Ensuring the Customer is King: Deaf-Friendly Customer Service Training

Posted by: Staff Writer on April 25, 2016

As a native Dallasite who grew up in the family business, Vicki Moseley has done it all: From bookkeeping to interacting with hungry regulars. Even in an era of table tracking buzzers and ready-order apps, she’d be the first to tell you that there’s no substitute for the “secret sauce” of customer service: Face-to-face interactions.

The customer is king, and Moseley brings actionable insights to the table for deaffriendly’s newly launched Customer Service Training. As our newest team member, she’s the force behind our latest initiative to help businesses treat deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind customers like royalty.

Moseley led a recent two-hour workshop preparing Rachel’s Ginger Beer (RGB) for the upcoming influx of deaf and hard of hearing patrons during the Third Annual Seattle Deaf Film Festival held across the street.

RGB staffers got hands-on experience through lip reading exercises, games, strategies for effective communication, and information about tools such as the relay service and apps like OpenTable.

“The drawback is, with (OpenTable), the restaurant doesn't know we are deaf,” signed Moseley, who grew up deaf in an environment that oppressed sign language and learned to sign in her early 20’s. “You could end up arriving for dinner at 7:30 PM, only to realize you’re getting seated at a dark corner or by a bright window where you can’t see your dining partner’s face.”

Demonstrating the importance of proper lighting, she stood with her back next to a window. Pairing up for the exercise, participants copied her.

Murmurs of “Can you see my face? Can you see me now?” rippled through the room. As their partners’ hands and faces darkened, participants squinted and craned their necks.

And out of the darkness, grew a light that is awareness of what the deaf experience is like.

BRIDGING THE GREAT DIVIDE

Moseley, who moved to Seattle in 1988, is a veteran in the art and science of dissolving barriers to workplace communications between Deaf and hard of hearing and hearing employees or consumers. Her storied career stems from her days training clients through her business, Communikation Works! (formerly branded Seattle Diversity Works! by prior co-partner Sara Geballe).

Over 300 Northwest businesses have taken her two-part workshop series, which she led while working as a career counselor at Seattle Central Community College for almost three decades.

“I saw a huge need, a huge lack of resources on understanding how to interact with deaf people,” Moseley recalled.

As deaf college freshman lacking accommodations, she herself failed her first Physics test: Measuring a tuning fork’s sound waves.

Dialogues with college students shaped her own path as well as theirs: “I grew up in the family food business, and I was fascinated by how many deaf students had no idea what their parents did for living, what their job title was, or what training they had,” she said.

She is now starting her next chapter: Training businesses on the “hows” and “whys” of providing deaf-friendly customer service.

FROM “WINGING IT,” TO PROVIDING A-PLUS SERVICE

“If you're flexible with us, we'll be flexible with you” is Moseley’s give-and-take philosophy for businesses.

For each client, the customer service training builds work-specific ASL vocabulary such as THIRSTY and SMALL / BIG (for beer sizes). In one exercise, staffers at Rachel’s Ginger Beer were asked to come up with a gesture for MANAGER.

“The only rule is, no pointing,” Moseley added with a mischievous glint in her eyes, adding: “The manager, Doh, was walking around trying so hard not to point at herself. Everyone cracked up.”

The cost of bad customer service experience is no laughing matter. According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, it is 6-7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one.

Doh Driver, store manager of Rachel’s Ginger Beer (RGB), raved about the workshop’s impact:

"The training that deaffriendly provided was engaging, useful, and well-designed. Our staff were excited for the opportunity to communicate better with our Deaf customers, and our business has already seen the benefits of being more accessible to the Deaf and hard of hearing community.”

Rachel’s Ginger Beer has also earned our rave reviews – both for their on-point service, and for their famously addictive flavors ranging from white peach to passion fruit vanilla.

