Are Utilities Paying Enough Attention to Accessibility?

by | Mar 18, 2021

Utilities in the USA are subject to the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Under this act they are legally required to ensure that all utility services are accessible to people with disabilities.

Put another way, the ADA enforces “the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation.”

ADA compliance includes providing people with disabilities (PWD) access to enjoy the same level of service from their utility as anyone else.  This means that utilities must provide online services and digital communications that are optimized for customers who are living with a visual, audio, motor and cognitive impairment.

Accessibility requirements extend to any service or communication that is provided by a utility to its customers. This includes:

  • physical services or properties, such as service centers and printed documents, and
  • digital services or properties, such as online documents, communications via email or text, as well as websites, portals and mobile apps.

Why accessibility in utilities is critically important

On the one hand, utilities have a legal or regulatory obligation to ensure that all customer services and communication are accessible. There are consequences for failing to meet accessibility standards, such as complaints to industry regulators or an ombudsman. If a regulatory body finds that an organization has failed to provide accessible services or properties, it can impose sanctions.

Find out more about Web Accessibility Lawsuits.

But the legal obligations should not be the primary drivers of accessibility in utilities. The idea that you may be failing to reach a significant portion of your customer base should be a major concern. According to official statistics, 26 percent (one in 4) of adults in the United States have some type of disability.

The bottom line is – accessibility is both a commercial necessity and a business advantage.

Accessibility in customer communication management (CCM)

Recent media attention has placed a spotlight on getting your website compliant with accessibility regulations.  The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) were established to provide companies, including utilities, with guidelines as to what website accessibility compliance really means.

However, it is not just the public website that must be accessible. When it comes to accessibility in CCM, utilities must ensure that any communication, regardless of whether it is physically delivered or emailed to customers, can be consumed by someone with an impairment.

Customer communication is perhaps an area that has not received adequate attention, which means utilities are not as compliant with accessibility laws as they may think.

What is accessibility in Customer Communications Management?

Accessibility in Customer Communications Management refers to how easily a recipient with a physical impairment or learning disability can access or consume information. Regardless of whether it is contained on an organization’s portal or web page; in an email or text; or in a document that is presented online.

Are all your utility’s digital properties accessible?

Digital communications, such as emails, documents, and payment processes, have not necessarily received the same level of attention as website compliance. This means that utilities, contrary to internal perceptions, may not have achieved accessibility compliance yet.

It is critical that your compliance team reviews all digital assets to ensure each one is accessible:

  • Portal accessibility – utility portals that require customers to log in to access services, confidential information and regulated documents must adhere to the same accessibility standards as public websites.
  • Payment accessibility – payment processes and confirms must be easy to use for all customers, including those with visual, motor, or cognitive impairments.
  • Email accessibility - transactional emails and campaigns must be designed and developed to be consumed through assistive technologies, such as screen readers and magnifiers. In addition, any custom landing pages that are accessed via emails must also be checked for accessibility.
  • Document accessibility - customer documents, such as bills, statements and mandated reports, such as water quality, that are emailed or made available online to view or download must be generated through a compliant document generation platform.
  • Form accessibility – forms that a customer is required to complete and submit, for example energy assistance forms, must be accessible through a screen reader or other assistive technology.
  • Mobile app accessibility – information and services provided through a mobile application, such as consumption reports or outage notifications, must be accessible.

Need help auditing your communications for accessibility?

Utilities need to partner with a service provider that understands accessibility requirements and can assist with relevant advice and expertise. A CCM platform that can produce accessible communications on time and at scale for millions of recipients is also a key requirement.

Doxim offers an all-in-one partnership to help utilities generate and distribute accessible documents and communications.

Read more about Doxim’s Document Accessibility solution.

3. Expansion of digital products

As banking customer behavior shifts, banks must move with the times, or risk getting left behind. Many banks today are exploring the power and potential of open banking, which can allow them to offer more innovative products and services to their customers, as well as to better compete with fintech companies and other non-traditional financial service providers.

As you shift your banking business model to reach new segments or provide an enhanced array of services, communication becomes even more pivotal to your success. After all, if your customers don’t know which new services they qualify for, or how those services will help them meet their goals, then they are unlikely to explore them further. CCM technology can be leveraged here to provide personalized on-statement messaging that directs customers to the right products and services, as well as 1:1 personalized “explainer” videos to help them get started.

Adjusting your bank’s priorities to thrive in 2023

In an era of constant change, the key to successfully transforming your bank’s business model will be to stay attuned to the changing needs and preferences of customers, and to be open to exploring new opportunities and technologies that can help your FI stay competitive and relevant. But these new opportunities are doomed to fail if you do not clearly communicate their benefits and make it simple for customers to access them.

That is why transforming your customer communication strategy is the best first step to broader digital transformation. By updating your approach to communications to meet omnichannel customer needs, you also position your bank to communicate the benefits of changes in your broader organization, like new or enhanced products and services. The pace of change in banking has never been brisker – but with the right strategic approach to these changes, the future is bright.

Investing in a modern customer communication management and engagement platform is an essential part modernizing your banking strategy, as it can provide the personalized digital experiences that will keep your bank or credit union ahead of the competition. It helps provide a great customer experience, and builds rich relationships, which in turn results in customers for life and a competitive advantage in the rapidly evolving financial marketplace.

How Doxim can address the banking customer communications trends identified and help future-proof your digital banking strategy

banking customer communications trends

Doxim’s experienced consultants and omnichannel platform can help transform your customer experience in many ways, including:

  • Gathering and utilizing customer data to continually improve the personalization of communications.
  • Building trust with customers via communication (via print, PDF, HTML, email, text, and online interactive experiences).
  • Leveraging interactive video to drive personalized digital customer experiences, such as interactive statements, bills, or reports, that offer visual engagement and real-time interactivity
  • Putting customer data, including customer statements, at the fingertips of your service representatives for immediate and personal service.
  • Making a meaningful connection with value-added content, like information about philanthropic activities, on customer statements.

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