This resource is part of our Disability Essentials range. You can find here the other free resources that are included in this range.
In many instances, you may not be aware that a customer that you are about to speak to has a disability that may affect their communication.
Always keep in mind that this is a possibility and be ready to adapt your style and method of communication accordingly.
Also, be aware that for some disabled people communicating over the phone can be difficult or daunting, and they may prefer to communicate with you in a different way.
Make sure you offer customers choice over how they receive services or information about your organisation and how you communicate with them.
You will find more general advice on accessible communication in the ‘Communicating effectively’ resource in this suite.
Speaking to the customer
- Introduce yourself and be ready to repeat and rephrase information if needed.
- Speak clearly and concentrate on what the customer is saying, not the person’s voice.
- Give the person time to respond. Do not rush them or interrupt them. Be aware that the call may take longer than other calls.
- If the customer has a stammer or other speech difficulty, do not finish their sentence for them or guess the end of a sentence.
Recognising communication needs
- Check that the customer understands the information that you are giving them, particularly if the customer has asked you to speak slower or to repeat information several times, goes off topic, or agrees to a purchase without asking questions about the price and contract details.
- Equally, you may find it difficult to understand what they are saying. If so, ask the person to repeat the information. Never pretend to understand a customer when you haven’t.
- Check back with the customer that you have both understood each other correctly, by recapping the key points of the conversation.
- If the customer seems hesitant or unsure, ask if they would like to speak to someone else, or offer to send them further information. You could also suggest that you call back at another time and ask if they would like anyone else to join them on the call.
- If you need to transfer the customer tell them that there will be an automated system and which option they should select. Customers with dexterity issues or limited sight may not be able to use call routing systems. They might need to be transferred to another person or be called back.
- Some people may prefer to use webchat or another ‘instant’ web-based form of communication. This may be particularly useful for people who find verbal communication difficult.
- If you are aware that a customer has particular communication needs, it may be useful to note this down on the customer’s file for future reference. This is personal data, so you must check that the customer is happy for the information to be on their file and explain to them how the information will be used and how long you will keep it.
The Information Commissioner’s Office has produced guidance on correctly recording and storing data of this kind (Guide to the UK General Data Protection Regulation).
Using relay services
Advances in mobile phone technology are making it much easier for people who are Deaf or have hearing loss or conditions affecting speech to communicate with people who are hearing or non-hearing, over the phone.
Customers may use a text or video relay service (using a real-time interpreter) to make a call to your organisation.
In this case a relay officer will join your call. There may be a delay while this happens, or you may receive an automated message. Do not hang up. Wait on the phone for more information. Once the conversation is underway, the relay officer will relay information to you verbally and via text or via video signing to the customer.
Note that having a relay officer on a call does not breach confidentiality rules.
If you require this resource in a different format, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.