At the end of training, each RGB participant wrote down three deaf-friendly commitments: One committed to printing out the menu for easy pointing (compared to pointing at a large wall menu). Some staffers learned basic greetings in ASL. As a result of the window lighting exercise, another committed to paying more attention to seating.

PHASE TWO: CREATING DEAF AWARENESS, THROUGH EDUCATION

While customer service nightmares are also common for hearing customers, the Deaf Community faces extra challenges daily.

This is what drove deaffriendly founder and CEO Melissa “echo” Greenlee to implement Phase Two in deaffriendly’s fourth-anniversary Vlog announcement.

Having read each of the 2,500 reviews submitted since the company (formerly deafREVIEW) launched in 2012, Greenlee noticed a pattern: The biggest barrier to deaf-friendly customer service is not the lack of hearing itself, but ignorance about Deaf people and their consumer needs.

“As our website started to get more reviews about businesses, it increased the visibility of the unique needs of Deaf consumers. This increased businesses’ desire to become more inclusive,” said Greenlee. “Often, businesses DO want to make the small changes to serve our community better, yet lack the resources to do so and also don’t know where to start.”

The Deaf-Friendly Customer Service Training is available to businesses either online or in person. The in-person training can be customized and designed for two hours or longer formats.

“What shaped the content of the trainings we offer are the actual reviews written by Deaf individuals and their feedback, comments and suggestions for improvement within each industry. This process was unique and organic because we took what actual Deaf consumers are saying to impact change.” said Greenlee.

“Our third-party reviews became the roadmap to describe what a deaf-friendly business looks like. Now, we help businesses figure out how to meet the standards of a deaf-friendly business. Using third-party reviews assures we uphold the Deaf community’s values of, ‘For Deaf, By Deaf’.”

Though Greenlee brought up the idea of a customer service training program several years ago, the timing was not yet right: Reviewer activity was still building, and the Interpreter Training Program (ITP) had just been axed at Seattle Central Community College (SCCC) via state budget cuts, where Moseley worked. The sudden death of Moseley’s husband, beloved ASL teacher and researcher Geoff Mathay, had also taken her focus off of Communication Works! in 2007.

“Geoff was the backbone of the (ITP). I was crushed after years and years of (political) fighting, and needed to grieve the end of my chapter at SCCC. I reevaluated who I am, and what I want. Now, finally, the timing is right,” Moseley signed with a smile.

Welcome aboard, Vicki, and we are honored that your journey has led you to us just in time for our 4 year Anniversary!

INTERESTED IN CUSTOMER SERVICE TRAINING?

We are booking sessions now, and would love to tailor one for your business. Choose from three options:

1. Deaf-Friendly Customer Service - Basics (Online): Need a 100% online course that jives with your busy schedule? Our one-hour Udemy training is designed for various industries. Cost: $30 for lifetime access to Deaf Culture training and facts, tips and tricks, action items, quizzes, and basic ASL tutorials.
 
2. Deaf-Friendly Customer Service - Beyond the Basics (In-Person): An energizing 2-hour workshop that will inspire your team to implement tried-and-true strategies for happy customers. Also excellent for team-building events!

3. Deaf-Friendly Customer Service - Tru-Biz (In-Person): For those who are serious about serving Deaf customers, we include the whole shebang: A thorough deaf-friendly assessment of your business, an energizing workshop for your staff, a customized action plan, and on-going support.

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Drop us a line at info@deaffriendly.com to schedule your training, and check out the Frozen Moscow Mules at Rachel's Ginger Beer as summer heats up!

Comment Policy

We’re aware that issues facing the Deaf, Deaf-Blind, and Hard of Hearing Community can become quite passionate and divided. What can we say, we’re a group of passionate people! While we fully support a community full of passion, we also require that comments are respectful. We think negative attitudes and disrespect are a waste of everyone’s time and energy. This doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with people, you just need to do it respectfully. We reserve the right to delete or edit any comments we feel are judgmental, rude, or of attacking nature.

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