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Customer Experiences for All

When you have a child on the Autism spectrum, you gain an unusual view of Customer Experience. By the time my youngest son was 6 years old, I (Sheri) understood barber shops, grocery stores, restaurants, doctors offices, dentists, and most recreational activities were not built for us. We created our own solutions. His older brothers learned how to cut his hair, eating out meant drive-thru meals, recreational activities consisted of visits to the local parks or the local YMCA until we were asked to leave. Yes, we were eighty-sixed from the YMCA. Grocery shopping remained traumatic so I became a master at getting through the store in under 15 minutes.

My grandson, Jaxon, was diagnosed with Autism when he was not quite 3 years old. My daughter soon began to relive her childhood as she discovered most places were not built for her family. Jax’s meltdowns have resulted in a number of painful public experiences and her family has become isolated.

Jax was 5 years old when my daughter called me in tears to tell me, Jax, jumped out of the cart at the local big box store, ran through the aisles, out the door and through the parking lot before she caught him safely in her arms.

As I reflected on her experience I began to imagine a store that would offer my daughter the opportunity to safely shop for her family. A store with 5 point harness shopping carts, a sensory room, and staff members trained to recognize families that might need a bit of support as they shopped. My fantasy extended to the local YMCA (she has also been asked to leave many times) offering classes designed to include children on the spectrum, movie theaters offering sensory showtimes, shopping malls with sensory rooms, and more.

Inclusive Design

Redesigning the customer experience will require implementing inclusive design strategies. Susan Goltsman, worked tirelessly to move the idea that, “…every individual has the right to full and equal participation in the built environment. Inclusive CX posits that every individual has the right to full and equal participation in the customer experience.

In the blog post, The No. 1 Thing Your Getting Wrong About Inclusive Design Kat Holmes shares her favorite definition of inclusive design by Susan Goltsman. “Inclusive design doesn’t mean you’re designing one thing for all people. You’re designing a diversity of ways to participate so that everyone has a sense of belonging.”

The inclusive customer experience at a grocery store might include parking spaces for families with children on the Autism spectrum, grocery carts with a 5 point harness, a sensory room, and staff trained to recognize families that are in need of extra support. At the local YMCA, inclusive design might include a sensory evening including low lighting, trained staff, and small class sizes. Inclusive design at a restaurant might be as simple as instructing staff to ask patrons if they prefer a low traffic area.

Kat Holmes writes, “an inclusive designer is someone, arguably anyone, who recognizes and remedies mismatched interactions between people and their world.” The inclusive design process includes the expertise of people who navigate exclusionary designs. Inclusive CX designers resist the urge to solve problems they don’t understand and commit to working with customers that navigate exclusionary customer experiences in the redesign. Holmes reminds designers that the expertise of excluded communities gives insight into a diversity of ways to participate in an experience.

Business Case

The number of customers that aren’t being represented in the standard CX initiative is alarming. The CDC reports that 1 in 4 adults living in the US experience a disability including 1 in 59 children that have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). If your CX initiative fails to consider the needs of these customers the loss of revenue is staggering.

The Temkin Group states that CX is made up of three components – success, effort, and emotion. Their research found that while all three elements impact customer loyalty, an improvement in emotion drives the most significant increase in loyalty. Imagine the impact on the customer experience your organization provides if every interaction with your business results in frustration, embarrassment, and shame.

A recent study published by the Temkin group discovered that companies earning $1 billion annually can expect to earn, on average, an additional $700 million within 3 years of investing in customer experience. If your investment includes inclusive CX initiatives the ROI could exceed even these lofty expectations. Are you ready to incorporate inclusive CX into your strategy? Below are the first three steps!


3 Steps to Inclusive CX

Step One: Map the customer journey

Hubspot offers customer journey map templates, instructions, and insight for CX professionals interested in customer journey mapping. The authors suggest the following structure for the journey map process:

  • Set clear objectives for the map.

  • Profile your personas and define their goals.

  • Include personas of customers that experience a disability and define their goals. This is a great opportunity to invite customers to provide insight.

  • List out all the touchpoints.

  • Identify the touchpoints that become pain points for customers that experience a disability.

  • Identify the elements you want your map to show.

  • Take the customer journey yourself.

  • Invite members of your focus group to journey their experience.

  • Make the necessary changes.

Step Two: Train

As your team identifies the pain points for customers that experience a disability ask your training team if these problems can be solved through training, coaching, or other experiential learning experiences.

Great Western Railway provided Autism awareness training for over 3500 front-line staff. The service providers now have the tools they need to create memorable service for all customers. This level of commitment by the organization sends the message that the experience of these customers matters. As a result of this level of education, the employee experience is now trending positively as they become empowered with the tools they need.

Legoland hires Model Citizens that receive specialized training to help them effectively interact with guests on the autism spectrum and their families. Legoland creatively utilized their learning and development team to create “social stories” that provide a step by step walk through of attractions including loud noises, periods of darkness, etc. to reduce the element of surprise during the ride.

Step Three: Measure

The User Testing Blog reminds us that every business is different and the Inclusive CX team would like to remind you that customers differ too. For example, first contact resolution may be negatively impacted if your agents don’t have the skills to assist customers with cognitive challenges. NPS will be negatively impacted, even if you offer the right product at the right prices if the experience resulted in frustration, shame or embarrassment. The effort score will decrease if the needs of customers experiencing disabilities aren’t resolved effortlessly. There’s no single metric that will work for every organization in every industry. Whatever metric you decide to measure, make sure that you measure the things that are most important to your customers including those experiencing disabilities, and that you can draw actionable insights from and put to use right away.

Call to Action

Thank you for allowing me (Sheri) to share my story of inclusive customer experience, or lack thereof with you. None of this should be construed as anger or bitterness, but for those of us deeply impacted by Autism, we know that the time is NOW to create customer experiences that are tailored to these individuals and their families. Yes, we believe there’s a moral imperative here, but it’s also a huge opportunity to increase revenue, strengthen brands, and create better employee and customer experiences!

Ready to learn more?? Sign up for our Inclusive CX Round Table Event happening on July 26th!


Sheri Kendall

The learning experiences I design combine my love of customer experience, employee experience and meaningful workplace education. Together with other functional groups I work to reduce customer effort and build loyalty through consultative interactions.

Kimberly McCaffery

Problem solver? Not exactly. I’m focused on removing the possibility that a problem will ever occur. A strategic storyteller and upstream visionary, I tackle UX challenges with a proactive mindset and live for the moment when cross-functional collaboration results in simple, streamlined solutions. "And I don't need 37 pieces of flair to do it." - Joanna (Office Space, 1999)

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