Practical Ecommerce

Customer Service For The Hearing Impaired

In an era of Internet commerce, it’s an unsurprising phenomenon that we expect the vast majority of our interactions with customers to happen in an online environment. The expectation is that people will send an email, contact us through support forms or simply place an order. But it’s still an inevitability that things might not work just right!

hearing impaired

The telephone is normally considered to be a powerful sales tool for every type of commerce. If you want to make your business available to your customers, you publish a phone number on your site. This gives your customers another way to contact you — great for those who are less than entirely comfortable ordering online or who simply need a little more information.

But the telephone doesn’t serve much of a function for the hard-of-hearing. At least, it doesn’t serve them the same way it does the average person.

The traditional telecommunication method for the deaf used to be through a teletype (TTY or TDD, Telecommunications Device for the Deaf) device, which allowed the deaf to send typed messages between telephones. Although the home TTY device is now in relatively rare use, the methods used by deaf people still need some accommodation.

How might hearing impaired people want to communicate with your business?

The most likely communication you’ll receive would probably be through an interpreted relay service. It may be a traditional TTY relay service, or it may be a more high-tech video relay service. Either way, the end result for your customer service personnel is the same: they’ll be talking on a traditional phone to relay service personnel.

There isn’t much you need to know in order to be prepared for relay service calls. If your business receives a relay service call, the interaction with the client is more or less normal. Be prepared, though, since relay calls have been subject to numerous fraud attempts.

Video and TTY relay services will cover the traditional telephone interactions for your customer services, but there are other methods you can use, as well. Some of the most valuable communication methods for the deaf/hard-of-hearing community include short message services (SMS) and instant messaging or online chat. If you can offer an online chat support service or provide support via SMS, this can be a great benefit to the hard of hearing.

Finally, you need to make sure people contacting you can tell you how they’d like you to contact them. Simply asking for a phone number so you can call them back is of no use to the hard-of-hearing. A feature as simple as a check box or text field to indicate their preferred method of communication can be a key feature of your website.

What can you take away from this?

Multiple methods of communication are critical to providing consistent customer support in any business. While the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities are happy to use normal online communication methods such as electronic forms and email, they may struggle more than the average person when it comes to telecommunications. Educating your customer service representatives to make them aware of the need to support groups who are hard-of-hearing can make a huge difference in the customer experience for these groups, turning them from prospective customers into regulars.

Joseph C. Dolson

Joseph C. Dolson

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  1. Legacy User July 17, 2008 Reply

    Hello, Mr. Dolson,

    This is a very well-written article addressing the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing community.

    I especially appreciate it because I'm hard of hearing. In addition, I run my own website and my interaction with customers is mainly email. I use relay services for the deaf when a customer emails that he or she wants to speak with me.

    Since relay services are still not as well known to the public as we'd like, they sometimes hang up. I do a follow-up email stating that I attempted to call them and hope they will accept my call in the future.

    Thank you again for addressing this need.

    Stephanie Walsh

    — *Stephanie Walsh*

  2. Legacy User July 17, 2008 Reply

    Thanks for your comments, Stephanie! It's an important issue, and definitely needs more promotion and publicity to avoid that very problem. I appreciate your thoughts!

    — *Joe Dolson*

  3. Sara Walter March 8, 2011 Reply

    I am Sara from In case of hearing challenged individuals, you can use the video conferencing and screen sharing(desktop sharing) on to provide customer support using sign language. We provide online solution for Video based CRM. You can get started in 60 seconds since you or your customers do not need to install any software. Your customers can connect with your customer service agents using one-way or two-way video.

  4. Braden Bills July 20, 2016 Reply

    I think it’s interesting that they are offering customer service for those who are hard of hearing. It seems like that would be a great way to ensure that everyone gets helped! It’s nice of them to think of it, too. Thanks for the post!

  5. Gerald Lee Banks October 21, 2016 Reply

    I am paying $32.00 a month for a standard landline and use a CapTel phone to view what the calling party is saying. It works just like online messengers and chat messages that large businesses use. I only use this once a month of twice at the most when my bank, utility companies, etc. need to be in touch with me for whatever reason. $32.00 a month is quite expensive and I’m looking for alternate ways to community with others where they can call me “directly”. People and companies don’t want to call a captioning center first and then dial my number, it takes too much time which makes ClearCaptions a not-so-good option.

    i711 took care of the direct calling need but since they were forced to cease their services to the deaf and HoH community I had to get a home line. I wish there was another way.