The Danger of Making Assumptions about Disabled Customers

Back in August 2016 I wrote an article about the experiences of a 'friend' who is partially disabled. My 'friend' had attended a concert at a well-known theatre in Liverpool and had found himself crammed against the wall with little legroom. This meant that he experienced discomfort throughout the performance. The reason he had chosen this particular seat when booking his ticket online, was because the seating plan on the theatre’s website had implied that this was an aisle seat where he could stretch out his legs. In fact, there was no aisle, just a solid wall.

He emailed the theatre several times suggesting that they amended the seat plan on their website so that in future, other people would not experience the same problem. However the theatre never bothered to reply to his email.

My friend wasn't looking for compensation. He was simply trying to be helpful by suggesting an improvement to the theatre’s website. So his main complaint from a customer service point of view, was simply that he was trying to be helpful, and yet despite repeated emails, the theatre couldn't be bothered to acknowledge his message and thank him for his help.

The same friend (who wishes to remain anonymous) has recently told me about another incident of poor customer service that he experienced when staying at a hotel in London a few weeks ago.

On arriving at the hotel my friend mentioned to the receptionist that he was a ‘blue badge’ holder and he had parked his car in one of the blue badge parking spaces in the car park.

The receptionist then handed him his room key, but when he got upstairs to the room he found it was not what he had booked. She had allocated him a fully disabled room with a single bed and an adapted bathroom with a shower designed for use with a wheelchair - plus other adaptions designed for mobility-disabled people.

But what he had really wanted was simply a standard room with a double (not single) bed, and also a bath (not a wheelchair shower) in the bathroom.

He went back down to the reception and asked the receptionist why he had been given this particular room, rather than the standard double room that he had booked.

The receptionist replied that she had given him this room because he said he was a blue badge holder. So she had ASSUMED that he wanted a disabled room.

This is a classic case of a customer service staff member making incorrect assumptions about a customer without checking with the customer first.

As any disabled person will tell you, there are a diverse range of disabilities and many disabilities are ‘hidden’. Some people can have a disability without you ever even knowing about it.

There are also a vast number of reasons why somebody might qualify for a blue parking badge, and often the reasons for them having the blue badge are not obvious.

But the receptionist had simply made the assumption that because my friend was a blue badge holder, it meant that he wanted a disabled room, even though he had clearly booked a standard double room online when he made the original booking.

Unfortunately it is very common in customer service situations for the staff member to make assumptions about a customer's requirements without asking them first. This can lead to the customer feeling disappointed at not being given what they really wanted. And in extreme cases, the customer could be made to feel patronised or insulted, which was the case with my friend on this occasion.

All it would have taken to prevent this problem was for the receptionist to have asked my friend if he had any special room requirements when he checked-in. This does not require elaborate customer service training - just a bit of common sense!!

There is a well known saying that should be permanently imprinted in the minds of anyone working in a customer service role:

ASSUME makes an ASS out of U and ME.

© Darren Bugg 2021

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