Understanding Queer Experience (QX) and its untapped commercial power

Acknowledging the Queer Experience is not only what’s right for society, but it can be great for business too. Getting Customer Experience right is make-or-break for your business. You have multiple opportunities, right across the customer journey, to win customer loyalty and build ROI. And yet it just takes one or two disconnects to lose a customer forever.

Joe Bloggs and Jane Public. You’ve probably used these placeholder names at least once during your career. We use them to start buyer personas, open test profiles in new software systems, and in many other ways. And while we may think these names represent a blank canvas, they are actually bathed in bias.

What’s Jane Public’s ethnicity, for example?

Do they identify as gay, straight, bisexual, asexual?

Should we call them Joe Bloggs or Jo Bloggs — are they cisgender, transgender, or transitioning?

The point we’re making is this: the vast majority of assumptions, both in Customer Experience (CX) and Employee Experience (EX), come from a heteronormative place. We default to systems and frameworks that favour binary categories and majority characteristics.

And that bias needs to come to an end.

Why? Because acknowledging the Queer Experience is not only what’s right for society, but it can be great for business too.

Opening our eyes to Queer Experience (QX)

It’s worth reminding ourselves what Customer Experience is before defining QX. In the words of Harvard Business Review, CX is:

“The internal and subjective response customers have to any direct or indirect contact with a company. Direct contact generally occurs in the course of purchase, use, and service and is usually initiated by the customer.” (HBR, 2020)

Getting Customer Experience right is make-or-break for your business. You have multiple opportunities, right across the customer journey, to win customer loyalty and build ROI. And yet it just takes one or two disconnects to lose a customer forever.

These disconnects can come in the form of a stressful eCommerce checkout, poor signage in your retail store, or — to get to the topic at hand — a non-inclusive sign-up form.

Would you really, actively, make business decisions that put $3.9 trillion of spending power out of reach? 

Because that’s what’s at risk when you overlook QX.

To borrow from the Harvard Business Review definition, QX can be defined as the internal and subjective response that people from within the queer community have to contact with your company. And it’s fundamental for us to consider both within the remit of CX and EX (employee experience).

The queer community is thought to have a +23% higher median income compared to heteronormative households — indicating a great deal of financial value to your brand. The queer community can also be described as 90% highly educated — representing smart, capable talent to advance your organisation.

But when the experience of buying from or working for your business excludes the queer community, you can kiss those benefits goodbye.

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What we’re getting wrong in QX and how to make it right

Experience design is our speciality here at Hellon, so we undertook a dedicated research project to better understand the landscape of Queer Experience. 

Bringing qual and quant together and speaking with 80 participants from over 10 countries, we sought to gain insights into what empowers minority communities and what excludes them. We wanted to discover what we as a business could do to stop ‘cis-assuming’ in our design practices and make our workplace a more equitable and inclusive space.

We explore a broader range of the findings in our Dare to Share webinar, ‘Creating Value through Queer Experience’, which you can watch here. But for the purpose of this blog post, we’ll share the tangible lessons we, at Hellon, will be carrying through to our everyday operations so that you can do the same.

1. Workplaces are not inherently ‘open’ — and the queer community won’t necessarily be ‘out’

As a cisgender and/or heterosexual professional, it’s not always easy to spot issues of queer exclusion. We need to appreciate the generations of unconscious bias we need to rewire and the systemic discriminations we need to dismantle.

These issues can lead employees from the queer community to hide their true selves — even in 2022. As one of our participants said:

“I have worked in my current place of work for seven years, and I have never felt comfortable telling my colleagues about my orientation. I work in a company full of engineers, and I feel it would affect my progression in the company considerably.”

LGBTQIA+ employees deserve equitable psychological safety. How can they perform to their fullest when shielded or masked? According to our study, 22% of queer workers are not ‘out’ to their colleagues. Can your company afford a ~20% loss of engagement, productivity and innovation? 

Resolving this issue starts with setting intentions. IBM is a fantastic example of a business that makes its inclusivity manifesto clear. They are vocal about their values and offer up visible, concrete actions. What could your organisation do to promote its EDI (equality, diversity, and inclusion) agenda?

2. Exclusion is happening for both employees and customers at levels we typically overlook

But while you’re taking a macro view of the organisation as a whole, don’t forget the small details of your Customer and Employee Experience as well. 

What message does it give if you publicise an EDI plan but only have ‘male’ and ‘female’ toilets?

How included and represented will LGBTQIA+ employees feel if you continue using heteronormative storyboards instead of diverse or gender-neutral personas? And what knock-on impact will that have for the inclusivity of your products and services?

Not sure where to begin? Onboarding is of the most critical stages of your customer and employee journey: are you still forcing people into ‘male’, ‘female’, or ‘other’ boxes? This is your first moment to show people you get who they are, don’t let it go to waste.

3. Don’t fall into the ‘rainbow washing’ trap: practice what you preach

What you advertise, you must be able to materialise. 

Many companies have been called out for ‘rainbow washing’ or making their organisations look more inclusive than they are. And let us tell you, this can do far more harm to your business than good. 

So how do you ensure an alignment between the external inclusivity messages your customers receive and the real-life experiences of employees day by day? That’s where formalised in-house communities can serve an essential purpose. 

For one, encouraging and supporting your company’s LGBTQIA+ community to come together creates a safe space and support for queer individuals. What’s more, it can help unlock new insights into the QX you have today. Forming alliances is crucial for minority representation and, as one of our survey participants explained:

“When I was the only trans person in my team, I started speaking less about topics that mattered cause it felt like preaching. The moment another LGBT individual joined the team, I felt I had someone to rely on and become more vocal, which eventually also made the output of our work better.”

Our collective actions create the Queer Experience

As a business, Hellon has put its full support behind The Queer Experience Alliance: a new initiative founded by our Design Director Andreas Pattichis. Andreas (or Andy) is now looking for more organisations, allies and peers to join the Alliance, so that together we can promote understanding of QX in the Customer and Employee Experience.

The Queer Experience Alliance (QXA) will host its first co-creation workshop on March 1st at 5pm CET. The aim of this session will be to form a purpose and points of action for the movement as we grow. We’d love for you to join us there.