An award-winning app that is transforming the lives of blind and visually impaired people across the planet is set to boost customer services in the public and private sector. Be My Eyes is used by almost 100,000 blind people in 150 countries around the world – connecting them with a network of 1.5 million volunteers who can help them with anything from checking food sell-by dates to choosing clothes or catching the right bus. And now they can connect directly with customer services teams in Microsoft – offering a new way for any customer-facing service to connect with its customers.
Setting up wifi, changing settings on the TV or using online banking can be frustrating for any customer, but for someone without sight such tasks can be impossible. Users of Be My Eyes can now speak directly with sighted customer service staff at banks, tech companies and other organisations - via their phone camera.
The first business to sign up is Microsoft. Since February, Be My Eyes users have been able to connect to a sighted person on the Microsoft Disability Answer Desk for advice on tasks such as setting up new programmes or using the accessibility features within Microsoft programmes.
Understanding the needs of disabled customers
Since launching four years ago a common theme for Be My Eyes has been calls from people who need help with higher level technical tasks or who need help from companies directly, which prompted the creation of the new service known as ‘Specialized Help’.
“The world is very badly designed for people with visual impairment,” says Alexander Hauerslev Jensen, community director at Be My Eyes. “We also know that many companies want to improve the customer support they offer people with disabilities. It’s good for customers to talk to those who know a lot about a specific product or service, ie the relevant company themselves.”
“Close your eyes and try to set up wifi in a new place,” adds Jensen, “It’s more or less impossible. Live video just makes the interaction so much faster.
“If someone from the company can see the problem in real time, issues with their products or service could be resolved more efficiently," he adds. "Each call represents something that’s poorly designed from an accessibility standpoint. It will mean companies will get very unique knowledge and then can change things - whether that’s identifying bugs or making packaging which is more accessible.”
Improving customer services for disabled people
Many businesses or services do not conduct user testing with people of different abilities and are unaware of the accessibility barriers they face when using their services or products. As well as legal risks they are potentially turning away millions of valuable customers.
Microsoft has been able to reduce the time taken on calls to the answer desk by 30% since it started using the app. “They’re receiving a significant number of calls through the app and agents have been able to identify problems immediately using the camera,” explains Jensen.
The app won the AbilityNet Accessibility Award at the Tech4Good Awards 2018 – with judges particularly impressed by its plans to improve the support that organisations can offer its customers, so that no one is left out in the digital age. It can offer a simple way of delivering support to anyone who could potentially become excluded and an easy way to remove some of the barriers to technology and digital services.