User Experience

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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