How brands can make accessibility a bigger part of their customer strategy

In Australia, despite around one in six identifying as having a disability and many more considered vulnerable, fair accessibility of brand services remains a huge issue. Sam Richardson, director of executive engagement at Twilio, offers brands five tips on building accessibility into their customer experience, and explains why it’s a business imperative today.

Approximately 4.4 million people in Australia, or one in six, identify as having a disability.

Adding to this, a sizeable portion of the population, which includes seniors and individuals with low literacy levels, qualifies as vulnerable customers. Whether they are impacted by financial hardship, poor health, or a recent negative life event, these groups – made up of all kinds of ages and backgrounds – are regularly disadvantaged when trying to access everyday services.

Data from the latest Australian Digital Inclusion Index underscores this concern. It reveals that 9.4% of the population experiences significant exclusion from digital services. Certain demographics, particularly those over 75 and those who did not complete secondary school, face even greater challenges. For instance, the rise of bank branch closures disproportionately impacts vulnerable individuals in rural areas who may lack the financial resources or digital literacy to navigate online banking effectively.

As services in Australia become increasingly digitised, brands mustn’t forget the very premise of their existence – to serve their customers and the community. Consideration of accessibility of all customer groups must be a central consideration throughout the planning of customer experience journeys, and this has never been more important with AI hastening the path to automation. Here I’ll share five tips on building accessibility into your customer experience, and why it’s a business imperative today.

Consider your expansive customer base

It is important to address the full range of factors that can create accessibility challenges, such as a user’s region, (dis)abilities, language, age, access to technology, economic status, and immediate environment. For example, older customers may feel shut out from digitally-led routes, those with visual impairments will require voice solutions, and neurodivergent customers may have difficulties with certain types of communications.

It may seem simple, but it’s important to be open minded about who your end customer may be – something many brands fall short of doing. We cannot make sweeping generalisations and assume customers have the same needs when it comes to mediums of interaction. In other words, brands should make an effort to understand the range of individual factors (whether permanent or temporary) and situational contexts that may affect vulnerable customers and their ability to get in touch.

Cater for varying options and autonomy

After taking steps to understand your customer base, brands need to respond and provide a breadth of communications options that cater to the various life experiences, challenges, and barriers customers face. Gone are the days when a call centre alone would suffice – brands need to expand to more mediums including but not limited to voice, text and digital options. By doing so, users will have the autonomy to make individual choices that are relevant to their circumstances, putting them in the driver’s seat.

Clear presentation of these communication options is equally crucial. Accessing contact information, such as email addresses or phone numbers, should not be an arduous or convoluted process that compels customers to seek alternative methods, abandon their inquiries, or become entirely discouraged.

Always offer a human connection

Brands must make sure that, in the race to become more digitally driven and automate processes with AI, they don’t ignore the need to stay human. We understandably get excited about new digital offerings that enhance customers’ interactions with a brand or offer greater choice of options, but we can’t underestimate the need for human interaction. Indeed, while these innovations are game changers for some, they can be intimidating and perhaps even exclusionary for others.

Maintaining a people-first approach across communications ensures that brands retain its authentic and human connection with customers. This approach also fosters inclusivity by catering to those who may be averse to, or lack the necessary resources to utilise, digital channels.

According to documents released in Senate Estimates, more than 7.4 million calls made to Services Australia were directed to voicemail last year, and more than two million calls were terminated by waiting customers. Similarly, long wait times can be common in call centres in various private sector industries including banking, utilities and travel.

Ultimately, pushing a customer down another contact route, or providing no options at all, does nothing for customer loyalty and satisfaction. For this reason, countries like Spain have implemented legislation so that citizens have the legal right to access a customer service representative, not a chatbot, within three minutes of calling.

Use data to enhance personalisation

The value of data in crafting personalised customer experiences is now widely recognised by brands. With modern CDP technology and advancements in AI, contact centre staff can now be equipped to manage enquiries, including those from vulnerable groups, with more speed and personalisation than ever before. This means offering the ability to switch between channels as needed to improve accessibility for customers and encourage dialogue.

One customer might prefer speaking verbally to a contact centre representative, while another may prefer text-based engagement. Ideally, comprehensive customer profiles should be constructed by aggregating first-party data from diverse sources, including integration with ERPs, inventory management, and billing systems.

Of course, not everything can be solved by technology, and contact centre staff training on inclusivity remains essential to ensure they can effectively address customer challenges on a case-by-case basis.

Continue to iterate over time

Providing accessibility is not a tick box exercise or a nice to have. Brands should engage in a continuous process of understanding their customers’ evolving needs, actively identifying accessibility challenges and soliciting direct feedback. In our everyday lives, we are always learning and expanding our knowledge about ways we can be more inclusive – and brands are no different.

These diverse customer segments represent a significant portion of the market, and catering to their needs is not just a responsibility but a strategic opportunity. By prioritising accessibility, brands cultivate customer loyalty and position themselves for sustainable growth. Consequently, offering appropriate contact options and personalised interactions becomes an imperative for achieving best-in-class customer engagement and driving growth.



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