Customer service, extraordinaire? Or, customer service 101?

Coffee lovers will attest, we go to Starbucks because that’s a place where it’s popular to order a coffee to meet our taste bud preference – upside down caramel macchiato grande and hold the whip, please! And, we go to Burger King, primarily because they advocate that we can have it our way, right away – mushroom and Swiss bacon WHOPPER® with cheese, please. But, where would we go if we were non-verbal and wanted to order from a picture menu – iced grande chai, please?

It is no secret that marketers spend heavily to deliver the needs of their customers while expounding on the virtues of customer service.

So, the situation begs to ask, why does society make it a project to accommodate for special needs? Accommodating may not be as difficult as it is perceived. Providing wider aisles to accommodate wheelchair access, offering the option to read menu items for the vision impaired, and picture menus for the non-verbal, are examples.

Over 56 million, or 19 percent, of people in the civilian, non-institutionalized population were reported to have a disability in 2010, according to the “Americans With Disabilities: 2010: Household Economic Studies,” a U.S. Department of Commerce report issued July 2012.

It is estimated that one in every four 20-year-olds today will become disabled before they retire, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Fact Sheet issued February 7,2013. Disability can be a temporary condition caused by an accident, surgery or illness. Others were born with a chronic condition that impairs their ability to move, communicate, learn, or process information, for example. Some are amongst the aging population that experience some level of physical or cognitive impairment as they mature.

“In addition, they [individuals with a disability] make up a significant market of consumers, representing more than $200 billion in discretionary spending and spurring technological innovation and entrepreneurship,” said the U.S. Department of Commerce report.

There is the stigma that providing accommodations may be too expensive and there are too many types of disabilities to address. Although the government offers wonderful programs to assist businesses to become accessible, some accommodations only require a suggestion, like picture menus or online pick-up orders. Some of these accommodations are even helpful to individuals without a disability. For example, a picture menu may help young children or tourists experiencing language barriers to order their meal.

“But at its heart, as special needs parents like me know, this isn’t “just” about a barista going the extra mile. It’s about a mindset: The readiness to give extra assistance to someone who needs it,” said Ellen Seidman, mother of Max and HuffPost Blog contributor, in an article titled, “Everyone should treat people with a disability like this Starbucks staffer did.”

She suggests there is gratitude when business culture provides a willingness and patience for allowing a person with a disability to interact successfully. It’s about humane customer service to a worthwhile and significant customer base.

When the market spends over $200 billion and each person with a disability has at least ten close friends and family that likely appreciate and will patronize a business for accommodating their loved ones, the numbers alone beg marketers to rethink strategy.

How much more difficult is it to accommodate a customer who gleefully asks “May I have an upside down caramel macchiato, hold the cherry, please” than it is to service a customer who joyfully points to a picture menu displayed on the counter for easy customer selection of a standard order?

For Anisa Dujnic, Barista at Ephrata Starbucks, who helped a family by providing a picture menu for the son who has autism, the customer service seems to be without effort. At first they used the picture menu to point and practice pronunciation while ordering with the rest of the family. Ultimately, he transitioned into individual trips to the coffee shop and ordering on his own.

“That’s great steps for him to take as a person,” said Dujnic.

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