When preparing bespoke learning our collaborative approach is to research amongst the employees their views on what skills they require. This is achieved through Drop in Centers, where employees come to chat about their development needs, or out in the field, where we work amongst employees in their day-to-day roles.
So when we won a big Customer Service development project for a large utilities company the project team spent time with the teams who deliver front line services, in the field and directly to customers in their homes.
Feedback from these activities indicated that, although employees are aware of how to deal with customers, a large proportion, particularly amongst staff with 20+ years’ experience on the front line, are worrying about what is politically correct (PC) or not PC when talking with customers. In many cases, this ‘fear’ is affecting the way they communicate with some customers. Avoidance of getting into conversation with a customer is a strategy adopted by some, particularly when a customer is of a different ethnic or cultural background, or has some form of visible disability.
Many suggest that stopping for a chat with a customer is history, concerns with what is or is not legal to say, is inhibiting verbal interaction. We are recognising a real concern that if the wrong thing is said, employees fear they might be prosecuted for breaking the law or have a complaint made to their employers.
Some of those interviewed see the use of the right language only as being PC and most have a negative viewpoint on the issue. As a learning and development specialist, I think it is sad that there is such misunderstanding of the reasoning behind why the correct use of language is essential to encourage social progress and full inclusion.
In my view, the merging of customer service skills training, with equality and diversity learning content, is essential if we are to develop confidence in front line workers. I am not advocating that we just do a session within the context of customer skills development on what the law requires, but we get right down to the detail, the nitty-gritty, about what can and cannot be said to each of our diverse range of customers.
If we do not address this issue, and the inhibition for proper engagement with customers, then the whole purpose of being PC, is lost. If we reduce the amount of conversations and dialogue with people within our communities then we are in fact making things worse than pre-legislation days.