Thursday, August 1, 2013

Making a business ‘ability-friendly’

OPEN_FOR_BUSINESS_TWORecently my parents needed to open a checking account for their newly created trust. In a phone conversation with my mom, who now makes most of the financial decisions, I asked which bank she planned to use.

She said she was considering the decision. She was loyal to her old bank, but my sister, who lives close by, wanted my mom to move to her bank.

Given similar rates of return at both banks, I asked what I thought was an obvious question, “Which bank is the easiest to get in and out of?”

We debated the pros and cons of each location.

Both banks were on busy roads with no signals to help regulate traffic in and out. Since my dad uses a wheelchair, we also considered the parking-lot setup, ramp access, whether they had an automatic entry system, and the configuration of the lobby floor plan to try to figure out which bank was easiest for my dad to navigate.

We were amused that, as much attention as banks devote to customer service and relationship building, at the end of the day, my parent’s decision about which bank to use might just come to down to which layout is more “ability-friendly.”

I use the term ability-friendly because it is not just about seniors. Good business is about providing an inviting experience for all customers, including those with age considerations or disabilities that may limit their movement, senses or activities.

Addressing the needs of seniors is becoming increasingly important in the business world.

Over the next 20 years, seniors will represent the largest segment of our population, and as a result, businesses need to think about whether their operation is ability-friendly.

How do you ensure a business is ability-friendly?

Make sure your customers can find you. Are your signs easily readable from the street while driving? Is your street address on your building?

Are signs well-lit in the evenings? Does Google Maps, Map- Quest or a GPS system bring you to the right location if you enter your business address?

Make customers comfortable. Is there ample parking that is easy to navigate? Do you have automatic doors that lead into your business? Are aisles and door openings wide and easy to navigate? Is there a comfortable place to sit and rest while waiting?

Make marketing materials easy to read. Are printed materials, including business cards, brochures and menus, in a large enough font for most people to read? Is your business bright and well-lit?

Is your website easy to navigate? Does it allow readers to change the font size? Are required forms sent out in advance so they can be completed at home?

Make your customer’s phone experience pleasant and helpful. Do you have a person answering the phone? Does that person speak clearly and slowly? Are they well-informed and helpful to callers? Is the background music on your hold system too loud or inappropriate?

Make stairways and elevators easy to navigate. Are step and stairway handrails easy to grab, and do they provide enough support? Do they extend the full length of the steps or stairway? Are there colored stripes to divide the steps?

Does the elevator allow enough time for a person to enter? Does the elevator have a railing for people to hang on to?

I frequent a restaurant right around the corner from Senior Concerns that is a senior magnet. It is filled at every hour of the day with folks age 65 and older. Besides good comfort food and healthy options, the establishment gets most of the actions above right.

But what they add is amazing senior-friendly customer service— allowing menu substitutions, offering daily senior discounts and accommodating separate checks.

Today’s seniors have a more active lifestyle, live longer, work longer and spend more money than any generation before them. They are the fastest growing segment of the marketplace.

Seniors are loyal customers and appreciate it when companies go the extra mile by making their visit more convenient and comfortable, so thinking about senior customers is just good business.


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Tags: ability friendly business,senior friendly business
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Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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