Sales assistants serving customers with traumatic brain injury

27 Mar 2009

BACKGROUND: General lack of awareness regarding neurogenic communication disorders generally, and cognitive communication disorders following a traumatic brain injury (TBI) specifically, has resulted in pervasive environmental and attitudinal barriers for these individuals. While collaborative communication partner training programmes have been advocated as a means to remove barriers and provide social supports to enhance participation, a dearth of published programmes is evident within the field of TBI specifically. Similarly within the corporate context, in spite of legislative changes and diversity awareness programmes for employees, few training programmes exist worldwide, and in South Africa particularly, that remove barriers between employees and customers with a communication disability, and with a TBI specifically. In order to address this, the current research targeted the retail supermarket environment as a context in which a significant number of everyday communicative exchanges take place. AIMS: The study examined the effects of a specialised once-off training session on the confidence and knowledge of sales assistants in identifying barriers to, and facilitators of, sales interactions with customers with cognitive-communication disorders following a TBI. To do this, a randomised controlled trial design was used. METHODS AND PROCEDURES: Two questionnaires were developed and administered on two different occasions to the experimental group pre and post training, as well as the control group, to determine the confidence and knowledge with which they identified barriers and facilitators during videotaped sales interactions. The training session was developed based on previously established principles of diversity awareness training. Training and its evaluation used original on-site videotaped scenarios within small group discussion format. OUTCOMES AND RESULTS: Inter- and-intra group comparisons were analysed on the derived confidence and knowledge constructs from item analysis of the questionnaires. All results pointed consistently to the impact of the once-off training session on experimental group participants, who also rated the training session highly. CONLUSIONS: The need for companies to expand their concept of customer service to include the customer with a disability is emphasised. Training programmes empowering their employees to interact with greater knowledge and confidence specifically with customers with a TBI will potentially facilitate deeper participation for both. The current research lays the groundwork for more in-depth research that can be generalised beyond this specific population of individuals with a communication disorder.