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Championing Anti-Racism Work Within Your Customer Support Team

Encourage diversity in your company to create a culture that feels good, is maximally productive and fiscally successful.

The best customer support person is someone that does what they can to do the right thing by the customer. Not even just the customer but anyone that comes in contact with your brand. What happens when we take that empathetic energy and translate it into a driving force for equality for everyone? Your support team is primed to be the best representative for the anti-racism movement across your entire company.

When members of your team acknowledge and respect diversity, you are more likely to attract diverse customers. You become better at building rapport, both internally and externally, and you boost your customers’ satisfaction.

For 87% of organizations worldwide, diversity has moved into the limelight as a stated area of improvement—and it’s about time. Currently, 35.3% of the US population is Black or Hispanic, but only 16% of STEM roles are comprised of BIPOC, as of 2016.

We need to do better. Excellent customer service is about connecting, allying with, and supporting people—no matter where they come from or how they look. So, it makes sense that support would be one of the best places to impact diversity, both for your customers and your employees. Here are a few ways you can start doing it today.

Honor your employees

Diversity begets diversity. The best way to encourage diversity with your customers is to honor and support the diverse populations that you have already internally.

Underrepresented men and women of color experienced stereotyping at twice the rate of White and Asian men and women. To contextualize that: 70% of white women receive promotions instead of their BIPOC counterparts.

Consider enacting a salary and tenure review at your company to ensure that valued peers at every level are being paid similarly. Review the salaries of your BIPOC employees and make sure they stack up with others who are white or non-diverse. If possible, when considering internal promotion, stick to a process that allows for unmarked CVs to be considered, rather than promoting based on favoritism.

People that get passed over leave companies. As your wonderful, diverse team members leave, you lose out on a critical advantage: decisions made and executed by culturally-varied teams delivered 87% better results than others.

Beyond the internal business benefits, there are fiscal benefits to diversity as well. Fortune’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work For‘, all of whom emphasized diversity and inclusion, had stock prices rise an average of 14% per year rather than the 6% that the rest of the market achieved. Encourage diversity in your company to create a culture that feels good, is maximally productive and fiscally successful.

Check your bias

Everyone has something that frustrates them. For me, it used to be people that didn’t wait in lines. Eventually, when I started diving into anti-racism work, I realized that this was actually due to some biases that I had. I wait in lines, but in hierarchical cultures, for instance, this is not as important.

When answering inquiries for your customers, start to detect where you might feel irked or frustrated by things that are just a product of your culture (or others’ perceptions!). Here’s a list to get you started:

  • Speaking differently with individuals of different gender-presentations
  • Writing tersely or in short sentences
  • Bringing whole family/children to appointments
  • Soft handshakes
  • Standing too close when talking
  • Having a heavy accent or limited English
  • Coming late to meetings or Zoom calls
  • Withholding or not volunteering necessary information that you ask for
  • Not taking the initiative to ask questions
  • Being very informal and familiar or being too casual and comfortable
  • Not making a line or waiting for one’s turn

All of these are presentations of cultural diversity. Instead of getting frustrated and writing inadequate support responses, try to take stock of what you are feeling and address where that feeling is coming from instead.

One of the best ways to do this is to encourage learning about diversity and inclusion at a company-wide level. It’s not just about support—everyone at your company should be embodying these values. Wesley Tindal, chief operating officer at the National Customer Service Association, says, “Classroom training should encompass the entire organization, from the management team on. It’s got to be reinforced, tied into annual reviews, and companies have to hold employees accountable. It’s not like a box that can be checked off and not attended to later.”

These trainings should focus on:

  • Defining excellent customer service multiculturally with a deeper understanding of cross-cultural communication
  • Handling complaints from minorities with care
  • Understanding culture ideas of respect (such as understanding which cultures care more about speaking to the manager)
  • Eliminating unconscious bias

Beyond helping your customers, this understanding of diversity will help your internal teams as well. By promoting a culture where everyone feels comfortable, you open yourself up to more diverse candidates and better representation across all levels.

customer experience dataRevamp your docs and saved replies

Now you’ve done some learning about your unconscious bias, it’s time to start seeing how they show up in your saved replies, docs, and other support resources. Most people prefer to find resolutions to their support inquiries on their own, and nearly 30% of Generation Y is “new minorities.” That means that many of the people reading your documentation are likely BIPOC. Write to that audience.

Consider language like blacklist or whitelist, which implies negative or positive connotations based on color. These can be easily swapped for phrases like “blocklist” or “allow list” instead, which are not racially charged, and convey their meaning even more clearly. Also consider other technical languages, like “master” and “slave” (for the machine that is “in charge” of a function, and the one that follows), and swap them for phrases like “parent” and “child” instead.

There are tons of loaded phrases that we all use every day. Go through your resources and try to pinpoint as many as you can. Then eliminate them.

Fire bad customers

When a customer says something racist or morally repugnant to one of your team members, failing to respond appropriately fails to take that person or the things that they said seriously. It means something to your employees, and it should mean something to you, too. Take the opportunity to educate your customers and stand up beside your employees. Doing so isn’t an effort to be a better, more profitable business, but being the kind of company that people want to work for: the type of company for which people feel proud to work.

If you don’t, you may lose some of those star employees offering such critical, needed, and diverse perspectives.

Before you start thinking about whether it’s worthwhile in terms of the customer’s revenue, consider this: keeping your employees, especially top-performers, can have a massive impact on your company’s bottom line. A study by the Center for American Progress found the average cost for a company turning over difficult-to-replace employees is 213% of the value of one year’s compensation for that role. Consider that when thinking about the potential trade-offs of either firing or keeping the customer on.

customer experience dataBe Human

“I maintain that there is no such thing as customers as a plural, or if there is, it’s a hard concept on which to build a business. What matters most in providing great service is that you recognize, honor, and serve Jack’s jackness and Joanna’s joannaness and Yoshi’s yoshiness, rather than their overall customerness in the aggregate.”Micah Solomon

Instead of addressing the population of your team or your customer base as a whole, consider them individually. Recognize the aspects that are important for each individual on your team, and then gradually expand into the broader ecosystem of your customers. By recognizing their humanity and the things that they bring as benefits to your company, you’ll be doing better work towards encouraging diversity.

Remember: check where you’re coming from and try to understand the perspective of the person talking to you. Honor the places that your employees come from, and check your bias when you start to feel yourself getting frustrated with your customers. Learn to understand where your opportunities for growth are.

Once you find those places, use that new knowledge to make your support resources even better. Remove biased or offensive language from anything you write or create. Remove aggressive people from your customer base. Lean into your humanity and the humanity of the people around you. BIPOC lives matter, and your actions every day need to reflect that.


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Mercer Smith-Looper Mercer Smith-Looper

Mercer is the Head of Support at Appcues, a yoga fanatic, and strives to make the world a little bit happier one customer at a time. You can find her at mercenator.com and on Twitter at @mercenator.

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