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Customer diversity needs more attention – report

8 March 20170 comments

Business and organisations that embrace diversity in their workforce and customer service outlook can reap significant rewards and capitalise on new opportunities, according to a new report.

But the needs of customers from diverse backgrounds are often not met and many experience discrimination by the organisations and businesses they interact with, the report says.

Titled, ‘Missing Out: The business case for customer diversity’ the report was produced by Deloitte Australia and the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in response to the lack of understanding around diverse customers.

“It is well understood by leading organisations that promoting equality and valuing employee diversity in workplaces makes good business sense,” said AHRC President Professor Gillian Triggs.

“So it came as something as a surprise to learn that the case for extending these values to customers had not been articulated and the experiences and expectations of diverse customers were not well understood,” Prof Triggs said.

The report was compiled based on the findings of the ‘Customer Diversity Survey’, a survey of more than 1,200 Australians along with interviews, focus groups and a literature review.

A principle aim of the research was to compare and contrast the experiences and expectations of people based on specific demographic characteristics, such as cultural background (Anglo-Celtic, European, Indigenous, and Non-European) and faith (those who do and don’t practice a faith which is noticeable to others).

Surveyed customers from diverse backgrounds were significantly more likely to say that they had experienced discrimination by one or more of the organisations they interacted with in the last 12 months, based on a personal characteristic.

Thirty per cent of Non-European and 40 per cent Indigenous customers said they were often treated less favourably than other customers, compared to 22 per cent of Anglo-Celtic customers.

Thirty-eight per cent of customers who practice a faith which is noticeable to others said they were often treated less favourably, compared to 25 per cent of customers who don’t practice a faith which is noticeable.

Their stories revealed a combination of overt stereotypes and unconscious bias and lack of awareness and/or focus on behalf of the organisations that they interacted with, which create subtle or not so subtle acts of exclusion, the report said.

Many from these diverse customer groups (up to one in two surveyed customers) also reported that many organisations don’t provide the products or services that they need.

Despite this, 80 per cent of these customers often do not provide feedback to organisations about how to better meet their needs, suggesting information gaps, the study found.

It said the findings show that the this lack of understanding around customer diversity can have damaging effects on businesses, as diverse customers who are treated unfairly are more likely to not only cease a transaction but also actively dissuade others from using an organisation’s products or services.

“In this context, the persistence of stereotypes and biases would seem quaint if they weren’t so damaging. Damaging to the retention of existing customers as well an organisation’s ability to access new markets,” the report said.

“On the flip side, there are substantial rewards for those organisations which embrace these diversity insights and capitalise on new opportunities,” it said.

Carissa Gilham
AMES Australia Staff Writer