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Oct 7, 2021 7:30:00 AM

Why Accessibility in Customer Service Is Not Nice-to-Have but Necessary


Did you know that more than 1 billion people experience disability in the world today? That’s 15% of our population. Capture this.

Their needs are often overlooked and they face various challenges everyday. Many services are often not available to them, because they’re not accessible. What about your customer service?


Some people need a little extra care in the form of enhanced support – technically and humanly. One big undertaking that really makes a difference is web accessibility.


What Is Web Accessibility?


In general does the Internet already help people with disabilities as it removes some of the barriers they otherwise might face in the physical world. However, it’s not always designed like this per se. So what does it take to be accessible?


According to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and their Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI),

“Web accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them. More specifically, people can [...] perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web [as well as] contribute to the Web.”

This must include sense impairments such as sight and hearing, but also cognition, speech and other physical as well as neurological disabilities.


The W3C WAI helps with accessibility solutions and gives guidelines such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which are considered international technical standards. Some basic accessibility principles are that there are descriptions provided for non-text elements such as images, buttons, etc., audio or elements have transcripts and that everything that’s accessible with a mouse should also be available from a keyboard.




The Benefits Of Accessible Customer Service


Customer service needs to be accessible. Not only because inclusion should be at the very core of every company, but also because accessibility is an important part of customer experience, satisfaction and retention. Every customer should have access to good and easy service. Show them you care and keep them for life. Otherwise, they’ll do their business elsewhere.


Offering customer service on different channels which cater to different stimuli is the first step to lower the barriers. For some people speaking to others on the phone does not work, but they can lip-read on a live chat or they prefer to have text-based conversations. Others can’t read because of sight impairment and therefore need either a website that is accessible and offers audible text output or they need to speak with somebody directly. 


There’s not one solution that fits them all. The more different contact methods your customer service offers and the better accessible they are, the more people you can serve equally. The goal is to provide a low-threshold support that is accessible to everybody without needing to overcome hurdles. In general, self-service options are a great place to start for better accessibility.


But not only people with disabilities benefit from more accessible products and services: it optimizes the usage of small screens (e.g. mobile phones and smart watches), helps older people who are facing some challenges due to aging and people with “temporary disabilities” like a broken arm. Accessibility also helps with slow internet connections and situative constraints such as not being able to read things on the screen due to bright sunlight. 


Why Chatbots Are the Perfect Accessibility Tool


After making sure your website and especially the help center or FAQ pages are accessible, it’s worth considering another tool that offers more options to people with disabilities. A chatbot can cater to many different people in different ways, supporting them equally well. 


There’s of course the technical part which makes the content of a chatbot accessible to people with disabilities, such as sight impairment, with a screen reader. But it doesn’t stop here. A chatbot is already designed to be easily navigable, it shows the content in a logical hierarchy, asks precise questions and offers specific solutions based on dynamic decision trees and NLP. This is already the nature of a chatbot (and also messenger apps) which makes them even more accessible. A chatbot offers the right knowledge at the right time in a condensed manner which does not overwhelm people with cognitive disabilities such as an extensive FAQ page would.


One step further in the accessibility game is a voice chatbot. They’re the future. Compared to service via phone or Interactive Voice Response (IVR), they offer the possibility to have the conversation at your own speed and repeat the text-to-speech output.


Make Your Customer Service More Accessible. Now.


The WCAG are as their name suggests just guidelines. In the EU, they’re compulsory for some organizations, such as in the public sector, but beyond this everybody should feel obligated to make the world more accessible for everybody – digitally, physically and socially. Inclusion and accessibility are not just buzzwords, they matter to a lot of people and they depend on it. So the question is not whether your customer service offer should be accessible or not, but when you take actions. We think now is a great time. 


Karen takes care of Solvemate's content universe as Marketing Communications Manager. When not writing about chatbots, you will find her watching Danish tv series (Dear Netflix, please talk to DR and add some new ones!), doing (aerial) yoga or trying out every recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi.