Diversity and Inclusion in the Contact Center
Paul Smith, CEO, InfinitAI
Throughout my many years in the world of tech start-ups, I’ve witnessed consistent inadequacies on the part of enterprises to create diverse and inclusive teams. In my work with the “big three” tech firms (you know who I’m talking about), I never once encountered another person of color in a meeting or worked with a single woman while implementing a system for said firms. Even by the standards of 2019 America, the upper echelons of the tech field feel particularly white. Generally, as one moves east across the United States, racial diversity in the workplace increases steadily once you pass the state of Colorado. Not so with tech at the executive level, a whitewashed picket fence, stretching from sea to shining sea.
By contrast, Contact Centers, another field I have years of experience in, fare much better, at least insofar as getting people from different walks of life through the door. Not long ago, I toured Best Western’s Contact Center in Phoenix, AZ. Before the tour, I was shown multiple presentations about it, and I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of the presenters. They were all managers, and many had successfully developed and implemented strategic initiatives, such as a work-from-home program.
If I may provide another example: I recently attended my first Contact Center conference last September in Salt Lake City, the SOCAP Re-imaging Conference. As a Black executive, I always notice who’s in the room (I’m talking about the racial makeup of a given group). When I’m the only person who looks like me, I feel that lack acutely. At the conference, not only was I not alone as a person of color, I got the distinct impression that SOCAP members both recognized and celebrated the expertise of people from marginalized groups. I was immensely excited to see strong representation of underserved communities in all levels of the organizations present.
Most Contact Centers, in my experience, have a fairly diverse group of people working directly with customers. While sheer numbers are something we can celebrate, I don’t want to paint a utopic picture of Contact Centers. After all, I’ve managed one. There is more to creating an inclusive workplace than hiring a diverse group of people. True inclusivity means caring about (really caring about) your employees and meeting their needs. It means going above and beyond to not only make room for people who have historically been shut out, but to support and safeguard them too. This is one area where Contact Centers have room for improvement. We’re all familiar with the (unfortunate) statistics of high turnover and low job satisfaction. An obvious way to address these issues is to invest in Contact Center agents, not just in terms of paying a living wage and providing benefits, but also by procuring services like those of InfinitAI, ones that will make your agents’ jobs easier and your customers happier.
Part of the fun of developing InfinitAI’s products and choosing which markets to be a part of was the realization that working with Contact Centers is more than a business opportunity—it allows us to work directly with the most diverse facet of many organizations. By modeling inclusive practices and behaviors, perhaps InfinitAI can help the organizations we work with improve on this front as we improve ourselves. If nothing else, our services can ease the burdens placed on Contact Center agents. When customers receive better service, everyone is happier.
For any company that wants to retain its client base, the Contact Center must play a key role in business strategy. Going forward, the success or failure of businesses will depend on their ability to recognize and foster diversity and inclusion in the workplace and in the world at large. Our tech-savvy, demanding (in a good way) customer base will accept nothing less, nor should they. Any enterprise wanting to position themselves as a good corporate citizen must develop and enact models of inclusive practices and make them part of their corporate DNA.
Sadly, many organizations, when pressed to respond to issues of diversity and inclusion, draft plans for big, flashy programs with novel catchphrases. These initiatives are often impractical, and, thankfully, there is a much simpler starting point: talk to your Contact Centers! You will find a wider range of identities and life experiences here than on just about any board of directors.
We, as enterprises, must recognize the Contact Center’s potential to be a leader on multiple fronts. We can all agree that AI is the future of customer service. As we move into this future, we must be visionary in using AI technologies to make call centers more efficient, not for the sake of profits, but for the sake of our employees. What I want people to see is that no department has more direct contact with customers or has a more diverse makeup than the Contact Center. To recognize (and take advantage of) this unique position, organizations must listen to and invest in Contact Center agents. A successful Contact Center requires a particular combination of vision, exceptional talents, and specialized skills at all levels—agents, managers, directors, and VPs—and an efficient team must manage everything previously mentioned while providing the best level of service possible to customers with (often) outrageous expectations. All of this is more easily achieved when everyone has a seat at the table.
At InfinitAI, inclusion and diversity are standard practice, not special programs. One of my hopes for the future is that other companies (who haven’t already started down this path) follow suit. Executives and managers need to better support and celebrate Contact Center agents in order to foster a culture that attracts and retains top performers from diverse backgrounds. The work of inclusion is never easy, but it’s always worth it.
InfinitAI is committed to advancing diversity and inclusion in the development of AI systems and technology in general. Visit our About Us page to read more.
Founder & CEO
Paul has 35+ years in executive leadership, sales management, and business management. He is an entrepreneur with a passion for inclusivity, giving back (InfinitAI gives 1% of profits to charity), and for improving the world with technology. His last 10 years in artificial intelligence and bots has fueled his desire to improve the way bots work with humans for the betterment of business and customer satisfaction.