Transforming CX accessibility: an interview with Gavin Jones, accessibility specialist
Most business owners and business leaders know that they have a challenge with accessibility. But, as Gavin Jones says in this interview, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
Making customer services accessible is an even bigger challenge for those who’ve never experienced the struggle of trying to access services with an impairment or digital skills gap. When Gavin discussed these issues us, we realised we could work together on a practical product to help CX departments to transform their accessibility for the better.
In this Q&A, Gavin discusses how his personal experiences with disability and accessibility have motivated his work; explains how we began working together on a CX accessibility solution; and explores the huge impact that improving accessibility can have on the lives of those who struggle to access services that most of us take for granted.
Q: Can you tell us about Greystones, what it does, and how you came to be working with Customer Touch Point?
A: Greystones is a business development consultancy focused on proactive change management for business growth looking through the lens of people and how to get the best out of them. It’s based on the last thirty years of my working experience as an engineer, a trainer, and a HR practitioner.
I started out as a manufacturing apprentice when I was 16 in the aerospace industry. Starting out from the shop floor, I learned the usual technical tools and techniques involved in engineering complex products. More importantly, it grounded my ability to deal with people of all levels and backgrounds. As my career progressed, I starting to take an active interest in working on change management projects, initially with the trade unions, focused on re-skilling the workforce as the skills demands of the business evolved.
That then led into a career in HR moving around the various manufacturing sites of BAE Systems. From that experience I built up a broad-based knowledge in human resources – initially focused on training and education, later moving into recruitment and selection, and then becoming a HR business partner.
I then worked on change management projects at a European level for Airbus across the UK, France, Spain, and Germany. When you do that, you learn quickly that one size doesn’t fit all, that working cultures can be very different, and you have to have variations on a theme and accept cultural diversity when you look at anything related to people. Otherwise, you simply won’t achieve what you set out to do.
It’s really that experience of relating to people at all levels that I bring to bear at Greystones, and we emphasise the importance of business culture and cultural change. Without that, you can’t have effective change management in any organisation.
When it comes to Customer Touch Point, Rick and I started having discussions at the beginning of 2022 to talk about business development. We started bouncing some ideas around about accessibility, and our relationship developed from there.
With Rick’s decades of CX experience, he immediately saw the potential to work together on something that could help transform the industry’s approach to accessibility. Over the years, he had seen it was a problem that needed solving.
When we started talking about it, it became clear how we might be able to come up with something helpful and practical. I was able to bring my unique personal and professional perspective to those discussions, which helped evolve the initial idea into a viable product, and we worked together on what has since become Customer Touch Point’s customer service accessibility audit.
Accessibility is such a broad a topic that one of the major challenges was how to make it tangible to companies. That’s one of the main reasons why I’m so proud of what we’ve developed in such a short space of time.
Q: You’ve developed a reputation for being passionate about accessibility in your work, as well as having a great deal of specialist knowledge on the subject. How did that come about?
A: The starting point for this is the professional perspective, working within and around HR for so long and dealing with various important challenges and issues, looking at legislation and what drives organisations to be legally compliant. Then in the last decade or so we’ve seen the diversity and inclusion agenda coming through, which accessibility forms a fundamental part of.
On top of that I have very acute personal experience. For the last 11 years I’ve lived and breathed the societal challenges that disability brings because I have an 11-year-old son who has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and special educational needs.
Both I and my wife now have a very intimate understanding of what it feels like to be an inequitable member of society, you could say. Even more so because it’s by proxy. You really do get both sides of the coin and you see it very, very clearly.
You understand so much more what it feels like to operate with a child that has a lot of needs, a lot of challenges, and a lot of equipment. To try to operate in a world that’s built around people who don’t have these sorts of challenges and therefore don’t understand them.
Q: What kinds of accessibility challenges have you experienced?
A: Say my son and I want to go to a restaurant. Simply getting into the building and around the chairs and tables can be a challenge. Then I’ll have to sit him in a certain way and move everything around as his chair won’t fit under the table or even into the average space each diner is provided.
Going into a clothes shop is often impractical too. We can’t manoeuvre him because in most shops there isn’t enough room between stands, so one of us has wait outside with him.
And let’s just say that because our son needs help going to the toilet, there is (almost) nowhere with adequate facilities. That means we’ve got to really think and plan ahead in ways that most people can’t even imagine.
If you now apply this mindset to digital commerce, you find that companies and public sector organisations have a tendency to set up their customer journeys, websites, or digital experiences based on what they know and their personal experiences. This is a natural and normal thing to do because they simply don’t know what they don’t know.
So, when it comes to accessibility, our job and Customer Touch Point’s job is to help educate customer service and CX departments to help them get their heads around the challenges of accessibility.
Q: Why is it so important for organisations to understand accessibility? What sort of impact does it have on people when organisations get this right versus when they get it wrong?
A: Getting it right has a very positive impact on people’s lives. Not only is it a moral duty we have – and yes there’s a business case there too – but the impact that it has on you personally is huge when somebody has taken the time to think about you being able to operate within their space, whether physically or digitally.
It makes your life easier. It makes you feel welcomed, and it makes you feel like you’ve been treated equitably. You’re not constantly looking for the solution to a problem. They’ve already thought about it and provided that solution for you.
All of a sudden, your day feels a bit brighter. You’re a bit less stressed or tired or agitated from having to fight with something just to get some food, for example. From a personal perspective, it has a huge impact on individuals.
