Part 1: Gaining Momentum Behind Diversity and Inclusion in Customer Experience

Person working from home with coffee cup

Last week I introduced a three part series that will look at how brands are reevaluating how they address customer experience in this rapidly changing world. As many of us are still working remote or have lower commute times due to fewer people on the road, now is the perfect opportunity to use some of that time we’ve gained back to really reflect on how we can improve customer experiences and look to other brands for inspiration.

Today, we will look at how diversity and inclusion in customer experience has really come to the forefront in recent months, not only because of the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the recent Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, but because our work and purchasing environments are changing. These shifts are impacting a broader population and, for better or worse, are bringing light to some of the challenges that people with disabilities or varying ethnic/racial backgrounds experience daily. So, what do I mean by that?

Well, to a small extent, we’re getting a taste of what our peers with disabilities experience in the daily work environment. When we were in the office, it was easier to take a step away from our desks, have transition times between meetings, and engage with coworkers to decompress. Now that we’re at home, our meetings are all virtual, we’re looking at a computer screen for much longer periods of time and are less likely to take breaks. This leads to fatigue, similar to what our coworkers with disabilities face everyday when working to perform the same tasks as their peers. And getting a small glimpse into these daily struggles, helps open dialogue into how we can improve our working environments and our customer experiences for people with varying abilities.

I recently attended the Disability:IN conference where a number of CEOs across different industries have made a commitment to disability inclusion and equality. What was most interesting about the conference is how the companies leading the charge in inclusive design and customer experiences, are sharing their formulas for success and working with their competitors to further disability inclusion in their industries. I see similar things happening with companies in the infancy of this journey. And as one of the speakers mentioned in the conference, “We all win by making our products and services inclusive.” We need to collaborate with others in our industries and similar industries to ensure we’re creating more inclusive experiences for customers with all levels of abilities.

And please don’t mistake my last comment as a recommendation to share your brand’s proprietary information or detailed execution plans of how you are delivering inclusive design on the back end. What I am saying is you can discuss high level frameworks or priorities that your industry is working on to deliver inclusive customer experiences. And where it makes sense, form key strategic partnerships with other brands to deliver a joint product/service that improves the customer experience.

What about improving experiences for our racially and ethnically diverse customers?

Recent protests in response to police brutality toward African Americans; discrimination of Asian Americans because of the pandemic; and discrimination of Hispanic and Latin Americans because a subset of the US think these individuals did not come into the US legally, have highlighted how we, as a country, and as brands need to do a better job of inclusion. We need to celebrate individuality and showcase how we are all the same…how we are all human.

So, how do brands infuse these things into their customer experiences?

First, we can ensure we are representing diverse individuals in our digital and traditional marketing communications and experiences. Ensuring different races, ethnicities and people with varying abilities are a part of all of our communications. (As mentioned in a previous post, Target is doing a great job of including diverse individuals in their marketing.)

Second, we can engage with our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to gain perspectives on where they view the gaps in our customer experiences. A common phrase when discussing diversity and inclusion with disability advocates is, “Nothing about us, without us.” This applies to racial and ethnic diversity as well.

If you think about it, none of us would want someone we don’t know very well, like a brand, telling us what is good for us or what we should buy without doing a little research to get to know us as a consumer. The same holds true for ensuring your brand is addressing the needs of your diverse customer base. If you don’t know what drives a particular subgroup, ask them. And if your company is too small to have ERGs, there are many nonprofits you can reach out to or market research firms that can help you gain a better understanding of your customer. Low on budget? See if a local university can do the market research for a class project. There is no excuse for a brand not to have these conversations, when the opportunities to have a dialogue and gain insights are unlimited.

Third, we must train our customer service agents and our corporate employees on what diversity and inclusion means, how diverse perspectives make our brands better and provide more positive engagement with all of our customers, not just the majority. This last one seems like such an easy thing to do, but it isn’t. There are often required trainings at larger companies that address these issues, but the delivery isn’t great. I would argue that having diversity and inclusion training as part of the new hire on-boarding process should be essential. I would also recommend brands do something similar to what Microsoft does with their inclusive design certification program for employees. Once employees complete all of the training, they have a thorough understanding of how the company incorporates inclusive design into everything it does and they receive a badge to display on their LinkedIn profile for their network to see.

What do you think brands need to do to ensure diversity and inclusion is infused into their customer experiences? I’d love to get your thoughts in the comments below!

Published by Shelby Bono-Mitchell

My passion for exceptional customer experiences started early in working for major brands in the advertising industry and on the corporate side. I've had the opportunity to work with brands in the tech, retail, automotive and financial services industries to develop brand & communications strategies, optimize digital experiences, introduce UX analytics platforms to gain customer insights and shape customer messages. It is through a single customer experience that we have the power to captivate or sever our customer relationships, and my goal is to captivate.

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