Firms are urged to do better after a Which? study showed that people with disabilities were being let down by 'shoddy customer services'.
The consumer champion said that during the pandemic, customer service standards dropped as firms were forced to close call centres and replaced them with online chatbots or automated phone options. But many companies haven’t improved since then – with disabled shoppers disproportionately affected.
A Which? survey with 732 panel members from the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers found half (48%) of disabled people who contacted a company’s customer service team in the past year were unhappy with how well their issue was dealt with.
About the same proportion were also unhappy with how long it took to get an answer or how long it took to get in touch with someone who could help them.
These percentages are all almost double those recorded for the population as a whole in Which?’s nationally representative survey.
Difficulty being directed to a human
Difficulty getting in touch with customer service was particularly commonplace when it came to essential services. People with access needs were most likely to be dissatisfied when contacting companies in the energy, telecoms and financial services sectors.
Each of these sectors has regulatory codes in place for vulnerable customers – including those with disabilities – but Which? said it is clear many companies are falling short. Companies also have a legal obligation under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments for disabled customers.
More than half of disabled customers who contacted financial services and telecoms companies’ customer services were unhappy with how long it took to get answers to their queries.
Which? found that companies failing to contact disabled customers in an accessible format is another common and time-consuming problem.
Many energy, telecoms and finance companies try to push customers towards using chatbots or automated phone systems before allowing them to speak with a human. Two thirds (65%) of disabled consumers who used a chatbot did not believe it was an accessible experience which catered to their needs.
Participants also mentioned the maze of automated menu options presented when they called. About two in five (43%) who phoned a customer service team in the past year said it was not an accessible experience in terms of their requirements.
Which? said the findings show why it is crucial that companies proactively design their services with different disabilities and needs in mind.
‘Companies need to up their game’
Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: “It’s completely unacceptable that so many disabled consumers are getting such poor customer service when trying to contact essential businesses like banks, energy companies or telecoms firms. Our research has found poor customer service in a number of sectors. Any companies falling short on customer service need to up their game.
“Firms should also put effective systems in place for disabled consumers to ensure they are able to easily contact companies in the way that meets their needs – whether that is over the phone or via email.”