Bias isn’t always a bad thing. It helps keep us safe, as with our subconscious bias against stepping out into traffic. It helps us make quick decisions and save time, like our bias toward what we like to eat for lunch. And it helps our brains form connections that serve us in areas of our life from completing tasks to maintaining interpersonal relationships.
In the workplace, however, bias comes with more downsides. It can hinder the hiring process, hamper creative thinking and even inhibit profits. When left unchecked, bias in a professional setting can lead to inaccurate conclusions, poor decisions and system-wide injustices. In the contact center, bias can be a detriment to your customer service capabilities.
Thus, it’s a good business decision to work on eliminating bias wherever possible. We’ll talk about steps to reduce bias in the contact center shortly, but first, let’s take a look at the most common areas where bias is likely to crop up.
Where Does Bias Exist?
In hiring. This is probably the most common area that comes to mind when discussing workplace bias. People are naturally inclined to hire other people who are similar to them, and discriminate–whether consciously or subconsciously–based on everything from a person’s name to their alma mater to the word choices in their cover letter.
In the customer experience. When leadership is made up of an undiversified group of people, it’s likely that the strategies formed and the decisions made by them will be skewed toward serving that same group of people, whether it’s a certain gender, race, age group or any other variable.
In AI. Believe it or not, even machines aren’t immune to bias. Artificial intelligence tools are susceptible to the biases of the people that program the system as well as biases that are reinforced over time through repeated decisions.
Eliminating bias isn’t easy, but taking steps to correct it benefits not only your agents but the customers you serve and your larger business outcomes on the whole.
How To Reduce Bias in the Contact Center Today
Be Aware of It
The very nature of bias means it’s ingrained into our subconscious–it’s hard to identify that we have it and are influenced by it. But there are plenty of studies to support its existence in nearly everyone, along with the negative consequences associated with it.
Recognizing that bias exists in your contact center and validating the concerns surrounding it are the first steps toward combating bias and being able to make meaningful strides to change it. Taking ownership of the problem, assigning specific stakeholders to tackle it and setting goals pertaining to your progress will increase your chances for success.
Avoid Biased Data
One of the types of bias we touched on above, AI bias, is a technology-based bias of human making. It stems from the data that’s used to “teach” the system, which, despite a programmer’s best intentions, may lead to a system that unfairly favors or discriminates against a certain group.
The most common cause of AI-based bias is using data that only represents or over-represents a single population, but is used to make decisions regarding the entire population. One great example is a case of gender bias found in Amazon’s hiring engine.
Amazon used an AI system with an algorithm based on data from resumes submitted over the past decade. Because most of the applicants during that time frame were men, the system “learned” to favor male applicants over female ones. Thankfully, Amazon discovered the issue and ditched that system, but it’s a great example of how even a system with good intentions can fall victim to bias.
For contact centers, a relevant example of AI-based bias is a system that’s “trained” on data from calls originating in one particular country, like the United States, despite the contact center serving all locations around the world. Being aware of skewed data can help prevent machine-learning bias before it goes into effect.
Audit Your Communications
One of the most overlooked places bias creeps in is in our communications, but if you take a close look, it’s not hard to spot. Gendered language like ‘manpower’ or ‘policeman’ can easily be replaced with gender-neutral terms like ‘workforce’ and ‘police officer,’ while terms like ‘handicapped’ should be swapped for more inclusive terms like ‘people with disabilities.’
Additionally, audit your communications for language that makes assumptions based on language, background, age, race, and other demographic details.
Prioritize Diverse Hiring
Diverse hiring doesn’t aim to achieve diversity for its own sake. Rather, it’s done to realize tangible benefits for the company and its customers and to remove bias that may be unintentionally discriminating against well-qualified individuals. This is especially pertinent for contact centers as they serve a wide range of diverse people and should have staffing that reflects that.
Diverse hiring is good for business. A study by the HR industry analysts at Bersin by Deloitte ranked companies in terms of their diversity hiring practices. It found that the top performers in the category of diversity were 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their markets and 1.8 times more likely to be “change-ready” than their less inclusive counterparts.
In PWC’s annual Global CEO Survey, 85% of CEOs said that having a diverse workforce improved their bottom lines, while a study by Boston Consulting Group of more than 1,700 companies found that those with diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues.
Contrary to popular belief, diverse hiring does not give any particular advantage to minority candidates. Instead, it focuses on creating a hiring process that’s truly free from bias to give all applicants an equal opportunity regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, background and other factors.
Establish Policies To Reduce Bias
Bias influences our judgement. Anchoring bias, for example, causes us to weigh a single piece of information (the “anchor”) too heavily when making a judgement, while confirmation bias causes us to seek out information that reinforces our existing beliefs. The more you rely on spur-of-the-moment, intuition-based decision making, the easier it is for bias to creep into those decisions.
Instead, establish systems that outline specific steps to be taken when important decisions are made or a process is completed. By creating an intentional, objective framework for decision making, you’ll ensure the process is done the same way every time and is less subject to personal biases of the individuals involved.
Involve Your Team
One important component of a bias-reduction strategy is employee involvement. Inform agents of your objectives to create a more bias-free workplace and consider distributing surveys to gauge their sentiments on the topic. Communicate clearly and regularly about the initiatives you’re launching and the progress you’re making to establish a sense of transparency.
Fighting bias in the contact center requires an ongoing cycle of tracking your progress, assessing the results and recalibrating your processes and policies based on those measurements. When done effectively, reducing bias in the call center can lead to faster growth, a better company culture, improved morale and stronger financial performance.