The fourth edition of the State of Service report told us that 75% of decision-makers say field service is key to their overall business strategy, while other research indicates that many customers still want service that comes to them. The pandemic has made service teams more aware than ever of physical guidelines, but customers living with certain types of disability have faced this challenge their entire life. How can better field service management improve outcomes regardless of customers’ circumstances?
Alex Noor, a director and disability access consultant with Access First, explains what leaders should know.
“When planning to evolve a service team to better take care of the needs of those with a disability, it’s important to begin with an understanding of what types of disabilities there are.
The most obvious disability group are those with mobility issues. Here we might be talking about a person who uses a wheelchair or mobility scooter, or who requires a walking aid.
Then there are people living with a vision impairment. Then there’s hearing loss and, once again, there are different types and levels of hearing loss.
Another disability group are people with intellectual impairments, which may mean a person requires communication using short sentences and avoiding jargon. People living with psychiatric disabilities may require their carer to manage their interaction with a service provider.
Service team members require appropriate training to understand each type of disability to ensure the most positive outcome for the customer.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, approximately four million Australians live with a disability – that’s nearly one in five people, a significant portion of the population.
During a disability awareness workshop, I was privileged to meet with some of these people and they shared their lived experiences and challenges. In the workshop I was able to use a wheelchair along a footpath, and soon appreciated how difficult it is to manoeuvre on uneven surfaces, sudden level changes and steps, narrow doorways and reaching items from a seated position.
I also wore a blindfold and specially designed glasses to experience what some types of vision loss are like.
These were just some of the experiences that gave me a deeper appreciation for the challenges many people face on a daily basis.
There are lessons in this for field service teams. How much of their documentation and other informational materials are in a format that is as clear to people with low vision as it might be to those with full vision, for example? For people with low vision or cognitive limitations, often it’s a lot better to use graphics or images with good contrast against the background, rather than words.
And what about customers whose hearing is impaired? Do members of service teams have a good understanding of the ways they can ensure a hearing impaired customer’s understanding of a problem, and of a solution, is clear?
Are all team members aware of how to communicate with someone who has impaired hearing? In a lot of cases, it works very well to get out your pen and paper and write things down. You have to be patient and very descriptive, perhaps using drawings. So, for example, if you’re a technician servicing a washing machine and you encounter a person who has hearing loss, you have to be aware of how best to communicate by not raising your voice, but by writing and drawing.
The truth is that each person with a disability will be different to the last. One of the most crucial ways to begin and end the interaction positively is to learn to respectfully ask how the individual prefers to communicate.
It begins with always being respectful, treating people as you’d like to be treated yourself, and being patient. It pays to be aware that the vast majority of people can be communicated with in alternative ways, without making them feel uncomfortable about their disability.
If you have the right training, it means you’re also not feeling uncomfortable, because you know how to handle the situation. Basically, appropriate training in how to best navigate those types of scenarios will assist the interaction with the client.
There are numerous places to source training, such as the Access Institute. These organisations typically customise their training, delivered online or face-to-face, for the client business.
Good training means field service agents are most often able to recognise someone with a disability as soon as they meet them. They then have the tools to understand what that person’s challenges could be, and to respectfully discuss preferred forms of communication.
And it’s not just about face-to-face interactions. Customer service teams that do this well will not just have accessible printed materials. They will also have an accessibility tab on their website that allows for the font to be increased, they’ll supply short videos with excellent sound, they will ensure all videos are well captioned, and more.
Success comes from ensuring every individual client or customer has a simple way to develop a clear and accurate understanding of the solution to their problem.”
Training for the type of situations Alex mentions is increasingly important in field service teams that seek high levels of performance, especially since 70% of consumers say they still prefer in-person service appointments over alternatives.
The State of Service report revealed that most teams (71%) are relatively comfortable with their levels of knowledge and performance with customers who have physical disabilities. However, those figures drop for service teams dealing with people with speech, hearing and other disabilities.
Service professionals who say they provide the proper accommodations for customers with:
Along with training, employees also need tools and processes that make it easier to track cases and capture data, while customers often benefit from a variety of channels that allow them to choose which type of interaction is right for their circumstances. Opaque, manual processes and field force management can impact experiences for everyone.
The report also uncovered that 80% of decision-makers say field service is key to their overall business strategy.* For those wanting to continue investing in and evolving their field force, accessibility and inclusivity for both customers and employees will be crucial considerations.
Download the State of Service report to find out more trends in customer experience and service.
*Base: Respondents at companies with field service. See page 44 of the report for additional segmentations.