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PHOTO: Robby McCullough

As customer bases grow increasingly diverse, it’s essential your customer experience team represents that diversity. We spoke with executives about how to create a CX team that reflects your audience and why this is so important.

"You need to have diversity in order to reach a diverse market, otherwise you’re segmenting your market based on a demographic," said Erika Jefferson, president and founder of Black Women in Science & Engineering. "You need to have the perspective of everybody, not just a particular demographic."

Involve Multiple People and Points of View

“Acquiring diverse talent means that we have to purposefully pay attention to it in all phases of recruitment to ensure that we don’t succumb to unconscious bias ourselves and end up attracting only a small cohort of people,” according to Futurice executives Eeva Raita, head of strategy and culture, and Heidi Pech, diversity and inclusion ambassador. “As one concrete example, we always ensure that the candidates are interviewed by at least four team members that represent various backgrounds and viewpoints, and everyone has an equal opportunity to influence the hiring decisions.”

Jefferson suggested a company seeking to recruit diverse talent should ensure its website reflects that diversity. Prospects will typically research any potential employer. If all of the images are of white males, for example, the prospective employee will question if the company is the right fit, and the organization could miss out on a valuable prospect.

Having people with different backgrounds, life experiences, upbringing and world views helps organizations create the most relevant services for end-users, said Raita and Pech. Several pieces of research suggest that diverse teams are more creative and make better decisions. For example, they are not as likely to fall into groupthink, a phenomenon that causes like-minded people to make poor decisions due to shallow analysis of the case at hand.

Additionally, people from various backgrounds will use the services and products you design. So organizations need to represent that too — it is hard to empathize with people if you have no shared first-hand experience, they added. "In our daily work, diversity can sometimes make it a bit more burdensome for teams to find a shared language, but misunderstandings result in better understanding. To help diverse teams to work together, we have developed open-source tools (such as LSC canvases) that offer a common language for service and product development. Our shared values of trust, transparency, care and continuous improvement, and the fact that we actually live by them, help a lot."

Related Article: Is Your Marketing 'Thoughtfully Inclusive' of African Americans?

Diversity Efforts Should Extend Across the Organization 

Start by hiring people across different levels, from service to management, recommended Ian Kelly, vice president of operations for NuLeaf Naturals. Do you have some particularly observant customer service representatives who can speak to the feedback they get directly from customers? How about someone who is a project leader for the new homepage or someone from social media management?

“Diversity of thought in a customer experience team is essential, because CX is such a large umbrella, from web design to customer service to IT,” Kelly said. “You need to have a diversity of thought because a CX team will be involved in many touchpoints along the customer journey, and the more you can tailor that experience to involve a desired outcome, the better.”

Because so many departments are involved with the customer journey, you must have people with perspectives for each touchpoint, Kelly added. Most importantly, they need to be in communication and coordination with each other to make the process smooth for the customer and efficient for your bottom line.

Related Article: It's Time to Change Our Thinking About Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Broaden Your Recruiting Sources

“To ensure diversity within your CX team, you must be open to both traditional and non-traditional recruiting,” said Joel Knight, vice president of customer experience for WP Engine. “A third of our organization doesn’t have a college degree and 35% of our team identifies as an ethnicity other than white/caucasian. We learned long ago that some of the best CX talent doesn’t always have a college degree or fall into a given demographic.”  

Research has shown that diversity creates strategic advantages and drives better outcomes for businesses, Knight added. This matters in all areas of an organization, but perhaps nowhere more than in customer experience. "A good CX professional is curious about their customer, empathetic with their needs and advocates for them at every opportunity. And given the broad diversity of customers, you can’t have that type of relationship without a sufficiently diverse team."

Companies should look to organizations that focus on industry-specific diversity, recommended Jefferson. For example, Black Women in Science & Engineering supports black women in the science, math and engineering fields looking to go into corporate or government STEM-related jobs. There are similar organizations in aviation and other industries.

Related Article: The Skills Your Customer Experience Team Needs to Succeed

Embrace Diverse Opinions  

While diversity of thought can bring benefits, it’s also important that the CX team works together. “Too often, diverse teams suffer from stress and antagonistic relationships that derail their efforts,” said Deborah Levine, editor of the American Diversity Report. “Instead of sharing knowledge and being creative, teams are often limited in their thinking and in their dealings with a diverse customer base."

The key to avoiding these destructive tendencies and establishing agility in their thinking comes not only from having diverse team members, but from embracing the team’s thought diversity, Levine said. Traditional diversity training often lacks this goal. In the future, training must focus on the intersectionality of diversity categories. The objective is to build the neural network capable of processing huge amounts of data and connecting them appropriately.

Training and coaching systems based on neuroscience that maximize awareness, sensitivity and cultural competence will increase a team’s thought diversity potential, according to Levine. This approach uses a sequential combination of storytelling science, emotional intelligence, and multi-level decision making. This system can develop the team so that uses its diversity to boost creativity together, rather than diminish it.