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“Cease discriminatory practices”, Nathalie Gardes instructor and researcher on the College of Bordeaux

SOS Racisme carried out a test in the real estate sector. Result: The discrimination rate when accessing rental housing is 51%.

Photo: Black Lives Matter!

In a more inclusive society, where brands are watched and judged by all stakeholders, discriminatory practices could put your reputation at risk. People who have been victims of discrimination will quickly spread their experiences online and will no doubt encounter an important media echo chamber. In addition to the legal risk of non-compliance with the principle of equal treatment, there is also an image and reputation risk that is associated with the negative judgment of all those involved. This can very quickly lead to a loss of legitimacy due to a lack of ethics.
So it’s time for our industry to take on the issue(1)!

Discriminatory prejudices in the three dimensions of customer service

An information point on discriminatory prejudice is important. In practice, the processes of discrimination are based on cognitive distortions, which are nothing more than cognitive illusions representative of errors in reasoning linked to unjustified or even false beliefs (prejudices, stereotypes). Involuntary and often unnoticeable discriminatory prejudices occur in all three dimensions of customer service.

  • At the level of the provision of basic real estate services, they manifest themselves in the form of an ethically or gender-related range of goods.
  • With regard to customer care, they translate into a differentiation in the attention to customer needs (quality of listening, degree of priority in answering customer requests).
  • At the level of etiquette, differentiated treatment of service can be provided at the most unexpected times, such as B. the tone of voice or the level of courtesy shown in response to customer inquiries.

Identifying discriminatory practices: an audit approach

In reality, identifying biased behaviors isn’t easy: they can be hard to spot because of their subtlety and hard to measure using only satisfaction surveys. Therefore, a real audit process needs to be put in place to unequivocally capture them.

• Talk to your customers
In addition to the usual survey of your customers about their satisfaction with your agency’s performance, you need to consider how people’s identities affect treatment, specifically the three dimensions of the service customer. For example, the following questions to ask your customers will allow you to identify the dimensions that are most sensitive to bias.

– How do you rate your experience compared to that of other customers?
– How pleasant were your interactions with advisors?
– Which behaviors (manners, language, tone) shaped these interactions?
– To what extent do you think other customers have had the same experience in their interactions?

• Experiment
Then experimentation is a great way to help you determine specifically how a particular characteristic of a customer affects practices and an outcome (e.g. greeting style). Mystery surveys involving people of different types, genders and ages are particularly helpful in identifying the root cause of discrimination.

• Set goals
One of the biggest challenges in evaluating the quality of customer service is that service is often intangible and difficult to quantify. Because of this, it is more effective to clearly identify the behaviors to be tested.
– Define clear and measurable behaviors that reflect the service you want your employees to deliver.
– Develop early service protocols. Standardize scripts and develop rules.
The standardization of interactions between professionals and clients can limit the former’s discretionary powers and any bias that might seep into their responses.

Eliminating prejudice, raising awareness and training

In fact, while raising individuals’ awareness of prejudice is a necessary step, it is not enough. You must learn to manage your prejudices and adjust your behavior accordingly. The idea that we can reduce our bias simply by being aware of it is the fatal flaw of most training.

• Overcome denial
In fact, the training courses tend to focus on extreme cases of abuse and harassment, resulting in people not worrying
this kind of behavior. The training courses would certainly gain in effectiveness if they also dealt with scenarios of
more insidious discrimination (also the most widespread), in which individuals subtly exclude others or minimize their contributions.

• break down stereotypes
Certainly, the stereotypes we hold about ourselves and others profoundly influence our behavior. It is therefore up to everyone to take responsibility for breaking the stereotypes that we have integrated. Being informed and regularly consulting counter-stereotyped information can thus help to break down our prejudices and improve the quality of our interpersonal interactions.

We will remember

While many real estate professionals make providing exceptional customer service a priority, few pay attention to discrimination. However, stakeholders’ high expectations of citizenship and responsibility point to the urgency of exposing inequalities in dealing with customers.
The fight against all forms of discrimination not only avoids reputational risk, but also builds a differentiated positioning based on ethical and civic values.


1 https://www.cercledesmanagersdelimmobilier.com/discrimination-dans-les-agences-parvenir-t-on-a-leradiquer-lundi-25-mars-18h/
Flage, A. (2018). Ethnic and gender discrimination in the rental housing market: Evidence from a meta-analysis of correspondence tests, 2006–2017. Journal of Housing Industry, 41, 251-273.
Researchers, P.S., Mitamura, C., Dix, EL, Cox, WT, & Devine, PG (2017). Break the habit of prejudice: mechanisms, passage of time, and longevity. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 72, 133-146.

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