Tag Archives: websites

Will Your Website Get You Sued?

Plaintiffs’ attorneys have discovered a new, rich litigation vein to exploit, potentially yielding a treasure of targets to sue. Using Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and applying it to a modern societal institution (the internet) that was not in existence or contemplated when that law was enacted, lawyers may have hit pay dirt again by claiming that websites are not accessible to the disabled.

Title III of the ADA requires places that are open to the public to not discriminate against individuals due to their disability or otherwise deny them “the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations of any place of public accommodation.” These rules apply to any company that permits “entry” by the public. Although traditionally Title III of the ADA has been applied to physical structures, recent cases have raised issues as to whether these rules may apply to websites, as well.

To date, the case law addressing these issues is very limited and has been mixed. Case law from the Seventh Circuit has applied the ADA to websites, and the First, Second and Eleventh Circuits have applied the ADA beyond physical structures, providing ground for plaintiffs to argue that the ADA can extend to a virtual space such as websites. Meanwhile, the Third, Fifth and Ninth Circuits have applied the ADA provisions to physical locations only.

See also: Broad Array of Roles for Disability Coverage  

The Department of Justice, which is responsible for interpreting and enforcing Title III of the ADA, says that Title III does apply to websites. However, in typical government fashion, the DOJ has delayed releasing its “accessibility” guidelines for webpages, with an anticipated release date in 2018.

While the regulations and laws on website accessibility may be unclear, a few law firms are nonetheless sending out demand letters targeting specific industry sectors nationwide (for example, private universities and real estate brokerage firms) and demanding compliance with onerous website standards. The letters ask the recipient to hire the plaintiff’s law firm (or their preferred vendor) to help reach an “acceptable level” of compliance. In addition, several national retailers, including Patagonia, Ace Hardware, Aeropostale and Bed Bath & Beyond have been named in lawsuits regarding accessibility to their sites. According to Bloomberg’s BNA reports, 45 of these type of lawsuits were launched in 2015. That number is expected to increase substantially in 2016.

With the law so unclear on this topic, how should businesses navigate these murky waters? First, if you receive one of these demand letters, you should consider contacting an attorney and should avoid engaging in discussions with the plaintiff or their law firm without representation. Then, along with your attorney and an IT representative (in-house or a vendor), develop a strategy to bring your webpage into accessibility compliance. Although there is no “one-size fits all” approach to move toward compliance, depending on what is on your website, businesses can consider providing audible text on each webpage and providing audible captions for pictures. Ultimately, to play it safe you may want to take all reasonable steps to improve navigation and access on your website.

See also: New Products and Combined Approaches

Takeaway

Lawsuits related to website accessibility could likely be next cash cow for plaintiffs’ attorneys. As the early case law on this issue is so mixed, there is little guidance as to who has to be compliant and what exactly compliance would look like. Until the DOJ gets around to issuing guidelines (assuming they provide much guidance), businesses should consider reviewing their websites and documenting reasonable efforts to make the sites accessible to the disabled. Further, companies should consider purchasing a robust employment practices liability (EPL) policy with broad third-party coverage that can potentially pick up the defense of claims related to website access claims.

This article was co-written by Marty Heller.

2015 ROI Survey on Customer Experience

Six years ago, we launched the Customer Experience ROI Study in response to a sad but true reality: Many business leaders pay lip service to the concept of customer experience – publicly affirming its importance, but privately skeptical of its value.

We wondered… how could one illustrate the influence of a great customer experience, in a language that every business leader could understand and appreciate?

And so the Customer Experience ROI Study was born, depicting the impact of good and bad customer experiences, using the universal business “language” of stock market value.

It’s become one of the most widely cited analyses of its kind and has proven to be an effective tool for opening people’s eyes to the competitive advantage accorded by a great customer experience.

This year’s study provides the strongest support yet for why every company – public or private, large or small – should make differentiating their customer experience a top priority.

Thank you for the interest in our study. I wish you the best as you work to turn more of your customers into raving fans.

THE CHALLENGE

What’s a great, differentiated customer experience really worth to a company?

It’s a question that seems to vex lots of executives, many of whom publicly tout their commitment to the customer, but then are reluctant to invest in customer experience improvements.

