#BeTheRippleBlogs - Why going 'title free' can be great for business... and easier on the customer care team!
Today's blog in the #BeTheRippleBlogs series is an insightful piece from Stella Sutcliffe entitled 'Why going 'title free' can be great for business... and easier on the customer care team!'.
Stella is the Founder of 'Go Title Free', a campaign which asks that organisations cease requesting marital status titles from them customers and people.
You can find her on LinkedIn: Here and on Twitter: @StellaLM and @title_free
Over to Stella:
Kindness can be shown in a multitude of ways. Obvious and subtle. Grand and simple.
One of the many things we can do as colleagues, people managers and business owners is to make the jobs of the people in our business as easy as possible. To help them to accomplish the results in a way which avoids failure and confrontation.
Go Title Free™ has been campaigning since September 2018, for organisations to stop asking for marital status titles in their forms, and to stop using them in conversations with us.
Based on our evidence from surveys and interviews, there is a rising number of individuals who do not want to be defined by whether they are married, or whether they identify as male or female – making titles very problematic for them.
The ‘Miss’, ‘Mr’, ‘Mrs’ and ‘Ms’ part of our names is not actually part of our legal identity, and we haven’t found any reason why an organisation should need to ask.
Marital status titles are used very widely in the business to consumer world in the UK, despite many languages around the world managing to get by without needing to refer to each other in a way which denotes whether a person (i.e. a woman!) is married or not.
In other languages, there are indeed ways of saying ‘man’ or ‘woman’ by using titles, and there are also ways of ensuring formal and informal ways of addressing people. But in the absence of a ‘tu’/ ‘vous’ option, to keep a conversational introduction respectful, the English-speaking world has stubbornly continued to persevere with using the ‘Mrs’, the ‘Miss’, the ‘Ms’ and the ‘Mr’.
Unlike completing your first name and surname in an online registration form which is free text, the ‘title’ field is limited, and is also often a ‘required’ field with no option to tick ‘other’.
This leaves individuals who don’t want to choose, or who would ‘rather not say’ with no choice but to either leave the site and go elsewhere for the product or service they need - or to select the title closest to what they feel represents their identity.
As well as sympathising with the divorcee, the unmarried fifty-year-old, the widow and the non-binary individual attempting to complete this form and being forced to choose something which is incorrect for them, we must also feel sorry for any customer service representatives unlucky enough to be tasked with servicing these individuals in the eventuality that a phone call is necessary.
71% of the individuals interviewed by Go Title Free said that they would be put off buying a product or service if they were addressed incorrectly by the representative.
In a 2016 report about call centres, Nesta.org.uk estimated that there are 1.17 million UK people employed in customer service and contact centres.
That’s nearly 4% of the workforce. 1.17 million people who already have a tricky job dealing with the British public!
Putting aside the actual point of the call, and the complexities of the purpose of the job, they are already trying to cope with the pronunciations of first names and surnames, and hoping that a maiden name hasn’t changed to a married one… (or back again).
The question, “Why are customers so rude?” is typed into digital marketing search engine SEMrush 260 times every month, which suggests a high level of consumer acidity is aimed at the customer service representatives just attempting to earn a living.
There are 1.17 million call centre workers mostly valiantly doing their best, following company systems and protocols, but limited by their tools and finding it more difficult to succeed in their mission of keeping a consumer, or the member of the public they’re dealing with, happy.
So what are my suggested solutions to this predicament? How can organisations be kinder to the people doing the job and the individual at the other end of the phone? What does ‘best practice’ look like according to Go Title Free?
1) Don’t have a ‘title’ box in your online forms. (worth noting that if you do have one, it’s probably the first thing you’ve been asking people!)
2) Don’t be tempted to just add more and more title options either to satisfy the masses. The more title options you add, the more our point about how redundant titles have become is made clear!
Those with professional or noble titles may miss them, but unless they’re at work, or in their castles, they’re unlikely to be relevant to your business! There should be no need for titles in a world striving for social equality.
Remember that just using a first name and a surname is more likely to be accurate… because the person has typed it into the relevant fields themselves!
3) Add a ‘how would you like to be addressed?’ box into your forms. What a lovely thing to do for the people you serve and the people you employ!
4) Conduct role-play training with your teams which involves no use of titles, (and no use of ‘sir’ or ‘madam’ to replace it either!). Once the first name and surname identity has been established, there’s no need to keep repeating names anyway. You’ll be surprised how polite and respectful a conversation can still be without them.
The kindest thing any organisation can do for their people at the coal-face is to train them properly to ensure a happy outcome for everybody.
A business where sales are higher and customers retained is a healthier one.
A charity with happy donors is more impactful one.
A customer service person with good sales or results is a more fulfilled one.
…and a world where true authenticity is enabled will always be a happier one!
Thank you so much to Stella for sharing this thought-provoking piece, it shows the kindness that is behind the concept of going title-free in organisations in order to strive for social equality.
If you are not yet a member of the #BeTheRipple community, we would love you to join us. You can find us on Twitter: @BeTheRipple2020 and/or in our LinkedIn community: Here
Thank you once again to Stella for this piece, you can find out more about how to get involved with the 'Go-Title Free' campaign: Here
If you would like to submit a blog for this series, please send your work via email to: firstname.lastname@example.org or send to me via LinkedIn.
You can find PDFs of all blog pieces: