If we could make the world a more sensible and sensitive place, one of the first things we would do would be to make sure that everyone who works in customer service across the nation would be given excellent training on how to work with trans clients and customers. Savvy HR teams would steer the ship, and give all employees a comprehensive training on best practices.
Let’s cut to the chase: trans customers, if treated with understanding, knowledge and respect, would be your most loyal, devoted customers in such a world. Realer still: it is estimated that the consumer dollars associated with trans identities is approximately 70 billion dollars.
What if you could call up AT&T and regardless of your vocal tone and pitch, your preferred gender pronoun was reflected back to you perfectly and immediately? What if the tech companies (who are already monitoring our lives) had a pre-loaded, standardized, how-to-pdf on changing your login info for your upcoming transition, located somewhere in the settings menu? Is this really too much to ask?
We don’t think so.
We’re not done dreaming! What if you could look up online the clothing stores who implement trans sensitivity training, and so you know for certain that all of their employees are with nuanced ability, able to cater to anyone MTF, FTM and those who are gender nonconforming?
Or consider this: what if there was a city guide that listed customer certifications for all companies—official stamps of proof that their employees were trans-sensitive trained? What if everyone living in America was trained on trans identities as part of new employee training?
These what if’s describe a world we should be living in.
The number of trans-identified folks living in America has apparently doubled this week—that is, according to data from a new study showing that trans people make up .6% of the nation, as opposed to the previously believed .3%. That’s 1.4 million adults who could be the most loyal customers you’ve ever known. Why risk it? Those same 1.4 million adults could easily tarnish your brand should your company continue to leave out trans sensitivity.
Shouldn’t they be liable if they don’t?
Below we’ve compiled real and recent experiences in customer service, shared with us by a handful of trans friends. We made sure to represent the good, the bad and the ugly, to give us all a sense of what’s out there, and what we could be striving for. We’ve disguised brand names to give the companies a chance to better themselves, but feel free to forward to them, should you discover their corporate identities...
THE GOOD: FALL INTO THE SNAP
A trans woman walks into a national-chain clothing store. The salesperson asks, “Is there anything I can help you with?” She makes eye contact, she does not lose eye contact. Somewhere in this gaze, her customer knows she has figured out she is trans. The sales staff smiles authentically, affirming she knows how to help her customer. The transwoman explains she is isn’t sure what she wants, but she is attending a wedding and wants to get something simple and pretty. The salesperson says, “Do you know your dress size?” instantly affirming her gender. She asks if she can get her a dressing room, leading her to the women’s dressing rooms automatically. She brings her option, after option, attending to her explicitly.
The trans woman leaves beaming from the exchange for a few reasons. 1. She has experienced herself as herself in public. 2. She has been treated with care and connection. 3. She is excited, because this story is not her usual experience.
She tells everyone she knows.
THE BAD: GETTING ON THE FAMILY PLAN AT HERIZON
Our names have to change on our data plans. Dealing with a phone company is never good, layer on that you are trans and need a name change, and it reveals the worst of humankind.
Every day for a week the same trans person walked into the same phone store to deal with his plan, trying to get the female name removed and the male name added. For this particular business account, there were layers of trouble, requiring the customer to return each day for a week.
The first sales staff started to shake as he was helping him. A symptom of the lack-of-knowledge, lack of training that contextualizes this whole exchange. He wouldn’t make eye contact, and worse, he wouldn’t make small talk—clearly afraid of his customer.
And this continued for a week as the customer needed to return each day to get his account updated post-transition. The sales staff averted his eyes, refused to make small talk in the moments in which they were waiting for things to update, or change, and in these moments of no contact, the sales staff robbed his customer of his humanity.
Forget pronouns in this scenario, the first step is eye contact. To refuse eye contact is to suggest that we are not there, that we are something not human. Why would we not cancel our plan immediately? And follow it up with a call to the ACLU.
THE UGLY: T & E AT WANYE SEED
It was a crowded day at the pharmacy. There were at least 6 or 7 people ahead of her and 6 or 7 behind. When she got to the counter, she said she was here to pick up her son’s prescription. And her hormones.
The pharmacy clerk said, “What’s his date of birth, sir?”
There was nothing sir about her. Does she take this moment to correct her? To educate her? The trans woman worries that people are getting their phones out to text or snap that there’s a trans person in front of them. She feels terrible, anxious, wants to run out.
The pharmacy clerk repeats, using her male name, “Mr. Sanders…” Outing her, and tipping the experience into humiliation.
She decides not to say anything. She’s unsure of what will happen if she does. Instead, she quickly pays.
She tells her closest friends about the experience.
Companies cannot leave this to chance, but rather they must systematically and thoroughly train their employees in trans sensitivity, educating everyone in their workforce on what trans identities are and the human rights of said customers.
Unfortunately, at this time, the good examples are characterized by singular employees who are savvy and understand how to cater—either from specific experiences or because of who they are as people. The bad examples are from a lack of training, a lack of understanding—completely solvable.
We must start to set standards, best practices, so that no one is lucky or unlucky on a given day and rather there is an understanding that there is already an understanding. Real training for all must be our future.
We would love to hear from you. What consumer spots have been consistently good to you? Where have you had nightmare experiences, or worse, complete discrimination or bullying? Can you tell us about them?
Sharing your story will help us solve the problem. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to be interviewed.