Recently a colleague called up her energy provider with a query. The account was in her partner’s name – so far, so standard: many of sort out the household admin on behalf of procrastinating significant others. On this occasion, however, the woman in the call centre assumed that my colleague was the account holder’s housekeeper, rather than her other half, and as such didn’t have the authority to make the call.
Several torturous minutes of argy bargy about who lived at the address and the exact nature of their relationship and the situation was eventually rectified. But the customer, made to feel uncomfortably othered, was rightly furious. However, she was also fair minded in her criticism. A knowledge gap, not prejudge had caused the unconscious bias, she said. The fault did not lie with the woman in the call centre. The real failure was with the brand’s management.
In gender politics, as with other areas that relate to diversity and inclusivity, the axis of society has fundamentally shifted over the last couple of decades, certainly since civil partnerships were made legal in 2004 and same sex marriage in 2014. It’s essential that senior management prioritise making sure that all parts of their business, from front-line staff and operations, to policies and procedures, as well as the more visible marketing campaigns, reflect today’s society.
Basic hygiene factors
The baseline for head office should be to make sure your staff and operations are 21st century compliant. If your systems can’t cope with two account holders of the same sex, for example, or with the fact that both people in a same-sex relationship need access to their information, or the implications of how a transgender customer might expect to be addressed, it’s not fit for purpose. And it’s not about a brand being progressive – it’s about making sure your basic hygiene factors are up to snuff.
Diversity inside and out
In the case of my colleague’s energy provider, the epic fail speaks volumes about their own recruiting and internal structures. You’d hope your general working life would introduce you to a diverse range of people – if not, (why not?) brands need to provide their front-line staff with diversity training so that they are confident communicating at all levels of society without causing offence.
Most employers have diversity within their ranks, and so a good place to understand the sorts of things that would irritate customers is with your own LGBTQ, BAME and staff with disabilities. If you’re a brand that finds these views are not naturally forthcoming from within your team, you need to ask yourself – and them – why they don’t feel able to share their lived experiences.
Listening and improving
It’s particularly frustrating to hear stories such as the call centre mistake, in 2019, because the last six months or so have seen a slew of brands using a diverse cast in ad campaigns to virtue signal their right on values.
But if the outside doesn’t reflect what’s inside a brand, a far better use of budgets would be to turn their lens inwards. Stonewall, for example, has a Workplace Equality Audit that enables brands to have their work assessed and to understand their employees lived experiences in order to build a strategy for improvement.
Rewrite the rules
Alternatively, forward-thinking brands are commissioning work to engage employees and customers and to develop more inclusive customer strategies. The brands that we’ve worked with in this area have uncovered deep insights in a supportive environment both inside and outside their own ranks.
An automotive brand with whom Quadrangle worked, recently conducted research into how LGBTQ women feel about diversity and inclusivity. One of the topics discussed was mis-gendering, which can be a common, and embarrassing problem for trans and lesbian women. (One of the respondents talked about how brands are ‘dead’ to her if this happens). A simple solution could be to dispense with using terms like ‘sir’ and ‘madam’. A directive to go with: ‘Hello, how can I help?’ would do much to avoid the fall-out of getting it wrong.
Developing a deep insight-led strategy around where diversity training is most needed inside the brand is a crucial first step to changing how the brand interacts with customers outside. Because brands that don’t, risk a massive disconnect between their business and the customers they’re meant to serve.