Equality Institute

Equality Insights Blog

Speaking to a Trans or Gender Non-binary Customer by Phone

When one of your team members is speaking to a customer on the phone and pulling up their account information, they may find that the account information references a male name when the voice on the phone sounds very female. Or vice versa. Or the person on the phone doesn't identify as male or female yet your data puts them in one of those boxes.

This unfortunately leads to lots of awkward phone conversations and being asked to transfer to a manager. Here are some comments from our survey respondents:

 

The phone is always the most challenging. I understand but please listen to me when I ask for you to correct it. When I explained I was not a sir he asked if I would rather be called brother.
 
I get, "I can't give you any information on this account. The account holder is female and you are obviously male." I get referred to managers a lot.
 
I'm often refused entry to things or access to my accounts because my voice doesn't match my feminine first name. I've even been TOLD by customer service that I'm NOT who I say I am.

 

Legally changing gender is a LOT of work and can be a significant time and money drain. Additionally, federal offices don't speak well to each other or have linked systems where a name is updated throughout. This creates challenges with transgender individuals but does not need to create major challenges for your institution. 

Training your phone CSRs to sensitively interact with the LGBTQ community is another area your institution can show inclusiveness. Here are some best practices for managing a phone call where one guest is transgender or gender nonconforming:

Internal Policies

  • Consider whether you actually need to collect someone's gender on forms, and how relevant that information actually is.
  • If it is, update your internal policies to allow for a box beyond male or female on forms. Include "other" and/or "transgender."
  • Update your internal policies to allow for titles beyond Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms, Dr and include Mx (the gender neutral honorific).

Customer Service Best Practices

  • Don't challenge someone's identity. If the name in your files is Danielle yet they are speaking to you with a more "male" voice, ask other qualifying questions such as date or place of birth to verify identity.
  • Avoid use of "sir" and "ma'am."
  • Mistakes happen. If your CSR does slip up and use the wrong pronoun or uses "sir" or "ma'am" inappropriately, apologize quickly with a comment like: “I'm sorry for using the wrong pronoun/name. I did not mean to disrespect you.” 
  • Don't feel the need to transfer the customer to a manager unless there are other issues that arise - it makes the transgender customer feel marginalized.

Do you have a policy in place for training your phone CSRs?