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GENDER-NEUTRAL PRONOUNS & CX


Gender-neutral pronouns in Customer Experience, and their impact on brand inclusivity and accessibility.


  • What they are

  • Why they are important

  • How to apply it to CX


Have you noticed that over the past few years it’s become more and more common to see email signatures that include the pronouns someone uses? Or that LinkedIn has introduced the option to add pronouns to your profile? Maybe those of you using dating apps have noticed that you can now display your preferred pronouns alongside your carefully edited photos?


The way we approach titles and forms of address have altered throughout history, and the 2020s are proving to be another of those times. ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ has fallen out of use, and ‘he/she’ was always a clunky and ineffective way to address multiple genders. The norms surrounding the use of pronouns and titles are changing, and the new norm is gender-neutral.





What are gender-neutral pronouns?


Gendered pronouns are the terms people use to refer to themselves to express their gender identity. The pronouns they choose to reflect this identity may be masculine, feminine, or neutral (neither masculine nor feminine).

Gender-neutral pronouns are now used around the world in a wide variety of forms. They are an instrument of self-expression, and when adopted correctly are an inclusive way to address both customers and employees in a friendly, approachable way.


The most common pronouns:

She/her/hers

Typically used by people identifying as ‘female’

He/him/his

They/them/theirs (singular)


The various titles a person may choose to use, depending on their preference for identifying their gender and/or marital status

Mr.

Typically used by people identifying as ‘male’

Ms.

Mrs.

Miss.

Mx.

This guide is not exhaustive, and is Western and U.S.-centric


What do you do when you run into your friend on their birthday? You wish them a happy birthday, of course! Mental Floss

Why are gender-neutral pronouns important?


Quite simply, properly using an individual's correct pronoun shows respect. When a pronoun is unknown, using a gender-neutral pronoun is a good option that will help to avoid causing offense or harm.

“The language we use is important, especially when it comes to describing or referencing someone’s identity.” Laura Russell

One of the best ways to engender trust in your brand is to ensure your customers and employees feel welcome no matter what their identity or orientation.


When it comes to your employees, a brand that acknowledges and knows how to use gender-neutral pronouns goes a long way towards creating a warmer, more inclusive workplace where everyone feels safe and able to be themselves. If done right, you could boost employee feedback scores and make your company more appealing to potential hires.

Furthermore, approaching customer interactions and CX strategy development with inclusivity in mind will improve diversity and thus open new possibilities for both customers and employees, whilst simultaneously making your brand more approachable to a wider range of audiences. By provoking a sense of trust, your existing customers will more readily advocate for your brand, and imbibe new customers with a feeling of confidence in their decision to switch to you.


But, failing to evolve along with the rise of inclusivity, diversity, and gender-neutrality could potentially turn off customers who would otherwise have engaged with your brand. Don’t get left behind.


Why you should consider moving towards gender-neutrality in your CX

Now more than ever, authentically connecting with customers is essential to growing your business, particularly where international expansion is intended. According to the Pew Research Center, GenZ are most likely to say forms or online profiles that ask about a person’s gender should include additional options other than ‘man’ or ‘woman.’ Roughly 59% of GenZ hold this view, compared with around 50% of Millennials and 40% or less GenX, Boomers and Silents.



Inclusivity makes your brand more accessible and attractive. When developing your CX strategy, it is important to ensure that customer engagements and experiences (both online and offline) measure up to GenZ and Millennial expectations. These two groups are now the largest demographic sectors with the highest spending power, and as a business, you don’t want to alienate possible consumers (or employees) with non-inclusive language and options.

In addition to developing your brands inclusivity and diversity, offering a variety of pronoun options and incorporating them into your communications has a certain level of practicality. For example, there are over 200 nationalities living and working in the UAE, and with such a high level of diversity there can be times when someones name doesn’t give a ‘traditional’ indication of their gender.

Utilizing gender-neutral pronouns to address someone you don’t know avoids confusion and offense, and including them in your profiles and signatures offers a clear indication of your identity to those with whom you are interacting.


How can your brand’s customer experience be more relevant to the changing needs of customers?

Make customer and employee interactions engaging instead of alienating. Ensure your brand remains relevant by making customer interactions across channels inclusive and approachable.


Company policies and communications

  • Use terms like ”everyone”, “everybody”, “friends”, ”folks”, “team”, “guests”, and “colleagues” when addressing groups during meetings, workshops, presentations etc.

  • All company policies should adopt gender-neutral language throughout

  • Incorporate gender-neutral pronouns and titles into training plans. Provide specific training, or build into existing diversity/inclusivity/awareness training

  • Add pronouns to email signatures and work-related social profiles (e.g. LinkedIn)


Direct communication via email, in person, or on the phone

  • Build the following points into your scripts, training, and SOPs so employees are aware of the etiquette when an individual's pronouns are unknown

  • Use singular “they/them/theirs” until there is the opportunity to ask about their pronouns

  • Use their name until you learn their pronouns

  • Ask or wait for confirmation from them



Automated responses for email, chatbot, SMS, WhatsApp, and outgoing IVR messages

  • All outgoing automated/system generated communications should address customers/prospective customers with neutral titles (Mr., Ms., Mx.) instead of Mrs or Miss.

  • Consider skipping titles altogether and take on a more casual and friendly tone.

  • Review your chatbot interactions. Consider using a gender-neutral chatbot, and ensure any stereotypical gender attributions are avoided.


Web forms, surveys, and registration and login forms

  • Give a good reason for collecting this information, and make sure it’s optional

  • Add additional gender and pronouns to all forms and drop-down options:

  • Mr., Ms., Mx., Miss., Mrs.

  • Male, Female, Non-binary, I prefer not to say

  • Ensure customers are able to proceed with form submission even if this information is not provided


Social media communications

  • Adopt terms such as ”everyone”, “everybody”, “friends”, ”folks”, “team”, “guests”, and “y’all” when posting on brand social media channels








Updating personal details

  • Let customers and users know that information will not be shared with anyone, and/or allow them to manually control who sees it

  • Give customers the ability to change their personal information in your database/systems quickly and with minimal effort

  • Ensure staff are trained on how to manage customer data update requests with empathy and sensitivity by providing training on new SOPs and system capabilities


 

Related articles and helpful resources


The Washington Post: A guide to how gender-neutral language is developing around the world

Qualtrics: Everything you wanted to know about gender-neutral pronouns.

Merriam Webster: Singular 'They'

IBM: Gender Pronouns: How Small Words Make a Big Difference


UX Design: Designing forms for gender diversity and inclusion

Out and Equal: Best Practices for Non-Binary Inclusion in the Workplace

I heart singular they: Visual guide to the benefits of the singular "they"


 

Sources


Pew Research Center


Medical News Today

The Conversation

Export Development Canada

The Washington Post

Qualtrics

NPR

Lexington Law


Mental Floss









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