I was honored to moderate a panel at this year’s ACT-IAC CX Summit on contact centers' role in inclusion. The panel members who shared their perspectives included:
- Angeline Boey, CDC-INFO and CDC Vaccination Assistance Hotline Program Lead, Division of Communication Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Trisha Dang, Acting Deputy Director for the Multi-Channel Technology Directorate, Department of Veteran Affairs (VA)
- Michelle Morris, Managing Client Partner for Public Sector Customer Experience, Verizon
Here are a few key themes shared by the panelists on the importance of contact centers in ensuring that customer service is delivered in a manner that is inclusive of diverse and underserved populations.
Know Your Customers
It is critical to understand the people we serve when designing and delivering contact center services. This involves customer (or user) research to understand better the needs of the various people you serve to ensure we are inclusive and equitable in meeting their unique needs. Human-centered design practices are essential to the process.
Boey commented that CDC started with a broad look at the contact center's role and how to help best people who do not have internet access find Covid-19 vaccination locations and resources. “The focus is making information accessible for those that don’t have Internet,” she said. Dang also shared that many of the capabilities that the VA has implemented were driven by research and a focus on human-centered design. “Taking the time to listen and understand what the issues drove us to not focus on the call handle metric, but (to) train our agents to take the time they need and to use active listening,” she said.
Focus on Preferred Channels
Boey said that the CDC has focused on providing information and resources that will help people make it easier to get the vaccine and across their customers’ preferred channels. She noted that many Spanish speakers prefer to use WhatsApp as their primary communication channel. She also said that they have found that while many of these underserved populations don’t access the Internet, they are comfortable with a mobile phone, and SMS texting is working well for them. Additionally, the CDC’s content team has developed a toolkit for people with disabilities and their caregivers, which are available in multiple formats, including Braille.
At the VA, Dang said they have also focused on using channels that the underserved communities prefer to use. She noted that video and provider chat has been very successful in serving Veterans. She said that many veterans prefer to drive to see their provider – sometimes at a great distance – because seeing their provider in person creates more trust. “We’re also looking at video options expanding further to support some of these regional offices so that they’ll be able to see a person, but they’ll accomplish that without having to drive 450 miles to accomplish that task,” Dang said.
All digital tools and content delivered by the federal government must meet Information and Communication Technology 508 Standards. At CDC, every piece of content they release goes through 508 compliance testing to ensure that all audiences can receive and understand it. Dang noted that “It’s important to engage in conversations with your vendors proactively,” Dang said. “Vendors need to understand how to work within the federal environment. 508 compliance is a key component of it,” she added.
A Diverse Workforce
In summarizing the session, all the panelists emphasized that a diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible workplace achieves better outcomes. Monroe noted that the pandemic elevated the role of contact centers and the imperative for them to assess and elevate workplace practices from screening to hiring, training, and ongoing development opportunities for the workforce to ensure we’re inclusive of the needs of the people we serve. Morris added that the person wants to trust the person they are speaking to in the contact center, and a diverse workforce enables the person to be helped by someone who can relate to them and show empathy. Lastly, she noted that “Happy employees make happy customers.”
We must empathize and understand our customers to meet their needs better. This will ultimately improve the trust that people have in government.