Is your business ignoring 20% of your customer base?

In one of my previous interim roles, I had the honour of being part of the marketing team for a social enterprise that provided communication skills training for anyone to understand and support people with learning disabilities. What set this training apart for me was its simple, but very powerful approach: the training was delivered by the people with the learning disabilities who used their real life experiences to ‘show and tell’ learners how to communicate with them.

As part of my marketing research for this training, I came across a consumer survey completed in 2006 by the Employers’ Forum on Disability that was used as part of a study commissioned by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills analysing the issues disabled people have to face when they are customers (my full article “How much are we worth to your organisation” is on IP2’s blog site.

The barriers that disabled people have to face when they simply want to buy something is astounding and shocked me as a marketer. The survey produced figures such as 83% of disabled people have ‘walked away’ from making a purchase because they were unable to access a business (either its physical premises or via a badly designed website) or were subjected to such  poor customer service (eg rude and uninterested staff!) that they chose to shop elsewhere.

These figures are even more shocking when you realise that 1 in 5 shoppers is likely to be a person with some form of disability. On the 2006 figures that the survey was based, the market potential of the disabled consumer was estimated to be worth £80 billion per annum!

It would be unthinkable for a business to deliberately ignore 20% of its customer base. But it seems this is precisely what a very large number of UK businesses are doing – simply though a lack of understanding of how to communicate with this consumer group. When analysed from a positive perspective, the survey also stated that 66% of disabled people chose to stay loyal to the business where they have received good customer service related to their disability. Just think of the competitive advantage you could gain by understanding the needs of the disabled consumer – and the good news is that these needs are often very simple!

Case studies show how organisations with better accessibility increase their customer base more rapidly, grow faster and more profitably, as well as being able to maintain a distinct advantage over their competitors. It’s obvious, isn’t it!

So how much of the £80 billion per annum market do you want to tap?


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