Are you creating inclusive experiences for your customers? Many companies aren’t. At Forrester, we recently published research on inclusive language in CX. Let me be the voice of users and demonstrate the frustration that the lack of inclusive language can cause:

“There is no open box to identify yourself. Ticking ‘other’ is alienating; therefore, if I didn’t identify as male or female, I wouldn’t feel comfortable.” This was one of the consumer’s responses to the question “What is your gender?”

“The question provides fewer options, and I don’t fit into the [given] categories. This makes me feel excluded.” This was shared by one customer when asked “What is your race/ethnicity?”

At Forrester, we speak daily with companies that express commitments to creating inclusive products, services, and experiences. Many of them apply best practices when it comes to testing, building accessibility into their design systems, and teaching employees to apply inclusive design. However, there’s an element they’re almost always missing: promoting and using inclusive language in CX.

What is inclusive language? 

an image showing a group of people using and promoting inclusive language in CX

Inclusive language acknowledges the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, gender identity, language, race, and socioeconomic status. Yet, many companies fail to recognise its importance or simply don’t know where and how to begin implementing the proper solutions that would introduce inclusion and diversity in their practices.

Using inclusive language is important within forms, product marketing pages, and any other interactions that make up the customer experience.  Here are a few questions that can help you go through a quick self-assessment and check if your organization promotes inclusive language:

  • Do you use words that your customers can easily understand?  Privacy policies and cookie notices are riddled with legal and technical jargon some customers might not understand. For example, while APR is well-understood by anyone in the banking industry, less financially savvy consumers need this explained in simple terms.
  • Have you checked if the words you use are not exclusionary or offensive to anyone? A safe way to create inclusive content is to test it with diverse groups. Make sure you invite people of different backgrounds, social statuses, and gender. Especially if you want to communicate internationally, you’ll need to take the wider cultural context into account.
  • Did you consider the needs and feelings of your customers when writing content?  Many firms have failed in supporting customers with simple and easy-to-understand language during the challenging times of the pandemic. Following all the issues caused by global lockdowns, people needed simple language, and not all business provided this.

Five ways to start using inclusive language in CX

The following practices can help you create content and communication strategies that reach all your customers:

  • Write in plain language. Plainlanguage.gov defines plain language as communication that your audience can understand with ease. This style of communication is organized, concise,  conversational, and takes into consideration your audience’s expertise and level of interest. Forrester’s research shows that customers are likely to trust brands that communicate clearly.
  • Avoid exclusionary words. Many words that we use in our daily conversations are exclusionary, have roots in oppression, and reproduce implicit bias. Start by creating lists of words you want to use or avoid for more inclusive communication and apply those guidelines across different channels of communication with your customers and employees. For example, use “blocked” and “allowed” instead of “blacklist” and “whitelist.”  Avoid words such as “normal” and “blind spot” that contribute to stigmas around disabilities or mental illness.
An illustrated image showing a person being stressed because she lacks inclusive language in CX communication strategy.
  • If you truly need demographic data, explain why. While it’s common to ask questions about age, ethnicity, gender, or other demographics in surveys or sign-up forms, only collect this information if you really need it. You should also make sure to explain the reasons behind the decision to collect and use customer demographics.
  • Provide inclusive answer choices. Avoid forcing customers to make unwanted decisions. For instance, many people don’t see gender as binary. When asking about gender, include options to self-identify or not answer.
  • Follow content accessibility best practices. Inclusive language helps customers with disabilities, but it’s important to follow additional best practices, as described in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), to make your content accessible.

For instance, use descriptive but concise link names to ensure the purpose of each link is clear. When creating video content, include captioning that is accurate, easy to read, and consistently available. When it comes to images, include alternative text — text descriptions that are hidden from the visual interface but describe the image so screen reader software can convert it to audible speech.

A great place to start with inclusive practices is by checking your existing content against established guidelines from plainlanguage.gov, 18F’s Content Guide, and the National Center on Disability and Journalism. Make sure you’re also testing your content with a diverse, representative base of customers and acting on the feedback you receive. In this way, inclusive language can help your business to grow through reaching and resonating with more customers, earning their trust in the process.

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