THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE CHALLENGE FOR WOMEN IN TECHNOLOGY

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Women in technology all over the world, over and above the usual customer experience challenges faced in the workplace, have the additional baggage to deal with that include doubt and denial from customers about the quality of their work. This is more so from internal customers at junior, peer and across their reporting lines. In alignment with the golden rule of customer centric service that advocates for excellent internal customer relations for the provision of exceptional external customer service, the impact of poor internal customer service on the recipients has damaging repercussions.
There have been sad stories told of totally wanting experiences from the tech office environment where: incompetent male colleagues have been requested to review or approve work from their more skilled women counterparts, team leaders and other staff in senior positions have subjected the work coming from a lady colleague in tech to unnecessary scrutiny and examination, external customers have been uncomfortable to speak directly with the person in charge of delivering their work preferring to channel communication through other male colleagues despite full knowledge of who was responsible for delivery and where women around the tech boardroom table, or client meeting have been mistaken for administrative assistants or have been subjected to the often offensive assumption that they will naturally be the meeting’s scribe or note taker as opposed to active contributors.

Consistent application
With all the diligence, hard work, focus, and consistent application of creativity and innovation to succeed in technical spheres across the entire STEM range irrespective of gender, it is important to be acknowledged and to have experiences at the workplace that provide encouragement and support. Given the current statistics where men continue to substantially outnumber women in the tech industry, and the general world view that places men in ‘hard’ careers and women in what is considered ‘softer’ ones, a solution needs to be found around customer experience for women in tech to enable them continually advance in their careers, thrive in the workplace be it office or field based, and have genuine stories of fulfillment.
Daisaku Ikeda, the Japanese peace builder, author and philosopher’s words of wisdom, are the foundation of the strategy required for better customer experiences for women in the tech space. His famous quote: “When we change the world changes” aptly refers to a change in attitude. One’s customer experiences are largely built on attitude, willingness to acknowledge challenges as they present themselves, and solution orientation to work around the status quo. These three aspects can be leveraged upon in different situations to turn around pitfalls to possibilities.
Many analysts report that women in technology often do not do themselves justice by adapting to the historical practices of deference. Whereas gentlemen are very quick to showcase their accomplishments, women are naturally shy to talk about their technological achievements and breakthroughs. Self-promotion is not an attribute that comes naturally and often the lady tech may even down play her contribution, attributing it to team effort. In the face of great sacrifices that are made of family’s and time for an individual, a new attitude in respect to where internal and external customers need to be aware of triumphs and aspirations needs to take shape.

Male dominance
Women in tech need to acknowledge that they are playing in a male dominated space, and despite many organizations taking a bold stand to proactively build gender parity in tech employment, the playing field is still not level. With acceptance, there will be clarity about the situation and on how to work around internal and external customer challenges. To begin with, a woman in tech must love herself. One cannot handle the world’s challenges if he or she is not adequately equipped internally to wage the existing imbalanced war. The truth is that one cannot face unfair circumstances from a point of self-doubt. The woman in tech is her own first customer. She is her own internal customer and if not truly filled with self-assurance, self- confidence and self-awareness, then the efforts to resolve the customer experience dilemma will be an exercise in futility.
With self-awareness, each woman in tech needs to define the kind of customer experiences she desires from both the internal and external customer.Absolute clarity is necessary and she must think through the desired outcome. Once a clear vision for victory is mapped,then the strategy and action plan can be structured. Determining the customer experiences that one wants and working backwards for success, will require performance of a status check to take stock of the current goings on, and the extent of the deviation from the envisioned preference. It is worth noting that one cannot change what he or she does not have clarity about. To institute change, taking stock and prioritization of the next steps is of paramount importance.

Big on reciprocity
To turn around customer experiences, it is important to encourage women in tech to slowly dissolve the protective wall they may have built around themselves for cover and to communicate effectively with other members of the team. Emotionally intelligent communication is a powerful weapon against stereotypes and customer situations that cause dissatisfaction. Human beings are big on reciprocity and often place in warm regard those that they have branded as supportive. As a team member, it would be important to be as encouraging as possible. Genuine encouragement goes a long way to break down the walls of resistance. Being a sounding board, playing the role of an authentic accountability partner and being a pillar for the success of growing others, often inspires the same reaction from recipients. All it takes is for the woman in tech to make a conscious decision to turn around the customer experiences around her and to make the difference. It works.
Giving and receiving feedback is another simple yet effective way of building customer experiences that last. Starting with individual feedback, it would be great for all women in tech to conduct self SWOTs to assess their strengths and areas for improvement. When one is aware of what he or she loves to do and of consistently giving feedback on the stuff they are great at, it will be much easier to recognize an authentic compliment for what it really is, when coming from a team member or an external customer, and to really bask in the glory of it, without trying to second guess the motive. Similarly, the important exercise of candidly taking note of one’s weakness including what he or she is often criticized for (whether real or imagined) will serve to have awareness at an all-time high, and for one to sift and identify when one is being unduly sensitive in the interpretation of criticism.

Well thought out feedback
While all is said and done, there will be – as has been in the past, is in the present and is anticipated to continue into the future – internal and external customer experience encounters that are unpleasant. Providing well thought out feedback would be extremely helpful. By carefully anticipating the appropriate times to have a discussion that is not clouded by the heat of emotions either from self or others, women can get ahead with the effort to be heard. The mistake is often made of bottling up feedback that then explodes at uncalled for times. Emotionally intelligent feedback giving, is characterized by planning and thinking through the feedback itself and how it should be passed on, as well as the objective to conclude on next steps. Identification of opportunities to give genuine feedback in a manner that does not disrespect the recipient will create an atmosphere of calmness and effectiveness. Where one has felt injustice from a team member or a customer, sharing feedback in this format will leave the perpetrator reflective. Granted indeed that there will be more work for the woman in tech in terms of thinking through communication, and how to effectively put things across that their counter parts are not subject to ( but the situation is already lop sided) and to get the results one wants, he or she must put in the sweat equity. With eyes on the prize however – where the prize is improved internal and external customer experiences – the light that lights up the impetus to keep going will not dim.
With women in technology taking up these tips to transform their experiences, it would be naïve to imagine that overnight transformation will occur. Conversion will happen one step at a time. It is a journey that begins with the first step and successively builds into a focus on self-love, taking pride in and openly acknowledging one’s successes without conservatism, having others toot one’s horn, not downplaying praise, as well as focusing on teamwork, emotionally intelligent communication and feedback sharing. In this era, it is critical that the common stereotyping of women in technology as playing second fiddle is dispensed with. With a deliberate effort from women in technology to turn around the customer experiences they encounter, the change will be steady. Every woman in technology owes it to the future generations to create a legacy that inspires and calls for role modelling.

Carolyne Gathuru is the founder and director of strategy at Lifeskills Consulting. She has over 17 years experience in customer service strategy development and training. Email: cgathuru@life-skills.co.ke

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