Answer the call

Website chats improve service for hearing-impaired customers

You probably are familiar with the childhood game, "Telephone," during which a phrase is verbally passed down a line of players until it becomes hopelessly garbled. Think about having to play that game every day.

For hearing-impaired and deaf people, communication challenges are a fact of life. Trying to communicate with home service companies such as roofing contractors by way of teletype or interpreters can be frustrating. By the time a message, problem or desired service is communicated, the meaning may be far from what the customer intended. Any back and forth communication necessary to determine quotes, appointment times and home access can further complicate matters.

By offering website chat services, your roofing company can fully engage all customers while expanding business opportunities.

An overlooked demographic

The Department of Health and Human Services estimates 15 percent of the U.S. population over age 18 have some form of hearing impairment, which translates to more than 37 million people. Those who are hearing-impaired are a significant segment of the U.S. population, yet their needs easily might be overlooked by service providers. Roofing companies that cater to the hearing-impaired demographic will be reaching a market that many overlook.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 created a nationwide system of telecommunications relay and teletype services, providing hearing-impaired people equal access to quality telephone services. Telecommunications relay service (TRS) uses operators to facilitate phone calls between hearing-impaired people and the individuals they call, and teletype devices are used to send and receive typed messages containing information from or for hearing-impaired people. These technologies evolved along with the internet, and wireless and internet protocol options have resulted in improved communications.

Despite some advancements, the technologies still are prone to "garbling," dropped calls and miscommunications. Most TRS providers have a lengthy list of troubleshooting tips on their websites. The Federal Communications Commission sets minimum standards for TRS, but quality can vary from provider to provider.

Sometimes, hearing-impaired people must ask family members or friends to make calls to order services. Website chat services are far more efficient and give hearing-impaired users a sense of empowerment and independence.

Speech impediments

People who have speech impediments or difficulty speaking because of medical problems also can benefit from website chat services. Speech impediments can be caused by strokes, Parkinson's disease, Lou Gehrig's disease, cerebral palsy, spinal injuries, neck injuries or brain cancers. People with chronic stuttering also are included in this category.

Regardless of the cause, many people with speech impediments are perfectly capable of transacting business via the written word. They are prime candidates to engage with website chat services.

This population represents a sizeable market for roofing contractors. According to The Stuttering Foundation, 3 million people in the U.S. stutter, and 7.6 million have chronic difficulty speaking. Tens of thousands experience head or brain injuries each year that might affect their abilities to verbally communicate. Roofing contractors who incorporate website chat services to meet the needs of speech-impaired people are ensuring such people can easily and independently engage in business communications.

A modern necessity

Similar to other home service providers, you want to engage with your customers as soon as they arrive at your company's website, including answering their questions. Consumers demand almost instantaneous responses, and failure to respond quickly means they likely will move on to a competitor.

Consumers also want to communicate on their terms, and traditional forms of communication no longer may satisfy all customers. A phone call, for example, may require leaving a message and waiting for a return call. Roofing needs are complicated because matters of cost, dimensions, materials, accessibility and scheduling all must be discussed. Trying to discuss this information via phone can be inconvenient for customers, and conveying the same information via phone using a third-party relay system can be maddening for the hearing-impaired.

In contrast, website chat services are a valuable tool that enable hearing-impaired customers to experience greater independence and a higher level of engagement when interacting with home services companies. Through website chat services, hearing-impaired customers can select and interact with companies on their terms and in their own words.

Enhanced customer service

The inclusion of website chat services enables your company to provide excellent service to all your customers. Research conducted by computer software company Velocify Inc. indicates immediate customer engagement is far more likely to generate leads. A chat feature that quickly appears on a website's homepage can engage customers within seconds of their arrival and can be used to direct customers to information they seek or answer their questions. Prompt engagement through a website chat service can be especially valuable to hearing-impaired customers who may be unable or unwilling to use traditional methods of communication. Imagine the relief experienced by a hearing-impaired person who is immediately engaged by a web chat representative.

Website chat service quality can vary greatly depending on who is responding to your customers, so you should evaluate whether hiring a website chat service provider or training your own staff to field website chat inquiries is best for your company. Hiring a chat service provider can cost significantly less than trying to staff the service in-house. The cost for the average roofing company can be less than $400 per month.

When evaluating a provider, one question to ask is whether service charges only are based on the number of leads generated. Incentivizing representatives for the sheer number of leads generated can devalue the process as they may hand off information without evaluating quality. A bad lead is not better than no leads. Also, a 24-hour domestic chat provider with a highly trained staff of native English speakers is far superior to an overseas service provider that may employ workers who are not well-trained.

You can always choose to hire and train additional staff to field website chat inquiries. Keeping website chat staff in-house enables direct supervision of the process and eliminates any service charges, but the cost of staffing even one position at minimum wage to provide the necessary coverage for your website's chat feature can quickly exceed cost savings annually.

Whether in-house or outsourced, website chat service representatives require a specialized skillset and training. Verbal communication skills do not always translate to equally strong writing skills. Beyond that, representatives may need training to learn how to appropriately transfer leads.

To ensure hearing-impaired customers receive quality service, website chat service staff also may need training to learn how to engage with hearing-impaired individuals. The goal is for your company's website chat service to serve the same function as well-trained customer service representatives answering phones.

If a person using the website chat service indicates he or she is hard of hearing, the person fielding the chat should immediately recognize the conversation is going to be more involved than most. All website chat staff should know how to provide and collect additional information when working with a hearing-impaired customer.

Because a hearing-impaired customer could be concerned his or her roofing needs may be too complicated to communicate online, the representative should begin by assuring the customer the entire process can be handled via website chat. The customer then can communicate his or her needs and questions, and the representative can respond before initiating the next appropriate steps, such as setting up an appointment or collecting contact information. Making available a checklist for website chat service representatives to use when interacting with hearing-impaired customers may be helpful. A website chat service representative needs to know exactly how to engage and retain hearing-impaired customers and convert their website visits into service calls.

Your employees also must be able to respond promptly to service queries delivered via social media messaging services. Social media serves as another method for hearing-impaired customers to engage with your company and request service. To provide the best service, employees responding to social media inquiries should follow a similar procedure if they are made aware the customer with whom they are interacting is hearing-impaired.

Empower your customers

Existing and emerging communication technologies have opened the worlds of entertainment, online shopping, home services and more to hearing-impaired and deaf people. Website chat services can revolutionize the way customers engage with home service companies, as well.

Although the provision of website chat services is a virtual prerequisite for serving all customers in the current digital business environment, it gives often overlooked customers the opportunity to conduct business on their own terms and a sense of empowerment that never can be transmitted via phone.

Trevor Flannigan is chief operations officer for HomeServiceChats, Kansas City, Mo.


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