How much does diversity in customer service matter for contact centres?

Diversity is a priority or value for 87% of companies around the world, according to the Global Diversity and Inclusion Survey by pwc Global. But when it comes to customer service in particular, what difference does a diverse workforce make?

For contact centres, diversity in customer service is essential. The more inclusive a contact centre is, the more their partners benefit. Diversity drives innovation and creates leaders in their field. Statistics also show that diverse companies – including contact centres – are 35% more likely to beat their competitors.

Why contact centres should work towards diversity in customer service

A diverse call centre will benefit partner companies in a number of ways. At CCI South Africa, our workforce is as diverse as our country itself. We recruit candidates through our recruitment and training partner CareerBox, which sources agents particularly from underprivileged townships and regions.

This helps us to recruit and select high quality individuals, who are able to serve the diverse customer base of our partner clients. We also ensure our training covers the diversity of the customers base our agents will interact with, both in South Africa and globally. For those working with our partners based in the UK, for example, we provide cultural training and relevant background information, so that agents can empathise and communicate in the best way possible. However one of the key benefits of South Africa as an offshore destination, is the already embedded cultural alignment between South Africa, the UK, Australia and the US.

But even outside of contact centres, diversity is key in customer service teams. Globalisation and the increase of the internet as a filter for services, products and companies, it’s likely that most businesses will have a diverse range of customers. Every company has a customer base comprised of different races, religions, locales and across diverse social statuses.

Logic tells us that to properly serve a diverse customer base, companies must have diverse customer service teams. In simple terms, a diverse customer service team will be better able to properly link customers with partner brands. Give your agents enough insight to empathise with customers and they will quickly be on the same level. When values and culture match, then it’s easier to connect at a human level. This is the core of successful customer service and high customer satisfaction levels.

Diverse teams can connect with customers on a different level

For marginalised customers, there are a number of barriers to contend with when communicating with brands. These range from a sense of invisibility if their particular demographic is rarely mentioned in adverts and outreach to concerns about the values of the company itself. A diverse customer service team can counteract these barriers and allow agents to serve all customers in the same way.

Creativity and innovation are borne out of diverse perspectives. Deliberately encouraging and fostering a culturally diverse office environment is the ideal way to dig out the innovative creativity of your team. Within a contact centre environment, fostering a diverse workforce will ensure agents are exposed to lots of different experiences, opinions and perspectives. This encourages them to share their own ideas and come up with flexible solutions in creative ways.

Diversity also encourages engagement, which is key for contact centres. Our people are our most important resource at CCI South Africa, and we work hard to make sure they are recognised. This is through a long-term training and development programme that offers the chance of career progression. Engaged agents are more productive and naturally care more about their job, their company and their partners and their customers.

And for the Millennial generation in particular, a sure-fire way to increase engagement is to have a truly diverse and inclusive culture. Deloitte says that 83% of Millennials are much more engaged when they see that the company they work for is fostering an inclusive environment. The same survey also says that if they feel that their company doesn’t have an inclusive, diverse culture, then just 60% will be fully engaged.

The difference between diversity and inclusivity in a work environment

Inclusivity and diversity are two separate things. While diversity is about ensuring there are enough people from different backgrounds within a contact centre, inclusion is about the impact. It’s not enough to tick off a diversity quota of employees. Companies must foster a truly inclusive atmosphere.

Diversity alone doesn’t automatically lead to inclusion but embracing it in your contact centre team will help to encourage inclusivity. Agents who feel their opinions and ideas are heard and considered will help to further foster this inclusive environment. Processes including two-way open communication, cultural diversity management and anti-discrimination are all useful for this.

At CCI South Africa, we focus on inclusion right at the start. All of our agents come from our specialist recruitment and training partner CareerBox. Our onboarding programme starts from an inclusive base, and we encourage agents to work in an open and creative way. Our processes ensure that employees understand what’s expected of them, what their roles are, and they’re encouraged to communicate with managers and team leaders.

Diverse customer service teams are quicker at problem solving

A diverse customer service team is able to solve problems in a more creative and speedier way. Building a team of agents with all kinds of backgrounds, experiences and life skills is going to create a mix of personalities that all have something to contribute. This kind of team of customer service agents will be more likely to come forward with unique ideas.

According to Harvard Business Review, a cognitively diverse team of people will solve problems faster than a team made up of people with similar thought patterns and backgrounds. This is because of a mix of knowledge processing and perspectives. Fast problem solving is exactly what’s needed for a strong contact centre team.

Diversity and an inclusive workplace also increase agent loyalty. Employees who feel valued for who they are as an individual are likely to stay longer. At the core of employee retention for agents within a contact centre environment is the knowledge that they fit in to their team. And this sense of belonging within an organisation can only exist against a background of diversity and inclusion.

In the simplest terms, contact centres must provide the best possible service to their customers. And ensuring customer service teams match the diversity of the customer base will go a long way to make this happen. A positive, welcoming and truly inclusive working environment fosters a sense of community, loyalty and empathy. And these work for both the contact centre itself and their partner clients. It’s a win/win situation.