Disabled customers and call centres

21 May 2010

Call-centre staff answering phonesMany services are now available by phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

This has provided greater convenience and accessibility for many customers, including disabled customers who sometimes find using high street shops and services difficult.

However, some disabled customers report a lack of disability awareness when dealing with call centres.

Research commissioned by Ofcom into the needs of disabled people when using communications services showed that difficulty dealing with call centres was a common problem. The same issue is also regularly raised with us by disability organisations.

Things disabled people tell us include the following:

  • Blind people have reported that call centre workers assume that callers can see, and are unable to divert from the script - even when they know that the customer cannot do what they are asking, e.g. read a serial number
  • Deaf people report that call centres regularly hang up when they call via the text relay service
  • Hard of hearing people have told us that requests to speak more slowly are often ignored
  • People who have learning disabilities or have suffered a head injury tell us that they find menus and entering numbers (e.g. their account number) difficult

Ofcom is keen to promote good practice and to act on the issues raised with us by disabled users of communications services.

Why this matters

Making services more accessible to older and disabled consumers makes business sense. As the population gets older, this becomes even more important - for example, among people over the age of 60, 54% are deaf or hard of hearing and 8% are blind or partially sighted. There are also many people - of all ages - for whom the act of speaking presents difficulty.

“Making sure that everyone can access communications services offered by companies makes good business sense. 'This guide provides practical tips for businesses to ensure that call centre staff are aware of the needs of those with hearing, visual or cognitive impairments.”

Confederation of British Industry

The Disability Discrimination Act makes it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of disability in the provision of goods and services, and says that service providers must make reasonable adjustments to enable disabled people to use their services.

Top tips for call centre staff

  • Speak clearly and into the microphone
  • Don’t speak too quickly, and slow down if requested to do so
  • Be prepared to repeat or rephrase
  • Give the caller time to explain fully - don't interrupt and be patient if they are having difficulty speaking
  • If you receive a call via the text relay service, don’t hang up - the relay assistant will help with the call. You can find information about this service at www.textrelay.org
  • Don't assume the caller can see (for example, to read a serial number) - it may be necessary for someone else to help with this, so please be patient

Top tips for businesses using call centres

  • All call centre staff should be given disability awareness training
  • Offer customers the choice of contacting your business by post or email as well as phone
  • When customers have to confirm complex details over the phone, offer them the chance to have information posted or emailed for confirmation
  • Call centre speech levels (at headset and system output) should meet international standards and should be checked on a regular basis
  • If you advertise a textphone number, make sure that your staff know how to answer and use the textphone
  • Music or a waiting signal helps people to know they have not been cut off
  • Keep call routing menus short (4 is a good maximum) and give an option of speaking to an operator in the initial menu
  • Allow the caller the option of repeating the menu
  • The system should transfer the caller to an operator if no option is chosen or if the caller cannot do what is being asked, e.g. enter an account number
  • Menu options should be logical for the customer rather than based on your organisational structure

These are good practice tips only, and not intended to be comprehensive. For more information about how to make your business accessible to disabled customers, you may like to see:

  • Welcoming disabled customers (Employers' Forum on Disability, 2005)
  • Barrier Free Call Routing (Employers' Forum on Disability, 2006)
  • Guidelines for call centres dealing with vulnerable consumers (Direct Marketing Association, 2012)

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