Globe wearing mask

Why Processes Matter More in Times of Crisis

If there’s one thing we can count on, it’s this: prepare for the unexpected. No company can think of every possible scenario that will happen. One of the first things to do is to create a process. There’s always going to be a need for a process or making a change to one. And believe it or not, it affects your customer experience and marketing.

My customer experience in Mask World attests to this.

A deaf person’s first MaskWorld customer experience

I needed to go in for blood work at my primary doctor’s office, which is in a hospital. It was my first foray into the Twilight Zone that’s MaskWorld.

For the first time ever, I put on my mask. I did it in the car. Agh! My hearing aid keeps falling off. I take it off, put mask on, put hearing aid on over it and it finally cooperates. D’oh! Gotta be careful with my sunglasses not to knock ’em all off.

All doors direct you to a single entrance. No problem. I’m grateful I can walk.

  1. Get my temperature taken at the entrance. Easy.
  2. Use the hand sanitizer. Obvi from watching others before me.
  3. Earn a lovely blue bracelet showing I passed the entry test. Whoo-hoo!
  4. Panic when the masked woman says something. “I’m deaf. I lipread,” I say. “I’m going to a doctor’s appointment.” That worked. Good to go. Stuff like this makes me feel feeble.

Finally, I’m in the hospital. Breathe sigh of relief that first half of the fun is done.

Arrived in the doctor’s office. I signed in and used the hand sanitizer. Then, I stand by waiting for a receptionist’s attention. (One on the phone and one with a patient.)

Let the receptionist know that I’m deaf, can’t hear my name called nor can I read lips through masks. I’m not Supergirl. Sat down to wait.

A person next to me waves to get my attention and points to the receptionist who waves for me to come. She hands me a clipboard with a note saying to fill the form and provide my insurance card #ForTheWin.

Back to sitting and waiting. Names called and saw others get up. So, I know it’s not my turn yet. Name called, no one gets up. “Did you say Evans,” I asked. She nods.

I let her know I read lips and can’t hear with mask on. Sat down. She showed me vial stickers with my name and birthday for me to confirm they’re correct. Good thing it didn’t have the age on it. I wouldn’t agree with it. I deny my birthday ever happened in 2020.

She proceeds with bloodwork and yaps away despite my telling her I can’t tell what she’s saying behind the mask. Done. Bandaged. Breathed huge sigh of relief and got the heck out of dodge back home to my little mask-free world.

I get to do this again next week for the actual appointment with the doc.

See how this process affects my attitude and customer experience? Some customers will complain in public and name names.

MaskWorld customer experience: Take 2

This time, no hearing aid vs. mask fight. Thanks to several friends who provided me with an extender to turn a behind-the-ear mask into a wrap-around mask and a tubular bandana.

After learning the process last week, I was prepared for the follow-up visit.

Dang! They changed the process on me! It was NOT a process improvement. If it were, that’s a different story. But it wasn’t.

  1. Use hand sanitizer (this was Step 2 last time).
  2. Get temperature taken (this was Step 1 last time) followed by temperature nurse speaking. (Last time, she pointed to the hand sanitizer and said nothing.)
  3. Tell the nurse that I’m deaf and a lipreader (emphasis on lipreader and tracing a circle around my mask with index finger).
  4. Notice the nurse leans in and speaks louder. (Volume isn’t the problem here, ma’am.) Praise be! The other nurse sees the exchange and removes her mask.
  5. Confirm I’m there to see the doctor and answer her COVID-19 symptom questions.
  6. Receive my reward of a lovely blue paper bracelet verifying I passed the entrance exam.
  7. Go about my merry way.

As for the doctor’s office part, it went much better. No one was in the waiting room. Then two people showed up. When the nurse came out and called a name, I knew it had to be me.

Explained the deaf and lipreading thing to the nurse. We stood 6-feet apart and talked with our masks off. Same for the doctor. Hallelujah! Appointment done.

Oh, wait … I’m not in the clear. I still have to check out. Repeat deaf and lipreading schpiel followed by letting her know my name. She gives me thumbs up.

And I took off like a bat outta heck (too soon?) and headed back home to mask-free world.

It’s so important for healthcare to follow processes the same way every time. The only exception is when you change the process to improve it. A nurse friend told me the COVID-19 questions have changed multiple times.

How to improve the customer experience in MaskWorld

What are you doing to help those who have trouble hearing with a mask?

