Not all disabilities are visible so retail FMs need to devise an effective support system, says Paul Thrupp.
03 February 2020 | Paul Thrupp
About 18 per cent of the population has a hidden disability. Hidden or invisible disabilities range from depression, chronic pain and fatigue to chronic dizziness, Crohn's disease and head injuries. These can make everyday tasks such as going shopping a daunting prospect.
FMs at retail centres have a key role to play in supporting people so that they have a positive experience.
OCS recently implemented a hidden disabilities and Sunflower Lanyard scheme at regional shopping destination centre:mk in Milton Keynes. Sunflower lanyards are available at all main entrances and are worn to identify the wearer as someone with a hidden disability.
Key to the scheme's success has been staff training. External trainers initially led the training sessions but once the staff had become familiar with the process internal teams took over.
All staff at a retail centre - from security officers to cleaners - are potential 'touch points' so training enables staff to give assistance when a member of the public may need it. Staff should be trained to differing degrees dependent upon what is most appropriate, from a general understanding and knowledge of referral points to a fully skilled and competent specialist.
- Customer service staff: Usually the main touch point, these team members will have the most interaction with the public and must be equipped to adapt to a number of different specialist requirements.
- Housekeeping and security staff: These employees are also natural touch points through their placement.
- Back of house and car parking staff: They may become touch points for members of the public outside a centre or for someone who has got lost.
- Hard services staff, management teams, and even owners: They may all be identifiable through formal or work attire and so are natural touch points.
Training should cover aspects such as recognition and understanding of hidden disabilities. Staff must be skilled in recognising body language and distress signals and offering the techniques needed to help those who signal a hidden disability through the use of a sunflower lanyard.
This could be through offering assistance with language, mobility or sight.
Hidden disabilities vary greatly, which is why staff need to understand the variety of ways in which someone may require assistance. For example, members of the public could need extra browsing time, need to bypass queues in busy stores, be given further information when the centre is busy, or to make use of quieter shopping hours.
Key training considerations
1. Training schedules
With the challenge of retail service delivery hours, it does take time to deliver training to all employees so it is imperative that it is rolled out with full awareness, support and collaboration from everybody who is a touch point within the destination.
Training courses should be delivered at weekends, evenings and during normal working hours to ensure that all members of staff are able to attend. Customer services and supervisory teams should take priority as they form the key touch points and, from there, briefings and huddles can support the messaging. These can take place through shift changes, ensuring that messaging from the training remains consistent.
2. Communication strategies
Communication and consistency are key for this initiative to work, and an internal communication tool for retailers, such as a designated section on the retail centre Intranet, or a mobile app can ensure equal buy-in and a holistic approach from everyone on site.
Talking to retailers about feedback and guest experience closes the communication loop between staff and customers and creates a continual dialogue. The scheme at centre:mk has been hugely successful so far, with 98 per cent positive feedback.
Paul Thrupp is director of retail destinations at OCS UK