Last updated: Customer inclusiveness imperative: The ROI of closing the experience gap

Customer inclusiveness imperative: The ROI of closing the experience gap


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Diversity and inclusiveness have been front-and-center topics for the human resources and recruiting worlds for a long time.

Here’s how Google dictionary defines inclusiveness:

“The practice or policy of including people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who have physical or mental disabilities and members of minority groups.”

It makes sense that inclusiveness has a well-established home in companies’ human resources and recruiting functions.

But inclusiveness also has a connection to customer experience that, until recently, existed only on the periphery of how we think about and live the practices, principles, and concepts of customer experience as a business discipline.

Inclusiveness used to exist on the periphery of CX, but that’s changing now

What used to be mainly about handicap accessible parking and building ramps for customers and compliance with laws and mandates is now about much more than that.

Almost-daily anecdotes from the news and social media have enlightened us on what it looks like when companies embrace the spirit of inclusiveness, or not, in how they create, manage, and evaluate experiences for all customers.

You have the positive stories.

For example, Chase Bank recently opened a branch for deaf and hard of hearing customers in Washington, D.C. near a college for deaf and hard of hearing students.

Starbucks opened a “Signing Store” in the same neighborhood in 2018, and a Mozzeria will open there later this year where an all-deaf employee base will communicate in American Sign Language (ASL).

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And then there are the not-so-positive stories.

In Chicago, Spanish-speaking customers were turned away from being served at their neighborhood U.S. post office due to a language barrier. That led to local protests and negative customer experiences.

The whole batch of negativity might have been avoided if the post office had simply put up signs that are supposed to be in every post office—signs that customers can scan with translation apps to get help in their language. But there were no such signs at this location. (Meanwhile, USPS continues to suffer financially.)

SCOTUS: The Big Event?

But the big event that may have pushed the inclusiveness in customer experience conversation forward faster than anything else recently is a 2019 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to not to hear a digital customer experience case involving Domino’s Pizza.

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A blind customer had sued Domino’s Pizza under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when he was unable to order a pizza on the company’s website or smartphone app. Domino’s argued they didn’t have to make their website and smartphone app accessible to customers who are blind.

A lower court had previously ruled in the customer’s favor. Domino’s appealed to the Supreme Court, hoping to overturn the lower court’s ruling. But the Supreme Court took a pass on hearing the case.

That means the lower court’s ruling in favor of the customer stands, and Domino’s must make their website and smartphone apps accessible to customers who are blind, just like they would for their physical locations. SCOTUS’ decision not to hear the case sends a big message about inclusiveness in the design and delivery of services both in-person and online.

No company wants to go through the time, reputational risk, and expense of litigation. Yet, more than 2,200 federal lawsuits were filed in the U.S. against companies for having inaccessible websites in 2018 alone, a huge jump from 814 cases in 2017.

Profits: Ring me up, please!

Inclusiveness isn’t just a nice thing to do in the world of customer experience. There’s an ROI to it. The creators of Purple Tuesday, a U.K.-based grassroots campaign for better retail experiences for disabled customers, have some numbers:

“Across the UK… the consumer spending power of disabled people and their families is worth £249 billion and is rising by an average of 14% per annum. Worldwide, (the amount) … equates to … £2.25 trillion.…”

Comparatively, in the U.S., disposable income for adults with disabilities is said to be about $490 billion.

That ain’t pocket change, friends.

So, if you’re not offering a scenario where all customers can easily shop and buy, especially in an increasingly digital world, then you’re probably leaving profits out there for someone else to snap up.

Converging customer inclusiveness and customer experience

Inclusiveness is a mature business imperative for many companies’ HR and recruiting teams. So how can inclusive mindsets, practices, and business approaches be interwoven into a customer experience mindset at the highest levels of a company?

This is newer territory that may call for some exploring. Here are three ideas on where customer experience professionals can get started or partner up across their organization.

  1. Become aware. Partner up with your company’s diversity and inclusion committees. Meet everyone. Learn everything you can. Volunteer on committees, co-plan projects, go to events, and soak up the knowledge and expertise of others in the group.
  2. Initiate conversations with partners. Get with your company’s customer advisory board, operations committees, and customer advocacy teams. Open a conversation on inclusiveness and customer experience. Listen for feedback and anecdotes, then start filling in the gaps.
  3. Start thinking about measures and metrics. Diversity and inclusiveness programs have measures, metrics, and benchmarks for employee programs and initiatives. But, at the moment, there seem to be no examples of governance frameworks, metrics, and measurements for systematically evaluating customer inclusiveness. There’s room to blaze trails here!

In the end, experts seem to agree that moving toward an inclusive mindset in customer experience is about challenging your own perceptions of what an experience looks like for all customers in the digital and physical worlds.

“Ultimately, it comes down to how inclusive your research is, who you prioritize in your design, and how you design and implement technology for all abilities,” says Marcy Katz Jacobs, Associate Partner at McKinsey & Company, formerly with the United States Digital Service at the Veteran’s Administration in Washington, D.C. “If you research and test with an inclusive audience, and have a representative team doing the work, you get a more holistic result.”

We customer experience pros have a lot of work to do to figure it out. But given the opportunity to get it right, the work is certainly worth doing.

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