Corporate Eye

Are you blanking your customers?

Is it difficult for customers to understand what you’re trying to communicate on your website? Are you showing them a blank screen, or hiding key sections of your site from them? It can happen to the best of companies without them realising …

lack of communicationI can think of a couple of reasons why you might decline somebody’s custom: but only people that you no longer wanted to have as customers. You surely wouldn’t refuse to serve those people you do want to retain or exclude them from your corporate communications.

I’ve seen a couple of articles this week discussing accessibility and banking. One, from Unintentionally Blank, discusses the steps taken by Nationwide with respect to access to banking and Javascript: instead of seeing a blank page, visitors wishing to use online banking but who don’t have Javascript enabled are now shown a message that tells them that Javascript is required. A tiny step indeed, but at least these people will now know what the problem is. As Phil says, it isn’t easy to upgrade banking systems.

The second article was in the Independent Cyberclinic yesterday, which talks about an American Express customer who used to access his bank account online using Jaws – because he is blind. Since Amex ‘updated’ their website in December, he can no longer do this, and he and the RNIB are considering legal action under the Disability Discrimination Act.

The modification that American Express made was to convert credit card statements to be read online from HTML to PDF. According to the BBC, Amex failed to encode the PDFs so that they could be read by screen readers.

Adobe told the BBC that “it believes the general PDF format is accessible to all, and it is up to individual companies to ensure they encode PDF files correctly, so they can be accessed by people with screen readers”.

Amex are working hard to fix this issue over the next few days – and may already have resolved it.

But the underlying issue affects more than just credit card statements in the banking sector, of course, and is one of the reasons why we are less than enthusiastic about PDFs on corporate websites. So here is the key question:

Do you still have key material on your site that is available only in PDF format, not in HTML? (Where to look? Suggestion: the Corporate Governance section of a corporate website is often populated by links to PDFs rather than by easily accessible HTML.)

If you do have material in PDF format that isn’t available in HTML, can it be read by screen readers? You could consider encoding these PDFs in accessible format, or making an HTML version available, with the link to it very close to the PDF link.

That way people reading your website with a screen reader have a chance of finding the same material available to them as to someone reading your website in the usual way.

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Hi Lucy, great post, highlighting two important accessibility issues. It does go to show that it only takes a little extra thought to ensure that as many customers as possible can access the information on your sites (or at least understand why they can’t in the incremental update from the Nationwide), yet often that extra thought is missed out on. The biggest shame is how often that extra step isn’t taken, leaving people like the Amex customer in the dark. I’m glad to hear they are fixing it though.

This goes to show that ignorance is not bliss when it comes to customer relations management.

You’re so right, Vivienne – I don’t think ignorance is ever bliss. Much better to know when something is going wrong …

Phil, I hope that it is simply that the extra thought doesn’t happen, not that there is a cost-based decision not to implement the extra step. I know some of these things aren’t easy to do.

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