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4 Must-haves in Your DEI Training for Service Agents

Training service agents to interact with customers through an inclusive lens is critical. This punchlist can help.

A group of customer service agents working at a desk with monitors. DEI training.
Now is the time to update your customer service training materials to reflect best practices for DEI. [Blue Planet Studio]

Your service agents and field service technicians are often the first contact customers have with your organization. Don’t make it their last. Implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training is as important as the products and services you provide.

Corporate DEI initiatives have soared of late, as leaders recognize the importance of diverse representation in cultivating an engaged workplace culture. Promoting inclusivity signals your corporate values, but it’s also good for business

Forty percent of Americans have researched a brand’s diversity and inclusion efforts before making a purchase, according to Gartner research. Of those consumers, 25% elected not to make a purchase based on what they found. 

The takeaway? Make sure your service team is set up for DEI success. Now is the time to update your customer service training materials to reflect best practices for DEI. 

Orlando Lugo, an analyst from Salesforce’s Office of Ethical and Humane Use, and Fatemeh Khatibloo, director of Ethics by Design for Service Cloud, shared their suggestions about how service leaders can update training materials and processes to promote DEI for all genders, races, ethnicities, religions, and phenotypes. 

How do I incorporate DEI in training? 

Replace problematic terms with inclusive language 

The language companies use matters, especially when dealing with customers. Service agents must avoid terms that use white and black or brown as metaphors for good or bad because it can reinforce implicit bias and forms of racism, Lugo said

For example, corporate IT departments have long used “master/slave,” “blacklist/whitelist,” and “blackout/brownout” as technical descriptors for servers and files. In his role, Lugo leads an effort to substitute terms such as “allowlist” and “blocklist” for “whitelist” and “blacklist,” and “blockout” and “reduced availability” for “blackout” and “brownout.” The idea, Lugo said, is to introduce inclusive language throughout the software development process. 

“We’re mindful of terms that have a problematic legacy,” Lugo said.

Inclusive product language is about listening to and being respectful of people from all backgrounds.

Problematic language isn’t limited to IT. Some service organizations still refer to a “master” record when describing a customer data file. Service leaders should consider substituting “primary” for “master” in all training materials, Lugo said. If “slave” is used in any context, replace it with “secondary.” 

Inclusive product language is about listening to and being respectful of people from all backgrounds, Lugo said.

Beware unconscious bias 

Hypothetical situations in training materials designed to help service agents resolve customer issues are often subject to color and gender stereotypes, Khatibloo said. 

Khatibloo offered the following hypothetical training example at a public utility. One case describes a single mother named Latonya who is behind on her payments and is calling to set up a payment plan. Another case details a man named Michael who has historically paid on time, lives in a larger home, and wants to learn how to put solar panels on his roof. 

While such scenarios are often rendered subconsciously, they reinforce biases, Khatibloo said. Swapping the names and genders in the training materials can remedy this issue. 

Respecting the customer elevates the brand the technician represents. 

“Why isn’t Latonya the one with the big house calling about solar panels?” Khatibloo said. 

Creating inclusive training scenarios is also important for field service technicians who encounter diverse people as they work in home residences and commercial businesses. For example, a technician entering a residence for the first time should ask the customer how to pronounce their name. Respecting the customer elevates the brand the technician represents. 

Use preferred pronouns whenever possible 

How a person chooses to identify themselves is important. Training service agents and technicians on how to use preferred pronouns — she/her, he/him, they/them — when working with customers is essential for respecting gender identity

The use of correct personal pronouns extends beyond LGBTQ+ inclusion. Referring to individuals with their correct pronouns is crucial for the customer who happens to be a cisgender man, but is often misgendered over the phone because of a gender ambiguous name, or high-pitched voice.

Incorporate relationship design 

As you rewrite your training materials for service agents and technicians, consider grounding your DEI focus in “relationship design,” which builds on design-thinking principles

Relationship design allows a community of people to take part in design, rather than a specialized few. This will allow for a more inclusive feedback process that, hopefully, is more representative of your eclectic workforce.  

Training staff to operate with a DEI lens will require effort and innovation, as training initiatives have contracted during the pandemic. 

Relationship design requires building products and services with intention and “consequence scanning,” a process for anticipating biases and risks that could impact people and communities, Khatibloo said. Salesforce offers a freely available “Build With Intention” toolkit that is a great starting point.

Updating training is hard but necessary

Training staff to operate through a DEI lens will require effort and innovation, as training initiatives have contracted during the pandemic. 

In some call centers, training programs have shrunk from four weeks on-site to two weeks via Zoom, Khatibloo said. And during the pandemic, the significant numbers of service agents working from home don’t come into contact with staff, which makes DEI training more challenging. 

“By default, it’s going to be harder to monitor how well your agent inclusion training is working when a supervisor can’t see somebody in person,” Khatibloo said. 

Regardless of the path you choose to revamp customer service training, be sure to solicit feedback from the agents and field service technicians who will be using the materials and processes. 

Remember: Your brand is only as good as the employees who represent it.


Jill Wagner is an editorial lead and senior manager at Salesforce. She is an award-winning marketing communications professional, experienced in conceptualizing and creating marketing content for leaders in the SaaS and manufacturing spaces. Jill has a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from Bentley University and a Master of Arts in Advertising and Marketing from Emerson College.

More by Jill

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