It’s not just the deaf who lipread having trouble with masks. Some hearing folks say they can’t hear as well through the masks. This is a situational disability. There are also temporary disabilities. A cold or an ear infection can affect a person’s hearing.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Create and document a process.
  • Publish the process that affects visitors or customers. (Post it on the front door, window, website, social network page, etc.)
  • Use number tickets like at the deli counter and write the number on a whiteboard while calling it out.
  • Offer at least two contact options. “Call when you get in the parking lot” is a problem for deaf folks like me. I don’t want to honk the horn! Texting would be great! Offer texting as an option and ask for text number.
  • Create a captioned video explaining or showing the process.
  • Allow talking without masks by maintaining social distance.
  • Stock a few face shields to have in handy.
  • Set up “no chat” stations.

A “no chat” station is one where the employee would not make conversation with the customer. For instance, a grocery store or drive-through (Are you listening, Sonic?) can add a “No chat” sign. This way anyone uncomfortable with a mask chat can feel at ease knowing there will be no conversation.

A face shield would be a great alternative. Keep a few on hand.

The “no chat” station can have laminated printouts with a standard set of unavoidable questions that often come up. Post that on the plexiglass (if there’s one). And the employee can show a finger or write down the number.

One more thing to put on those process documents. The date of revision. Let’s say I go back to the hospital in July. I see the process on the window. If the date of revision shows the date before my last appointment, then I know the process is the same. It saves me time in re-reading it. If the date is after, then I can be more prepared for a different approach.

What about those clear masks?

People have sent me articles touting the awesomeness of those masks with a clear window. I know they mean well. Unfortunately, I’ve heard mixed reviews. Some say they fog up. Plus, the window is too small. Lipreaders look at the whole face … not just the lips.

There was one mask that was transparent. One problem. The material resembled a frosted glass window. I don’t know about you, but I still don’t have Supergirl’s X-ray vision to see through it.

Remember, it’s not the deaf person who needs the mask, but the people talking to the deaf person. There’s another mask undergoing development. I showed it to a deaf friend. We both find the design horrifying. And that would impact our customer experience if we ever encounter one. It also looks like it constricts the chin.

What about speech-to-text Apps? Or … Or …

And those speech-to-text apps? To use these apps, we’d have to pull out our phones and point them toward the speaker. This alone is socially awkward. And if there are more than two people in the conversation, the person has to move the phone around to the current speaker.

It can turn into an unpleasant game of tennis. It puts the person in center of attention — not in a good way. Maximizing the effectiveness of the automated speech recognition (ASR) tool requires placing the microphone as close to the speaker as possible.

The only time this does not look strange is when a reporter interviews someone or someone is speaking to a crowd. But in a social or networking conversation? Different ballgame.

Besides, when you add a mask to the equation, ASR will be less accurate.

Several suggested printing cards explaining I’m deaf and I read lips to understand. This way, I don’t have to repeat myself. I don’t mind letting them know this. The problem is that they don’t hear what I’m saying.

After telling this to someone, she leaned closer and spoke louder. Volume is rarely the problem. It’s either I can’t see the lips or the person doesn’t enunciate well and mumbles. Their lips don’t form the letters as they speak.

We know everyone means well with these suggestions. It’s not that we’re trying to shoot down every idea. It’s not that we’re trying to get things our way. It’s that we live this. What sounds like a great idea may not be comfortable or good enough. Are these mask makers working with deaf people?

As for ASR or automatic captioning, they tend to have too many errors. A live conversation is fast. Someone relying on ASR or captions has to read the text and absorb its meaning. It can cause cognitive overload.

Why do these processes matter to marketing?

Since I’m a digital marketing left-hand gal, I try to connect my posts to marketing.

You know the actions of a company affect its brand and reputation. A company that takes action to support accessibility and inclusion will gain fans. People with disabilities and diffabilities have no problem speaking out when they have a bad experience. And many will boycott the company.

That’s exactly what happened to Starbucks when it didn’t allow employees to wear “Black Lives Matter” shirts. #BoycottStarbucks trended on Twitter.

Don’t forget your own employees. A Trader Joe’s employee has a two-sided shirt. The front says “Trader Joe’s Deaf Crew Member” and “I Read Lips.” And the back shows “Deaf” and “Please tap me on the shoulder for help.” The plexiglass at his station says “I read lips.”

A retailer supplied clear masks for all its employees to support its employee who is deaf. The clear masks work for the employee.

DO promote the fact you have processes in place to make it easier for customers. If a drive-through restaurant advertises they have a “No audio or chat drive-through,” you can bet I’ll visit their business. I’ll also encourage family and friends to do the same. Unless, of course, they serve terrible food or something we don’t eat. No amount of marketing can save a restaurant serving bad food.

If nothing else, have compassion, be patient, and ask how you can help.

How does your business ensure inclusion and accessibility for everyone as the crisis affects processes? What are you doing to make sure everyone has a great customer experience in all interactions with your company?

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Image credit: cromaconceptovisual on Pixabay

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