How to Wow Customer Service Pt 4: Unconscious Bias in Customer Service

Published on: Tue 12 May 2015 by Admin

The first three blogs of this series of four, focused on the advantage of building confidence in front line customer service staff to improve the customer experience, the importance of understanding the working environment and the need to develop conversational skills, rather than communication techniques.

In this final blog, we explore how we all have unconscious biases in customer service and what might be done to ensure front liners are offering a fair and consistent service to all customers.


We would all like to think that discrimination is a thing of the past and that everything has changed from the days when being discriminatory was not illegal. However, as we are aware, there are many people still experiencing discrimination, be the woman trying to develop a career or the older worker looking for promotion.

But, not all forms of discrimination are blatant, but whether blatant or not, discrimination wherever it rears its ugly head is unproductive, none the least in a customer service environment.

Unconscious Bias in Customer Service – What is it?

We know that people discriminate consciously either due to prejudice or through ignorance. What is less known is that people often make choices that discriminate against one group in favour of another without even realising they are doing it. What is interesting is that it is against their own conscious belief that they are unbiased in their decision-making.

However, once the individual increases their awareness of their biases, it is raised from the unconscious to the conscious level; we then start to see, in most people, a change of attitude and behavior.

This can have a positive impact on decision making, which leads to a minimising of unfairness or inconsistencies in how customers are dealt with. Customer dissatisfaction can be rife, if one customer group gets preferential treatment over another group, which can often be the case when dealing with complaints.

Dissatisfaction and Unconscious Bias in Customer Service

When making similar complaints, different customers may receive dissimilar treatment. That is not necessarily just a reaction to the customer’s behaviour or the nature of the complaint, but often because of bias against or in favour of a particular personal characteristic; for example, their skin colour, ethnic origin, accent or even appearance and physical size. These biases may be unconscious and therefore made by those who have no idea that their behaviour is being influenced by an unconscious bias.

Making Unconscious Biases’ in Customer Service Conscious

Together with structured training, we can be made more aware of our biases by taking an Implicit Association Test, there are many on the market, all are designed to flush out those hidden or automatic stereotypes.

Where the tests are not used, there are other development methods that can be applied to help people be more aware. Just by making people aware of their biases, is enough to enable individuals to develop ‘triggers’, which kick in and enable a more positive customer related decision to be made.

Unconscious Bias Busters for Customer Facing Staff

  1. Be aware of the way in which you behave and respond to different customer types. Be honest with yourself. Perhaps chat to a colleague in the same role and consider between you whether you are treating any particular group differently, or jumping to assumptions about different customer groups
  1. Unconscious Bias is more likely to happen when you are tired, emotional or stressed. Try to take frequent breaks and switch off, if possible, between customer interactions. Guard against getting wound up and emotional, particularly if you are dealing with constant customer dissatisfaction.
  1. Make a real effort to look out for examples that contradict your assumptions of certain groups of people. Challenge yourself to better understand certain groups, don’t always gravitate to people that resemble you, spend time talking with people from different groups. You may be surprise about what you learn about them and yourself.

For world-class customer service, consistency has to be key. Service excellence is for everyone, not just for those we might subconsciously feel more comfortable with.