Being judgemental is a human trait, however, it is one that we need to challenge if we are to provide a positive customer experience for all. Every customer is an individual and we cannot allow perceptions to come in the way of treating customers fairly.
Accepting We Are All Judgemental
The first thing that we all need to accept is that we are judgemental; it is a human trait. Our ability to make instant judgements about an encounter is a survival strategy. Our brains are constantly assessing, interpreting and organising information to protect us from risky situations.
In evaluating the situation, connections are made with past experiences, along with what trusted sources have told us. In this way, people with similar traits are grouped together, forming stereotypes.
The human brain is also drawn to familiarity. There is an unconscious bias towards people who seem to be like us; for example, their accent, gender, skin colour or style of dress.
The perceptions that we have of others mean that we see them in a way which may in no way reflect that individual. If you experienced a hurtful conversation with an angry bearded man yesterday, your impulse will be to fear an encounter with the bearded man today. This creates a perceptual barrier that limits the quality of service that you provided.
When we accept that we are judgemental, we can make a conscious effort to set those first impressions aside. We can begin each conversation with a curiosity to discover what the customer needs and how you can help them.
Judgements on Disability
Sweeping judgements are widely made about individuals who have physical and mental health conditions. We may see disabled athletes competing in the Paralympics or Invictus Games, but there are still a lot of misconceptions about what individuals with a visible condition are capable of. This impacts engagement with those customers.
Many people admit to being scared of speaking to people with health conditions. They fear saying the wrong thing, so they actively avoid interactions. This is not acceptable.
In my experience, people often raise their voices when speaking to someone with a disability or direct conversation with another person who is with them.
These scenarios are about seeing the disability first, when, as customer service representatives, we need to see the person first. Our approach should always be to find out what the individual needs and how we can help them.
Equally, we need to recognise that many customers have hidden disabilities. This may mean that they react or respond in ways that are different to your expectations. Simply ask if they are okay, and listen to the response, before continuing the conversation.
Judgements on Vulnerability
It is also common for assumptions to be made about people in other vulnerable situations. If a customer admits to being in serious debt, out of work or a single parent, many think this indicates a failing on their behalf. In reality, any one of us could find ourselves in a vulnerable situation like this; life is unpredictable.
The attitude we show and the actions we take can help the customer to cope. Equally, judgements and discrimination can make an already difficult situation worse. As customer service professionals, we must cast aside our prejudice and remember that our role is to provide fair treatment to all.
Breaking Down Barriers
To provide good customer service, we need to accept that we do formulate instant assessments, but we have control over these thoughts. If we remain open-minded and engage with others with respect, our perceptions will be challenged.
We will discover that many of the judgements are misguided. As we converse with others, we will see that they have more in common with us than we might imagine. No matter what their background or circumstances, most people are just trying to get on with life, make the best of things and get things done.
In a customer service role, we are in the privileged position of having the skills and knowledge to assist them. By focusing on achieving the desired outcome and showing kindness, we can make someone’s day a little easier. We know how good that feels when it happens to us.
Setting Prejudice Aside
This article focuses on customer service; however, it applies to every interaction. In a world where we could all benefit from more positivity, let’s set prejudice aside. We can all show the kindness that we would like to receive. We can all make the effort to get to know people from other cultures, age groups or walks of life. These small changes can make lives and communities richer.