Five ways to develop inclusive communication in customer service
Ensuring that customer-facing staff are trained in inclusive communication is an essential component of any forward-looking customer service strategy.
Effective and inclusive communication is a simple but important way to improve customer experience and to reinforce the message that all customers are valued equally and will receive the same level of service.
However, when it comes to training and development, it’s important to be aware that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to inclusive communication. Everyone is different and this means understanding the particular needs of each customer and tailoring the interaction and dialogue with them accordingly.
Knowledge and information
From what I have seen, it’s not political correctness making managers overly cautions, it’s more likely to be the pressures of modern life. There’s less space to make mistakes, so people have become naturally cautious in the knowledge that they can quickly be held publicly accountable if they get it wrong.
The key here is to keep an open dialogue with managers and provide them with regularly updated, bite-sized information and to encourage them to proactively check-out readily available sources of information from the many specialist organisations and charities dealing with disabilities and special interest groups.
Equipped with the correct information, they will become more confident about engaging and communicating in an inclusive way. For example, the RNIB is a great source of information for helping people with sight loss or Stonewall has some really good information for supporting members of the LGBTQ community and breaks this down into easily digestible chunks.
Training in inclusiveness helps to build general awareness, which in turn boosts confidence. There is real value to being aware and having the confidence to approach people and communicate with them and not think, “I don't know what to say, I don't know what terms to use.”
There are also tools, tactics and processes to help build staff confidence when it comes to inclusive communication. For example, when a customer checks-in to a hotel, a protocol can be followed by the receptionist whereby they are welcomed using a neutral form of address. Then, once the paper work is accessed and it’s clear how the customer would like to be addressed, the correct form can be used. In this way there is no pressure on the receptionist or customer service representative to get it right without the facts in front of them.
Culture is key
An inclusive culture is important to the backdrop for inclusive communication and many organisations have already made huge strides in this area according to Jayne Gardiner, Founder of JG Consulting. Jane has been working with Capital & Regional, which owns community shopping centres across the UK, and helped them to build upon their current WorldHost recognition status by adopting the new WorldHost ‘Inclusive Service’ module to further strengthen their customer service standards.
An inclusivity evaluation which she carried out prior to the workshop showed that the C&R staff already had a high level of inclusivity awareness as the business has already engrained inclusivity into its culture, and actively invests in tailored initiatives to connect with the local communities living near its malls. This example helps to demonstrate that an inclusive culture is central to continuously strengthening and building inclusive communication.
Agility and flexibility
We know that it’s important to be agile and to change according to the circumstances. Equally, it does require extra effort to be flexible and adapt in order to deal with something that’s out of the norm. In inclusive customer service communication, an awareness that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach is essential. There used to be a school of thought around `treat somebody how you want to be treated yourself’, but as everyone is different it's more inclusive to say ‘treat someone how they want to be treated’.
Agility also means thinking out-of-the box and not taking anything for granted. For instance, whilst some disabilities appear obvious and are visible, this may not be the full story. The key issue to address for a customer in a wheelchair may be quite unrelated to the fact that they are in a wheelchair. By taking an inclusive approach, fixed positions and judgmental attitudes can be avoided. So inclusiveness is about a change of mindset too.
Empathy and body language
For people involved in direct customer service interface, a key challenge during COVID has been to communicate effectively and authentically whilst wearing a mask, because all those all-important visual expressions are hidden. In particular, learning to communicate behind a mask has resulted in a greater use of body language, and a greater use of body language can also be used effectively for inclusive communication.
A heightened awareness and the ability to tune into others can enhance inclusive communication by making it easier to make an emotional connection with customers, and to listen to them more deeply. According to mindfulness coach and author, Liz Hall, this can be taken a step further by cultivating what’s known as ‘mindful compassion’ which in turn results in greater productivity and performance, but also enhances emotional intelligence, self-awareness and self-management.
Investing in ensuring that customer-facing staff are trained in inclusive communication is an essential component of any forward-looking customer service strategy. This isn’t just about ensuring that all customers are treated equally and receive the same high level of service, important though that is, but also because helping staff to develop heightened levels of sensitivity and awareness brings with it a whole host of other benefits. Most notably, it gives them greater confidence and helps them feel empowered.
That’s good for customers, good for business and good for individuals in their day-to-day lives, both in and outside the workplace.