More organizations than ever before are prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion in their employee experiences, but the best ones are reflecting those commitments in their customer experience, too. How? In addition to making their digital experiences accessible, leading firms use inclusive language to leave no customer behind.

Inclusive language acknowledges the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, gender identity, language, race, socioeconomic status, and other characteristics. When language is not inclusive, customers may feel confused, uncomfortable, and excluded.

Is your site ready to welcome all customers this holiday season? Follow these best practices to apply inclusive language in your customer experience:

1. Use plain language. Customers should be able to understand content the first time they read or hear it. From product descriptions to return policies and reward program details, retail sites naturally include a lot of content, and customers can easily get overwhelmed with the amount of information. Communicate clearly by avoiding industry jargon, using terms that are appropriate for your customers’ expertise and desired level of detail. Explain terms like “back-ordered” that many customers may not understand. Avoid idioms or figures of speech that customers who don’t speak English (or another language that is your site’s primary language) will find hard to understand. Test your content using tools such as the Flesch-Kincaid readability test to make sure customers of all reading levels and abilities can buy from you and feel confident when doing so.

2. Explain why you need demographic information and offer inclusive options. Our recent research found that customers appreciate inclusive approaches to demographic questions. If you require demographic information to sign up for rewards or become a site member, explain why you need this information, how it will be used, and provide an inclusive set of answer choices. To many customers, gender is not binary. Offering only two options — male and female or man and woman — in forms forces customers to make unwanted decisions and results in exclusion. We recently tested four ways of asking about gender with consumers. We found that a version from research firm dscout offering five answer choices was both preferred and led to more consumers saying they’d be willing to answer the question. See the consumer reactions for yourself in the figure below:

Figure 1: Customers Appreciate Inclusive Approaches To Demographic Questions

Consumer reactions to an inclusive question asking about gender. Reactions were "This is the most comprehensive explanation of the company's reasoning behind the need or desire to obtain gender identity information from customers", "This question is the most sensitive and respectful with this topic", "It gives the most comfort and inclusivity to people who identify with other genders", and "They want to earn your respect and understand each and every customer they have. They also make it known that you are entitled to decline if you want to and also include an option to write down what you identify as personally."

Figure 1 caption: When asking consumers “Which of the following best describes you?”, retailers should offer the following five answer options: woman, man, nonbinary, prefer to self-identify (please type), and prefer not to say.

3. Acknowledge special circumstances. Holidays can be an emotionally fraught time for customers. Will their package arrive on time? Do they have to visit the store for returns? Are they eligible for rewards? Speaking in a way that acknowledges and addresses these common concerns shows empathy and helps customers consume the information easily without distress. For instance, PostNL reassures customers that their package is on the way with an animation of a truck moving toward a destination. The animation updates as things progress, describing what’s currently happening (e.g., “your shipments are being collected”). The UK bank NatWest uses empathetic copywriting to engage with customers who are struggling with money issues or debt and addresses their concerns in a section called “Help with money worries.”

4. Follow content accessibility best practices. In addition to writing in plain language, make sure your language is also descriptive. Use descriptive but concise link names to ensure the purpose of each link is clear. Retail sites naturally include many images, so make sure you include alternative text for those images. That way, customers who are using assistive technologies like screen readers understand the features and appearance of the products they are researching and can make an informed purchase.

5. Consider different languages that your customers speak. Offer your content in the languages that your customers predominantly speak. We often see websites rely on translation services (e.g., Google Translate) to make their content available in multiple languages, but they miss the point, as those translations are sometimes not meaningful. Partial or wrong translations can make your customers feel less important and excluded. Incorrect translations also could mean that they are disappointed when they receive a product that’s different from what they initially thought it would be. If your content is available in different languages, test it with customers who speak those languages to ensure your message is clear.

 

If you have questions about how to apply inclusive language to your experiences, feel free to reach out to us — we have lots of research and resources to help! If you’re already a client, a good place to start is our report Words Matter: Inclusive Experiences Start With Inclusive Language. Or feel free to schedule an inquiry with us.



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