As a result, companies continue to subject their customers to complicated sales processes, cluttered websites, dizzying 800-line menus, long wait times, incompetent service, unintelligible correspondence and products that are just plain difficult to use.

To help business leaders understand the overarching influence of a great customer experience (as well as a poor one), we sought to elevate the dialogue.

That meant getting executives to focus, at least for a moment, not on the cost/benefit of specific customer experience initiatives but, rather, on the macro impact of an effective customer experience strategy.

We accomplished this by studying the cumulative total stock returns for two model portfolios – composed of the Top 10 (“Leaders”) and Bottom 10 (“Laggards”) publicly traded companies in Forrester Research’s annual Customer Experience Index rankings.

As the following vividly illustrates, the results of our latest analysis (covering eight years of stock performance) are quite compelling:

THE RESULTS

8-Year Stock Performance of Customer Experience Leaders vs. Laggards vs. S&P 500 (2007-2014)

graph

Comparison is based on performance of equally weighted, annually readjusted stock portfolios of Customer Experience Leaders and Laggards relative to the S&P 500 Index.

Leaders outperformed the broader market, generating a total return that was 35 points higher than the S&P 500 Index.

Laggards trailed far behind, posting a total return that was 45 points lower than that of the broader market.

THE OPPORTUNITY

It’s worth reiterating that this analysis reflects nearly a decade of performance results, spanning an entire economic cycle, from the pre-recession market peak in 2007 to the post-recession recovery that continues today.

It is, quite simply, a striking reminder of how a great customer experience is rewarded over the long term, by customers and investors alike.

The Leaders in this study are enjoying the many benefits accorded by a positive, memorable customer experience:

  • Higher revenues – because of better retention, less price sensitivity, greater wallet share and positive word of mouth.
  •  Lower expenses – because of reduced acquisition costs, fewer complaints and the less intense service requirements of happy, loyal customers.

In contrast, the Laggards’ performance is being weighed down by just the opposite – a poor experience that stokes customer frustration, increases attrition, generates negative word of mouth and drives up operating expenses.

The competitive opportunity implied by this study is compelling, because the reality today is that many sources of competitive differentiation can be fleeting. Product innovations can be mimicked, technology advances can be copied and cost leadership is difficult to achieve let alone sustain.

But a great customer experience, and the internal ecosystem supporting it, can deliver tremendous strategic and economic value to a business, in a way that’s difficult for competitors to replicate.

LEARN FROM THE LEADERS

How do these Customer Experience Leading firms create such positive, memorable impressions on the people they serve? It doesn’t happen by accident. They all embrace some basic tenets when shaping their brand experience – principles that can very likely be applied to your own organization:

  1. They aim for more than customer satisfaction. Satisfied customers defect all the time. And customers who are merely satisfied are far less likely to drive business growth through referrals, repeat purchases and reduced price sensitivity. Maximizing the return on customer experience investments requires shaping interactions that cultivate loyalty, not just satisfaction.
  2. They nail the basics, and then deliver pleasant surprises. To achieve customer experience excellence, these companies execute on the basics exceptionally well, minimizing common customer frustrations and annoyances. They then follow that with a focus on “nice to have” elements and other pleasant surprises that further distinguish the experience.
  3. They understand that great experiences are intentional and emotional. The Leading companies leave nothing to chance. They understand the universe of touchpoints that compose their customer experience, and they manage each of them very intentionally – choreographing the interaction so it not only addresses customers’ rational expectations, but also stirs their emotions in a positive way.
  4. They shape customer impressions through cognitive science. The Leading companies manage both the reality and the perception of their customer experience. They understand how the human mind interprets experiences and forms memories, and they use that knowledge of cognitive science to create more positive and loyalty-enhancing customer impressions.
  5. They recognize the link between the customer and employee experience. Happy, engaged employees help create happy, loyal customers (who, in turn, create more happy, engaged employees!). The value of this virtuous cycle cannot be overstated, and it’s why the most successful companies address both the customer and the employee sides of this equation.

To download a copy of the complete Watermark Consulting 2015 Customer Experience ROI Study, please click here.