when they are having difficulty with your digital presence
- Listen to your customers and respond appropriately
- Consider non-traditional interfaces like kiosks, PDF documents, and consumer electronic interfaces
Things to avoid:
- Making your customers work hard to get their voices heard
- Not training your contact center employees on the basics of handling a call from a customer with a disability
- Publishing on your website a statement saying assistance is available for a specific disability, but not training your staff on how to handle calls from that segment of the disability community
What are the benefits of good feedback management?
- Free testing: No organization can test everything 100%. Take advantage of it when your customers report problems and look at that feedback as free testing services
- Improved image in the disability community: You can become known as an organization that cares and is responsible for the needs of all customers, even those who do things differently
- Promotes innovation: What you learn from disabled customers’ feedback can point out friction points in your products or services which when evaluated properly can lead to innovative ways to help everyone
- Helps avoid lawsuits: While no one can guarantee you won’t be sued, being proactive regarding customer service for people with disabilities, listening to feedback, and responding appropriately shows you care and are supportive of all people of all abilities
No organization is perfect. If you do find yourself the recipient of a lawsuit related to a digital accessibility issue, you can relax some if you:
- Have an easy-to-locate and use feedback tool for users
- Are listening and responding to the needs of your customers with disabilities
- Desire to improve for all users, including those with unique challenges
- Have an easily located accessibility statement, that clearly spells out what your current capabilities are for users with disabilities, your plans for improvement, and your interest in feedback
Still have questions and want to learn more?
If after reading this article you’re still not sure of the right next steps, don’t worry. My colleagues and I in strategic consulting are available to meet with you for a free one-hour consultation to discuss your accessibility statement, feedback mechanism, or your overall strategy for cost-effective digital inclusion practices. We can help your organization reach the next level of digital equality so you can serve even more customers.