From a business perspective, you’ve now got an individual who says “I really like going into that environment. I like going to that shop or that website, because they accommodated me and made me feel like a human being, not a peripheral member of society.”
They’re going to come back and buy more of your products – and feel good about it. There’s a real link there between making the right moral decisions as a business owner and getting that repeat business.
Q: Can you think of a particular example of where companies might be getting this wrong when it comes to customer services?
A: I like to use the analogy of a shop entrance. Let’s say the shop has installed a ramp up to the door of the building to provide access. But when you get to the top of the ramp you reach for the handle and find the door opens towards you so you can’t open it and fit a wheelchair through the gap.
Now apply that to the digital space. I’ve arrived at your website and I have some kind of visual impairment. Or I call your contact centre and I have some kind of hearing impairment. Or digitally, I may have dyslexia or dyscalculia (the dyslexia equivalent for numeracy). I may not be able to understand how to use the digital service or even the language being used.
When you’re trying to access a service and it’s the only option you’re given but you’re not able to read it, hear it, see it, or understand it, then that has exactly the same impact as the shop door opening the wrong way. You simply can’t access what you need to.
Let me recount a recent experience with a major UK network services provider. I went onto their website because I had a technical issue. I sat there with my accessibility hat on. There was no way of changing the screen resolution or the font sizes. No way of changing the way I interact with the screen at all.
I had to use the chat function, and that was a box on the computer screen that was no more than five inches long and about two and a half inches wide. It wouldn’t resize. If I’d had some form of impairment that stopped me being able to use that, I would have had to go on the phone. On the phone, there’s now a 30-minute wait, with no options to fast track me if I’ve got memory loss, for example.
That’s just one recent example where the digital front door of this organisation was opening outwards to anybody with an accessibility challenge.
Q: Which companies can you think of who are doing accessibility well?
A: From a CX perspective, it’s rare that we observe organisations with fully integrated service provisions. What we are starting to observe are the more proactive businesses starting to think more broadly about their customer base and taking advantage of digital technology to improve accessibility.
You may now see websites with an accessibility functionality tab or icon that you can click that allows you to change the way the website presents itself. However, while many of the Fortune 500 or FTSE 100 companies will be considering accessibility as part of their ESG or diversity and inclusion agendas, there are still very few that really stand out as doing this on a practical level.
You may have noticed that all Microsoft products now come with accessibility features, with an icon usually placed on the review tab. Look at the top right hand panel of Google Chrome, the web browser. You’ll see there that, among other things, you can resize your screen and it has a read aloud function.
This functionality only really works effectively on websites that are WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) compliant. WCAG is the global standard for accessibility, and it allows functionalities such as read aloud to operate on that web page.
As digital technology continues to evolve, you will increasingly see more advanced tools coming to the fore. There are some really good technologies and tools coming through. Another good example is Be My Eyes, a smartphone app that connects people with a visual impairment with a volunteer who uses the partially-sighted person’s phone camera to guide them during a shopping trip to the supermarket and other day-to-day tasks.
Other apps use Google Maps as a baseline. They will read aloud what’s around them according to Google Maps, based on where the GPS on a person’s phone says their location is.
If you consider the sheer volume of individuals who have some form of impairment or challenge, then it makes sense for businesses to adapt what they’re doing. Discussions around any kind of diversity is a real ethical step in the right direction.
Q: What is the business case for improving accessibility?
A: The two figures that stand out straight away are 1 in 5 and 1 in 4. 1 in 5 is the proportion of the population that are unable to access the digital environment. When you consider that around 70% of commerce these days is transacted digitally, somebody who can’t access the digital space is at a major disadvantage.
The UK government says that around 12.7 million people in the UK meet the legal definition of being disabled, but they only statistically take into account people who are between the ages of 16 and 64. If you consider that 18.6% of the population in the UK is over the age of 65 – how many over-65-year-olds do you know who don’t have some kind of accessibility challenge simply due to getting older? So, when I’m speaking to businesses about accessibility related to “disability” it’s a more realistic figure to state 1 in 4.
Now consider the implications for the global market. The percentages in the US are comparable in terms of people who have a disability – 1 in 4. If your business sells online to US customers, you may be freezing out 1 in 4 of a population of 330 million. That’s huge!
France is roughly the same population as the UK – around 65 million. In Germany it’s just over 84 million. Apply the same percentages and you’re coming to the same answer. If you’re not thinking about providing an accessible service, you’re basically cutting out around 20% of your potential customer base.
Q: What are the first steps an organisation should take if they want to start taking accessibility more seriously, or if they want to know how accessible they are right now?
A: The first thing to do is get in touch with Customer Touch Point and we can start discussions with you about your customer experience offering.
Most business leaders will naturally be aware that they have a potential challenge with accessibility. What they probably lack is knowledge of how much of an issue they have, or what to do about it. We can help to start improving that understanding and awareness through our accessibility audit which gives businesses a view of their current status and where their potential accessibility gaps are.
The audit is really a health check – the starting point for having an open and pragmatic discussion. It’s not about embarrassing anybody. It’s most definitely not about us taking the moral high ground. It’s about starting that journey to your business providing a more inclusive service.
We’re here to support and help your business, starting with identifying where the gaps are, identifying the business case for change and then working with you to create your tailored roadmap so that you see real pragmatic step changes in making your products and services more accessible.
Ultimately, this is not only about making your business more accessible and more profitable. It’s also about making society a better place to live in for those people – and there’s lots of us – who experience accessibility challenges on a day-to-day basis.
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