The New Consumer
Autism is more than a disorder, it’s a mindset.
Today, persons who are affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) live in residential communities and group homes located in neighborhoods around the world. As governments realize the integration of those with ASD is the better solution than the institutionalization of years ago, we can expect more people with the disorder to be engaged in normal, everyday business.
That means the autistic are customers at all kinds of businesses large and small. However wonderful this is, there are many aspects of autism that can be difficult for many businesses. For example, an autistic person who feels harmed by a company policy will continue debating with the company until their argument is satisfied. This can be a customer service nightmare for both parties – causing extra labor and other costs to the company and potentially mental anguish to the autistic customer.
Conversely, an autistic person is usually an incredibly loyal consumer. They dislike change, so they’re unlikely to change products or services even when something happens they don’t like. They’re also very selective, many choosing to research everything they buy, and the companies they do business with in detail. In our photograph above, you see an autistic man sitting on the floor carefully examining some products he’s interested in buying. A retailer may not like people sitting in their aisles. Is it so hard to make reasonable accommodation for this? Probably not, but without understanding the customer’s needs, there could be trouble.
While this group of customers doesn’t require special treatment, they do need special consideration, and companies should have unique policies to deal with customer service and relations. Retail managers, bankers, customer service managers and staff, retail store clerks and others in business who may interact with autistic customers should be trained in autism and have more than a basic understanding of the condition and what they may expect from their customers. Equally important, the companies must have a better understanding of how to handle customer relations with the autistic.
Why is this so important? If an autistic person’s customer service problem isn’t handled correctly, it can easily lead to public and media relations nightmares, costing the company the custom of tens of thousands of sympathetic patrons who believe the autistic person is being mistreated. Whether the company is right or wrong doesn’t matter – the expectation must always be that the media will take the autistic person’s side, and so will other customers.
An equally critical consideration is that there is always the risk that an attorney may advocate for the autistic person in a serious customer service problem, particularly if personal injury to the autistic person resulted from a product or service, directly or indirectly. Companies must be ever alert to such risks and attempt to mitigate these risks by learning the signs of autism in a customer, and how to resolve matters with them that are favorable to both parties.
In one recent event that came to our attention, a travel website customer with Asperger’s Syndrome confirmed a price-match guaranty and expected the company to live up to its offer. When they delayed, denied and tried to defeat his claims through a series of poorly bungled customer service steps, the autistic customer was able to prove his claim and ultimately prevailed, not only getting the guaranty, but also publishing his customer service experience with the Better Business Bureau.
The biggest mistake companies make is that the autistic client is less intelligent than the non-autistic client. Not true! In fact, the autistic client is likely to be far more organized, and keep meticulous records of every step in their transactions, including audio recordings, so companies who think this way are demonstrating corporate stupidity. The best policy with autistic customers is simple: the customer is always right, because they are.
Autism Citizen, Inc. will soon launch an online course for business in the basics of autism, including an introduction to customer service for autistic clients. We can teach your business, your management and employees how to maximize the relationship with your autistic clients, and ensure your position as a forward-thinking business.
About the Author: Robert Angelone holds a doctorate in Economics and has been a management consultant since 1978. He is well respected in a variety of industries, particularly hospitality, and foodservice where his expertise is highly regarded internationally. Dr. Angelone’s knowledge of autism comes from considerable research and experience. His advocacy for the autistic is changing the way business, government and the courts understand this disorder, and how they treat those afflicted. Join his efforts by supporting Autism Citizen, Inc.