Is Accessibility Costing You Customers?

What do you do if you can't access a company's Web site? In our connected world, we often look at Internet access as a key indicator for quality of life and economic welfare. Globally, initiatives to address the digital divide have received billions of dollars in funding to provide underprivileged populations with Internet access. However, there's an overlooked digital divide that impacts millions of Americans and even more of the global population, and, as our population ages, that number is growing. Companies need to be concerned about people with disabilities.

There are more than 7 million working adults in North America alone who are blind, and even more who are visually impaired. Although there are laws that require equal access, in reality approximately 40 percent of commonly-accessed Web sites are inaccessible, driving users with disabilities to call customer service or abandon interactions with companies entirely.

While screen readers and other technologies enable the visually impaired to navigate much of the Web, they only work if Web sites are designed to enable their use. In fact, Nucleus Research recently conducted an in-depth study of Web site accessibility, completing interviews with more than 70 people who were blind to understand their Internet use, browsing and purchasing practices, use of assistive technologies, and the impact of site accessibility on their customer experience. We found that the average Internet user who is blind abandons two internet transactions a month because of inaccessibility and calls a customer service number once a week because of inaccessibility.

While some sites are completely inaccessible, partial accessibility—meaning users can't fully complete transactions or access all of the information they need—is rampant. So is accessibility regression, meaning a Web site was initially designed following accessibility principles but upgrades or changes render it inaccessible.

What is the cost of inaccessibility? The average North American company loses millions of dollars in revenue from abandoned transactions each year, and those customers don't return or seek another channel. They go to competitors that are accessible.

But the cost isn't just in lost revenue. It's also in contact center costs. With voice being the most costly channel to support, companies with inaccessible Web sites are driving up contact center call volumes. In our study, we found 90 percent of people who are blind call customer service, often multiple times, to report a lack of accessibility, even though in many cases they have abandoned their transactions and will never be a customer.

Here are a few key questions to ask about your company's accessibility:

  • First, and most simply, are your Web properties accessible? There are free online tools that can help you to get a basic assessment of the level of accessibility of your site.
  • Are you tracking and reporting on accessibility issues reported through the contact center? Keep in mind that accessibility regression often happens when a site is upgraded or changed, so accessibility issues can arise whenever changes are made./li>
  • Are your contact center agents aware and enabled to address calls from customers with accessibility issues? It sounds silly, but we found that people who are blind had varied levels of success finding customer support agents who could address or even understand their accessibility challenges.
  • Are your UX and site design teams developing with accessibility in mind? With the technologies available today, developing accessible sites doesn't have to be costly or burdensome, but it's much more effective and expedient to design from the beginning using accessibility principles than to try to remedy issues later.

If you are a customer service champion, the overall accessibility of your company';s Web site might be beyond your scope of responsibility. But raising awareness of the overall impact on customer experience for a large and growing swath of the population isn't just the right thing to do, it makes economic sense.

Rebecca Wettemann is a vice president at Nucleus Research.