Retailers, service companies and other businesses are rethinking everything from marketing to operations to cater to the needs of aging boomers and seniors
Universal design is a term that has been pushed into the mainstream by residential real estate. It includes environments that are inherently accessible to older people and those with disabilities. A universal design home often has no steps, higher electrical outlets, door levers (not knobs), kitchen cabinets with roll out shelves, and much more. Universal design makes living easier for all and offers no drawbacks for the able bodied.
Universal design also applies to a broad-spectrum of ideas in creating and building environments, products, and services. Leaders in business, government, education and nonprofit sectors should consider universal design concepts in product design, customer service and in all facets of an organization.
Several years ago it came out that major companies were investing millions of dollars to cater to aging baby boomers (see this WSJ article). Major brands of consumer goods changed the packaging of their products, pharmacies repositioned vitamins and medicines, grocery chains altered shelf heights, restaurants increased lighting and font sizes for improved menu readability and the list goes on.
If you own or manage an organization that caters to boomers and seniors there are several considerations to enhance their experience, and most importantly, not make them feel old.
One of the first of the senses to weaken is sight. Consider increasing font size, white space, and contrasting colors in marketing, packaging, instruction manuals, service agreements and other communications. Also, older eyes have difficultly in low light situations. Many retail stores and hospitality organizations have increased the brightness and lighting to show off products, enhance service and client experience. This can even affect how a business decorates its interiors and illuminates walkways and steps.
The dexterity of one's hands is often affected by age and sometimes further exacerbated by arthritis. Products that require hand and wrist strength have reengineered caps, tops, and packaging to allow for easy and convenient opening and closing. Many locations will also install additional railings and grab bars. Retail locations that once offered polished floors now have low-rise carpeting to prevent falls. Levers and handles are also added to products to offer better grips, and seniors are offered coffee mugs with handles in lieu of a paper cup. Display cases and shelves have also been resized for greater accessibility.
The last consideration is hearing. Customer service representatives and sales people should talk slower and enunciate their words while on the phone. This is also important in face-to-face conversations. These soft skills are many times overlooked by employers when training new millennial hires.
Additionally, some establishments have eliminated background noise by turning off ambient music or installing acoustic panels.
The most important thing, like in any business, is to make the customer feel valued, but not make them feel old. The key is to make subtle, functional changes at your organization and continue offering style and quality.