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What challenges do successful small businesses have to overcome? 

Owners of cafe, bars, restaurants and nightclubs are faced with complex challenges. They must deliver a unique product. Customer experience must be delicious or entertaining. Both these elements must provided at a reasonable price to as many customers within their chosen market. 

Customers are diverse and it is no surprise that needs vary from person to person. Often times in the hustle to keep businesses running, the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people (LGBT), people with disabilities, diverse women and other groups of customers are forgotten or misunderstood. In some cases specific groups are ignored on purpose. 

Some small business owners that we have spoken to over the years have told us that the market for customers who are LGBT, living with disabilities or other diverse groups is too small to be a priority. Other owners tell us that they feel it is too complicated for them to deal with.

How to make diverse customers happier 

It's sad to see that people with disabilities were not included, but signs like this one we found in San Francisco are heading in the right direction. 

Let’s address these two preconceptions. Firstly, the market of diverse consumers is larger than people assume. According to our research, people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people account for at least 7% of the population, people with disabilities around 20% and we know women hold up half the sky. When combined diverse consumers form a sizable market. Can you really afford to ignore a market this big? 

Secondly, the issue of complexity is real, but not unsolvable. By applying common sense and listening to customers solutions can be found. 

Here are five tips to help you unravel the complexity of inclusion in cafes, bars, restaurants, nightclubs and other food and beverage establishments. Use them to help you join the ranks of successful small businesses in Asia! 

1) Enhance your staff capabilities through diversity 

In interviews with our users we have been told how establishments are judged by the diversity of the frontline staff. Clearly, recruitment is a fundamental starting point for any business wanting to improve its inclusiveness. Successful entrepreneurs around the world attest to the value, innovation and adaptability created by diverse staff teams. 

Some small business owners are unable to increase headcount due to limited resources. If this is the case, friends, family or business associates who are LGBT, living with disabilities, women or from others diverse groups for advice on how your business can be more welcoming. 

2) Improve staff attitudes and service quality with training 

Training keeps staff skills fresh and ensures standards are kept high. In contrast, lack of candid and open discussion reinforces persistent social taboo and ignorance related to LGBT, disabilities, women and other diverse groups. 

Create a safe space to help staff feel comfortable to discuss how to address a transgender customer and avoid embarrassment; how to serve a deaf customer if there is no sign language interpreter available; what to when a customer wants to breastfeed her child; or other basic questions. Invite representatives from local organisations to speak at a learning session where the specific needs of communities can be discussed openly. 

If left unchecked, a lack of awareness, insensitivity or hostility poses a risk to high standards of customer service. By integrating the value of diversity and inclusion into every stream of regular training sessions, you can provide your team with a venue to resolve uncertainty or stigma. 

3) Provide toilet facilities that are accessible to everyone 

When you are choosing a place to have a meal, an afterwork drink or a night out with friends, the absence of toilet facilities can be a deal breaker. Making sure that toilets are accessible to every one is common sense. 

However, be aware that for people who use wheelchairs or walking aids ample space and grab rails is essential. These design features are codified in many building codes. Nonetheless users of wheelchairs or walking aids have told us in interviews that poorly designed accessible toilets are the most common oversight in food and beverage establishments. 

Gender segregated restrooms also present challenges for business owners and customers, especially for women and transgender people. Opting for unisex or generic toilet signage is a no brainer for small businesses with one toilet. Bigger establishments may have more room, but poorly thought out restrooms can result in queues. 

Despite the social norm, there is no biological necessity for segregating toilets by gender. Otherwise we would see segregated toilets in households. We encourage more establishments to adopt unisex, universally designed restrooms that help improve the flow of customer traffic and increase comfort. 

4) Show you care by supporting diverse community organisations 

We live in a world where consumers expect brands and businesses to care about social issues. A report from the Boston Consulting Group found that the generation born between the early 1980s and 1990s are more inclined to reward companies that have a heart. This millennial generation is on track to dominate the global consumer market into the coming decades. 

Sponsoring diverse nearby organisations, hosting fundraisers and other types of support demonstrates that you are a caring neighbour. It is also good marketing for your business.

5) Successful small businesses listen and have conversations with customers 

“Diversity is about all of us, and about us having to figure out how to walk through this world together.”  

— Jacqueline Woodson  

Maintaining relationships with your customer is the key to enhancing customer experiences and building loyalty. Demonstrate how constructive feedback offered by your customers is not given in vain. 

If you are unsure about the veracity of the feedback get a second opinion from your diversity advisors. If you fail to listen to your customers, you may find that your customers go to your competitor instead. 


Learn more tips and tricks on how to overcome potential challenges your business can face in DEI through the Inclusive Business Pledge

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