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How to reach a more inclusive online customer experience

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Good user experience isn't measured by how attractive a website or application can be. There are a number of elements at play when designing effective online UX, but most of them run through clarity of communication and accessibility.

Following the pandemic, and as customer experience shifts to an increasingly virtual environment, brands should be compelled to ensure that customers are not being driven away by their clunky UX. What kind of processes need to be designed to that end?

To learn more about the topic, we reached out to Niamh Fox, Chief Marketing Officer at Texthelp.

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From one brand to another: Seven steps to a more inclusive online customer experience

Today, more essential digital communications and services are moving online than ever before. In response, brands are investing in user experience (UX), enhancing the attractiveness of their site. But, many businesses still forget that a fundamental part of UX is clear communication and accessible design. Even the most attractive UX can fall short if the website’s information is not understandable for its audience, and this reflects badly on brands. 

An obvious example is online payments. If it's difficult to input your details, you're more likely to give up on the purchase. In a similar way, a lack of clear language can discourage users from engaging with your brand. 

To make sure your online shop front is drawing customers in, rather than excluding them,  it’s important to have a clear process to ensure inclusion. There are some simple and effective steps a business can take. This isn't just theory, but steps we've taken ourselves that have improved our own main website, Texthelp.com. 

WCAG - what it means and why brands should meet it

Current regulations mean that public sector organisations must build accessibility into all their digital platforms. UK and US legislation is based on recommendations contained in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). While in the UK,  the private sector is under no such obligation, these businesses should still improve digital inclusion. As well as being the right thing to do, improving accessibility also just makes good business sense, as brands will be able to engage a wider audience. 

WCAG 2.1 offers recommendations for making web content more accessible. It helps improve the experience for people with physical disabilities such as blindness and low vision to those with learning disabilities and cognitive limitations. It’s the ideal starting point to improving the UX and the accessibility of the content on your website. In doing so, brands will be able to better meet the needs of all users, avoiding reputational headaches and increasing engagement with a wider audience. 

Once the site is up to WCAG 2.1 standards, it’s important to maintain it as it grows. Your company website will change over time and likely have many content creators so it's important to put steps in place to keep things consistent. In our case, we had a large marketing team as well as other business functions, such as tech support, that regularly contributed to the company website. It was important that this large group of people maintained the same standards for the accessibility of our website. 

Monthly reviews, ideally with the help of an audit tool that limits human errors are a must. In our case, this involved using accessibility software Reachdeck to review our website rather than relying upon manual processes. This allowed us to identify WCAG compliance errors, providing a reading score for each page and highlighting the terms and sentences that were too long or filled with jargon. 

It was important to us to fix the issues ourselves as we found them.  Some brands may be tempted to use overlays or 'widgets'. These programs add third party code to the front end of a website, in an attempt to automate the solving of accessibility issues.

However, we believe there is no shortcut to a truly accessible design. Our website visitors are people, so it is imperative to us that we have people involved in our design process. For example, an overlay can check if an image has an alt attribute. However, it cannot determine if the description is accurate and if it makes sense to users.

Consider all brand touchpoints 

A website that is easy to understand should not be the only thing your business audits. Reviewing your social media profiles also needs to be a focus. Something as simple as adding alt text to an image can make a huge difference for accessibility; allowing users to read a description of the image for added clarity. Social platforms are a common way for individuals to be introduced to a brand, so making sure your profiles are accessible will not only increase engagement, but also improve click through to the main site. 

If you’re working with a social scheduling platform, it may be time to consider whether it is built with accessibility in mind. In our case, we recognised that the social scheduling tool we used did not allow us to optimise images for all audiences. Fortunately, many platforms are recognising that accessibility is an important part of the UX and are ensuring their offering accounts for options such as including alt text. 

Beyond the scheduling software, it’s important to consider the format of the posts themselves. We made sure to have adequate colour contrast between text and backgrounds, using simpler layouts with padding between text and images. This means that those with colour vision deficiencies, learning difficulties and low vision can still access the content we were uploading. Combining this with easy to understand copy for the posts, capitalising each word of a hashtag for extra visibility can immediately make your social content understandable to a wider audience. 

Thinking multimedia

Videos and podcasts also need to have the same consideration as your website and social platforms. Videos should include a transcript and closed captions on the recording. It may be tempting to opt for automated closed captions, but these can be inaccurate. Investing a bit more time into drafting the closed captions yourself can ensure people with hearing difficulties have a better understanding – and a better impression – of the business. 

Podcasts can be a bit more challenging, but including a transcript is an effective way to improve accessibility for this medium. In fact, transcripts of audio also have a secondary effect on improving SEO. By writing out the conversation in the audio, it will create more search terms for Google to identify - and therefore promote - on its results. 

Remember the reader

But, whether it is on your website, social or through a podcast, when writing content, the focus should always come back to one thing: readability. With the average reading age of adults in the UK at nine years old, complicated writing is a barrier for many. The more readable your content, the more inclusive your brand will be. 

By reducing long sentences and jargon, your company will be easier to understand. The aim should be that everything you communicate as a company – including emails, supporting articles and even board reports – is easy to read. This will embed readability into the heart of the company. 

Getting everyone on board

With this focus of readability in mind, it’s then a case of making sure every employee approaches their content with the same attitude. This is not just a marketing issue. Training staff on Accessibility and Readability best should be the norm. This will make sure that no matter who is sharing content, your brand will still be appealing to everyone. From our experience, this increased focus on staff training - even for new recruits as part of the onboarding process - has given everyone the same level of understanding, allowing our approach to be far more consistent.

But training isn’t static. Guidelines, best practices and even industry standards will change with time. As a result, your training should evolve in line with these changes. The overall goal will be to have every employee providing consistency with users, providing a more positive digital experience for everyone. 

Working with partners 

Once you’ve got the structures in place, with websites having an improved UX, social platforms using plain English and multimedia content being more accessible, it’s then a case of encouraging others to do the same. Your brand is not an island – the businesses and suppliers you use also reflect on how your business is viewed. This network of partners will not only create a positive experience for customers but improve your brand image and allow users to feel more confident buying into your products. 

Keeping things moving

The final step is to build this approach into any future business activity. New products, initiatives or activities should follow this same process, maintaining consistency and building a strong reputation for your brand. 

Everything from the instructions in a product, to a new microsite for the business, needs to have accessibility in mind. Understanding and meeting the needs of all user groups, including those with disabilities, should be your brand's commitment. 

Accessibility best practice is about continuous improvement. It's about supporting and including all users, regardless of disability, difference or language. Improving the way your brand communicates, and providing greater access to users takes time. It is a never ending journey, but it is one worth making.

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