Picture of the handicap symbol on a brick wall

Today, I want to tell you a story. Two stories, really. I want to share what happened when, in a week’s time, I had a similar problem at two different businesses (both of which will remain nameless). More importantly and to the point of this blog, I want to talk about how the two businesses had drastically different ways of trying to address the concerns.

The response from business 1 made me eager to do business with them again and often. Based on the response from business 2, I will never do business there again and will never endorse them for anything again.

What happened?

At both businesses, I had major accessibility issues that were not expected based on the fact that we had done a little research on both buildings before visiting each location. When I arrived, it turned out there was not as much access for my wheelchair as originally thought.

Business One

The first business had two clearly marked ramps leading to their front door but because of construction on the same property, one ramp was blocked off. The access to the front door was blocked by large planters that had been moved during the construction process. They were in a location that they weren’t normally so the business didn’t realize there was a new accessibility problem.

When we asked the staff if there was another way in or if we could move the planters, they snapped into action. Their attitude was that they wanted to do what was best for me, not an “oh no, we don’t want to get in trouble” reaction. We eventually figured out a way to get me in and they promised to discuss getting the heavy planters moved the very next business day.

The staff immediately sought solutions and listened to me when I said no to their first ideas (never a good idea to lift a person in a wheelchair. It’s dangerous for all involved). They were concerned, eager to meet my needs in a way that was safe for all, and incredibly apologetic.

We had an amazing experience once we got inside. Even if they aren’t able to get the access figured out during the construction, we plan on finding a way to patronize that business many times in the future.

Business Two

When I contacted the second business to ask about accessibility, I was told there was a ramp on the side of the building so when I arrived, I was a little confused as to where this ramp was. I had the friend I was meeting ask the owner and it turns out that the ramp was in the back.

The ramp was in a parking lot where, because of who owns the ramp, I was not allowed to park there. I had to park a block and a half away and get help to get to the ramp. This makes the ramp not accessible to people with disabilities.

The ramp was so steep that I was leery of using it but thought that with my friend’s help, I could navigate it. Well, we lost control and I hit the wall. We finally made it down and went about our meeting.

As we were leaving, we tried to find the owner to let him know that the ramp wasn’t safe and to ask if the owner could help get me back up the ramp. That person was nowhere to be found and I was starting to hurt pretty bad so we left.

I had intended to follow up with the business owner immediately the next day, but between a dental emergency, broken appliances, home flood, and severe pain from the incident on the ramp, it took me a week to follow up.

Here’s the thing. I didn’t ask for anything. I didn’t blame anyone. I didn’t threaten them. I told them that they needed to be aware that there was a problem that was big enough that was more than an inconvenience.

Instead of focusing on the problem that needed to be fixed, the owner apologized and immediately passed blame on everyone else including the owner of the ramp, the owner of the business (two different entities…long story).

He then tried to start poking holes in my story, telling me that he saw me come and go and never saw a problem. He was so focused on the specific incident that he failed to even consider the idea that as the business owner, he needed to address the problem to prevent future incidents.

The conversation went on for a few minutes like this when he finally announced that I was “questionable” and that he would make sure to call the entity that owns the ramp and let them know I was “questionable.”

Basically, he called me a liar.

Again, I not once asked for anything or blamed anyone. I tried to notify him of a problem at his business. And not only did I get called a liar, it became clear from his comments that he saw me on the ramp and not once did he attempt to help or check if I was OK.

This happened two months ago and I’m still receiving treatment for my injured arm so it was not a minor thing. And once he was made aware of the problem, he tried to make himself out to be a victim and to discredit me.

Let’s review

At one business, the staff and owner were concerned for me, tried to make the situation work safely in the moment, and vowed to figure out the problem to prevent future incidents.

At the other business, the problem was ignored, no help was offered, and when I tried to make them aware of the problem, I was called a liar.

Which business would you want to patronize again?

Lessons to learn

Both of these incidents happened more than two months ago. I’ve debated on if I should write about them because I knew some might take it as me trying to discredit the business that was so awful. Notice that I don’t even say what kind of business or where it’s located. It’s not about them.

I decided to write about my experience to show how important communication is when dealing with our customers. I wanted to illustrate how a little compassion and striving to fix their problems as best we can go a long way. I wanted to show how, as small businesses, we must take extra care to respond well even in a tough situation.

In any communication, I think it’s important to look at the context of the communication and to first try and understand not only the other person’s needs but what they are trying to convey.

I also think it’s important that we always make the situation about the customer, even when we are letting them know they need to be the one to make a change. For example, when I run into issues with the client, I try to make it clear that I’m working to find a solution that allows me to do the best work for them.

At this point, you may be angry at the second business and want to express your condolences to me about what happened. Please don’t. The only reason I went into so much detail with each scenario was to show how many times and ways each business had the opportunity to get it right. The way you can help is to make sure that your business is never the subject of this kind of conversation!