diversity and inclusion, National Inclusion Week, inspirational profilesArticle by Sheree Atcheson, VP of diversity and inclusion at Valtech

The fight for equality and accessibility in all aspects of life isn’t new, but progress in some areas is quicker than others.

That’s why it is so important for businesses to continue tackling this issue and pushing for level playing fields that benefit not only employees, but customers too. Central to this is delivering experiences that cater for everybody, rather than just a select few. However, certain business units still operate legacy models when it comes to offering experiences for their customers or employees, and this typically means offering a non-flexible, rigid experience for all. One area where we typically see this is customer experience.

Accessing customer support can be a stressful experience, but if done right, customer experience teams can help solve challenges quickly and effectively, leaving the customer with a positive experience. These experiences are now more than ever a key differentiator for businesses and by providing the exact support needed, this not only fixes the problem at hand, but can be the first step towards an improved relationship between the brand and its customers. The most important aspect is to understand that one size doesn’t fit all – support must be accessible and understanding of all customers that may require attention.

The human touch  

In today’s connected age, experiences are almost exclusively delivered through, or managed using, digital platforms that can help businesses provide an individual experience that meets each customer’s needs. Although the process of managing customer queries is now more digitized than ever, it is important to understand that the bedrock of support is provided by humans, to humans. This is something that was crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic, where customers wanted to speak to an agent rather than using AI or online support. A key driver behind this was the empathy humans have. At the height of the pandemic when customers were calling to share increasingly difficult challenges surrounding finance obligations, for example, human empathy was key to understanding the situation and providing the best possible support.

However, delivering empathy runs deeper than humans simply being assisted by humans. To deliver a lasting impact, CX teams must be sure they are able to relate to the whole spectrum of potential customers. For example, when teams lack diverse gender representation, they may be less capable of empathising with other demographics (that they don’t personally identify to) with their customers. This can result in a poor, if not potentially harmful, experience across various stages of the CX journey.

Delivering better experiences  

So, what are the differences between genders and what considerations should be taken? Generally, women are statistically more likely to value knowledgeable staff when engaging with CX teams, whereas people who identify as men will likely value timeliness more. While these are generalisations, they are a reminder of the need for diverse perspectives across the gender spectrum. Taking this into consideration might seem trivial but it is in fact one of many steps that CX teams can take to truly understand the needs of their customers and provide a service that caters for all. It is key that we recognise that women, for example, are not a monolith and all different identities intersect – ultimately meaning – diversity is key.

This is one of many examples of how equality can be improved. But, rather than ad hoc initiatives and solutions, companies need to place equality at the bedrock of their processes. As a result, equality will be improved across the entire business. But how can this be done and what areas should businesses focus on?

Creating an equal workforce

First and foremost, businesses must have a workforce that reflects diverse customer backgrounds, which can be achieved through their hiring strategy and procedures. This doesn’t mean pursuing diversity to meet a quota, but instead taking a proactive approach to ensure teams are representative of the backgrounds of their customers – including gender.

When it comes to gender in the hiring process, small actions can make a big impact. Research has shown that women are likely to be more cautious when deciding to apply for a role. Typically, women are only likely to apply if they meet or exceed 100% of the listed job requirements. Men, on the other hand, will put themselves forward if they’re confident that they can meet just half of them. To level the playing field, hiring teams should reposition how they present the requirements, as well as ensuring job descriptions are balanced, neutral and inclusive to cater for all backgrounds. Having a checklist of the minimum job requirements that can be ticked off by applicants could help redress the balance at the application stage.

Ultimately, taking proactive action to place diversity at the heart of your recruiting model is the first step in improving experiences for employees and customers. Having a workforce that reflects customers is vital in establishing empathetic connections that meet the challenges of customers and build lasting relationships between brands and their customers. This will see brands thrive as they offer truly equal and empathetic experiences.

About the author

Sheree is a Global Diversity & Inclusion Senior Exec (currently at Valtech, ex. Deloitte, Monzo & Peakon), having worked in many regions developing tailored, data-driven DE&I strategies, with clear goals and lines of accountability to embed success and inclusion that scales.

As a passionate advocate for gaining/retaining women in the industry, in 2013, she launched & led the award-winning U.K. expansion of Women Who Code the world’s largest non-profit globally dedicated to women in tech, where she now sits as an Advisory Board Member.

As an industry leader, she has spoken at many global events, conferences and leadership sessions and is regularly profiled for her work, having been featured in many publications, such as Forbes, Business Insider, BBC, Fast Company, Evening Standard, HuffPost, Business Post, Marie Claire, Wired, Computer Weekly, The Guardian, Sunday Telegraph, Newsletter & many more.

The aim of her career is ensuring people are aware of the fantastic opportunities the industry has to offer & make certain that all humans are able to benefit from these & reach their full career potential.