Working in the tourism business, you may see many customers every day and deal directly with all kinds of issues.
You need to remember that each new customer is a unique person, with his or her own needs, interests and abilities.
By knowing something about the access requirements of your various customers it’s possible to give everyone a better quality of service.
And a better quality of service improves your business.
- Customers with specific access needs wish to be as autonomous as any other customer.
- Ensuring good accessibility of your venues and facilities is key to this end and helps to maintain a balanced relationship between the customer and staff.
- Good service can often make up for some shortcomings or difficulties in the physical environment.
- Do not assume what people can or cannot do from what you see or from simply knowing the nature of the disability.
- Make a plan for emergency evacuation of all visitors, bearing in mind that some may have mobility difficulties or sight impairment, or they may be deaf or hard of hearing.
- When communicating with a disabled person or talking about their requirements be aware that certain words and phrases can give offence.
Wheelchair users don’t all have the same needs. There are people who use wheelchairs who can stand up or walk short distances. Permanent wheelchair users have a large difference in their capabilities and needs.
Some may be able to move around independently but they may need your help to get up a ramp or open a door. Others need an assistant to move freely.
- Speak directly to the person in the wheelchair, preferably at their eye level,
- Don’t ask the assistant questions that the wheelchair user can answer for themselves.
- Don’t lean on the wheelchair – it is part of the customer’s personal space
- Don’t push a chair useless asked to do so, not only are you interferring with the personal space but sudden unexpected movement may unbalance the wheelchair user.
- If you are behind a high counter, come out to the front to speak with the customer.
Some customers have difficulty in walking and may use sticks, crutches or walking frames to assist them. You should be prepared to offer assistance if it is required.
- Offer them a seat and have a variety of seats with and without armrests, however some people prefer to stand because of pain of difficulty getting up and down.
- Offer help with coats, bags or belongings, and opening doors, if required.
- Never touch or move sticks, crutches or frames without the user’s consent.
Customers with sight impairments may be blind or have low vision. They can have difficulty in understanding space arrangements and moving around facilities.
- Provide easy navigation for example by removing obstacles from corridors and offering to show your customer around the premises.
- Offer information, such as menus and guides in accessible formats, for example large print or audio.
- Ensure good lighting levels, for example in the restaurant and where customers need to read or write.
People with a hearing impairment may be deaf or may partial hearing. People who have been deaf from birth are more likely to use sign language than those who become deaf later in life. Those who are hard of hearing may or may not use a hearing aid.
- Don’t guess how much the customer can hear, or how they prefer to communicate. Always ask how you can help.
- Make sure you always have eye-to-eye contact with the customer when you begin to speak.
- Use simple language, short sentences in written information material.
- If the customer has an interpreter, speak to the customer.
- Good lighting is important to aid people who lip-read
- Have an induction loop in crucial areas, for example reception, conference rooms in crucial areas and make sure it is working.
It is not always obvious that a customer has a learning difficulty. Don’t assume that the customer will not understand you – most likely they will be able to communicate quite easily with you if you are patient and encouraging.
- Speak to the customer as you would anyone else.
- Use simple language and information and be confident and relaxed.
- Give the customer time to make a decision and reply.
- It can be helpful to use written information, signs and pictograms to help in communicating.
Customers can be allergic to certain foods or environmental irritants. They may have a respiratory condition like asthma. There are a number of things you can do to make them more comfortable and safe.
- If your establishment is serving food, the chef (or cook) and the waiters should be aware of the ingredients and additives that are used in food preparation so that they can answer questions about the food correctly.
- Guests with food allergies are not avoiding certain foods out of preference. Treat their concerns seriously and be flexible by allowing variations in your menu when required.
- Guests who are allergic to contact with certain materials or airborne allergens are likely to ask about these: you should be aware of the types of cleaning materials that are used in your establishment, the bedding, which rooms have carpets, non-smoking areas and policies about allowing pets
- People on the autism spectrum
Older people may experience disability but do not consider themselves to be disabled people e.g. people with hearing loss or walking difficulties.
Older and disabled people often have dual or multiple disabilities e.g. dementia and partial sight.
Being aware of the needs of older customers enables you to serve them better, making their visit more pleasant, more comfortable and safer.
They have probably been used to travelling independently in the past but as they get older they might need some assistance and a more accessible environment, so they can be as independent as possible.
- Be prepared to offer appropriate help if required, just as for customers with disabilities.
- Anticipate that your older customers might have difficulties and ask if you can assist with things such as
- Carrying luggage
- Reading a menu
- Opening doors
- Getting a taxi, local transport/transfers in accessible vehicles
Older customers may be unfamiliar with some equipment. They may need assistance or instruction in use of:
- door locks,
- TV controls,
- guest telephone,
- heating and air conditioning systems,
- electrical appliances,
- shower taps,
- lift buttons,
- coffee and tea machine, etc.
Occasionally you may have a customer with a health condition, such as diabetes or food intolerance.
While they know how to manage their condition, they may need a little extra assistance or information when away from home.
- Offer flexible meal times for diabetics who need to plan when to eat in order to control their blood sugar levels
- Be prepared to offer people with food allergies special diets according to their needs.
People may need to borrow or rent a wheelchair or mobility if they easily get tired.
- Find a reliable service partner where customers they can rent or service equipment, for example a wheelchair or electric scooter.
- Be prepared to advise guests about local doctors and hospitals
Obviously, children may range from babies through to teenagers. There may be one or more parent with them and or grandparents.
Extended families of several generations may travel together as a way of meeting, celebrating family events and spending time with each other.
Remember that any family member may have access requirements, as one or more could have a disability or impairment.
Think of your own family and how you have benefitted when someone has offered or given you help and the difference it can make.
- Here are some things you can do to help families:
- As with all customers, ask them how you can help
- Inform customers about your facilities and services, such as:
- a changing space for babies,
- high chairs,
- play areas,
- baby-sitting service,
- food preparation
Good customer service depends on you and begins when you are first contacted by a customer, whether it is by email, on the phone or face-to face.
Don’t be afraid to ask in an open way: “How can I help you”?
- Don’t make assumptions about customers’ needs.
- No two people are alike.
- No two people with a similar impairment are alike.
- Listen to what people say and ask the customer what assistance or facilities they may require. People generally know their needs well and can give precise instructions about the assistance they may need.
- Customers will expect you to know the range of services you can offer, so be prepared to explain these accurately.
- Always address the customer rather than the person they are with, unless indicated otherwise.
- Keep good eye contact, be relaxed and talk normally
- Avoid jargon; use plain language when talking to people and give the guest time to understand and respond.
- Think Person first! In other words, treat all customers as equals