March 29, 2019 2:34 pm

‘Kindness doesn’t cost anything’: Kelowna man with cerebral palsy helps organizations improve customer service

WATCH ABOVE: Michael Haines, a Kelowna resident with cerebral palsy, is helping organizations tweak their customer service techniques to accommodate those with cognitive, sensory and physical disabilities. Shay Galor reports.

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Learning to overcome challenges is something that Michael Haines knows a thing or two about.

The Kelowna resident has cerebral palsy, a movement disorder that appears in early childhood and limits mobility and speech.

But Haines isn’t limited when it comes to his passion.

He has been teaching organizations how to better serve customers with disabilities for decades.

It all started with a bad customer service experience over 40 years ago.

“I was ignored by a waiter in a pub,” Haines said. “This was not anything to do with the waiter. It was due to his lack of training.”

Haines, who uses an electric wheelchair and has challenges with his speech, said the experience was demoralizing.

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It was then that Haines got the idea to write an e-book and create a training program to give people the tools and knowledge to be more empathetic and make physical changes in the workplace to accommodate all sorts of challenges.

“If I can do something to empower him, his knowledge, customer training,” Haines said. “I can actually make a difference in the world.”

Haines says close to 14 per cent of the Canadian adult population has a physical or mental challenge and learning how to minimize their discomfort is something that everyone, especially those in customer service, can learn.

The training coach recently visited Tourism Kelowna to deliver his program and staff said the experience was eye opening.

“We originally started talking about accessibility in the new visitor centre. That is when Michael mentioned to me that he had designed an accessibility training for servicing people with all sorts of disabilities, from mobility to auditory, vision,” said Chris Lewis, the director of customer experience at Tourism Kelowna. “And we wanted to make sure to integrate that into our front-line staff training program.”

Haines’ workshop was so beneficial that Tourism Kelowna has used the feedback to improve the visitor centre.

“We have implemented several things since the building opened,” Lewis said. “We have accessible automatic double doors at the front entrance. We have an accessibility entrance on one of our washrooms. We have a height-adjustable service desk which can go to all sorts of different heights that are needed.”

Haines is available to train any organization around the Okanagan and says he is open to travelling outside the area as well. He can be reached by email.

The bottom-line lesson that Michael hopes to instill: always be kind, courteous and compassionate.

“Kindness doesn’t cost anything,” Haines said. “A kind word costs nothing.”

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