Bias is a natural part of the human experience. It is the result of the mental shortcuts and judgments we make in order to navigate the world around us. These biases can be positive or negative, and they can influence our decisions and actions in both conscious and unconscious ways.
Humans have bias because of the way our brains are wired. Our brains are constantly processing vast amounts of information, and in order to do this efficiently, they use shortcuts and heuristics. These mental shortcuts help us to make quick judgments and decisions, but they can also lead to errors in thinking.
Bias can also be influenced by our emotions and beliefs. When we are faced with information that conflicts with our beliefs or values, we may be more likely to reject or discount it. This can lead to confirmation bias, where we seek out information that confirms our preexisting beliefs and disregard information that challenges them.
When working in Quality Assessment, doing a large number of reviews per week, bias will undoubtedly creep in:
- When reviewing a previously under-performing colleague, confirmation bias leads you to nitpick.
- A personal negative experience with a person can warp your perspective of their work.
- A positive experience with a person can make you miss mistakes.
- Decision fatigue reduces your ability to assess work for quality.
You won’t be doing this on purpose; bias is a tricky thing and hard to catch if you are not paying attention. It can have significant consequences. Worst case scenario, it can lead to discrimination or inequality in the workplace. It may be a natural and human experience, but especially in a position where we can influence our colleagues’ career, we need to pay special attention.
Ways to prevent bias
Reviews of reviews, I hear you say? Yes! Within QA we spend a lot of time focusing on the work of others. But reviewing our own work is just as important. If you work in a team of more than one QA specialist, or a team of leads, doing calibration exercises is a great way of keeping each other accountable.
Here are some steps to help you conduct calibration exercises for your QA team:
- Ideally, set up a cross-functional team to participate in the calibration exercise. Team members should include people from different teams and levels within the organization, such as Customer Support agents, team leaders, and QA specialists (if your team has them).
- Select a sample of customer interactions to review during the calibration exercise. These interactions should be representative of the types of interactions that the Customer Support team regularly comes across, and should include a mix of interactions that were handled well and those that could have been handled better. Some tools such as Klaus offer a feature that helps you select conversations specifically for calibrations.
- Determine the specific goal you have for evaluating the interactions you’ve selected. This should include both objective criteria (such as answer accuracy, resolution speed, and process compliance) and subjective criteria (such as tone of voice, empathy, and overall customer satisfaction). Already have a scorecard in place? Make sure to use it as your benchmark.
- During the calibration exercise, review the sample interactions as a group and discuss how each interaction could have been handled differently. Encourage team members to share their perspectives and experiences, and to provide feedback and suggestions for improvement. Watch out for nit-picking! Sometimes, saying: “This was a great interaction!” is just as valuable as finding a mistake.
- After the calibration exercise, document the feedback and suggestions for improvement and develop an action plan for addressing any issues that were identified.
- Repeat the process regularly to ensure the team stays on the right path.
It’s also important to keep in mind that preventing bias is not just about avoiding discrimination, it also includes making sure everyone is treated in a fair and equal manner. It’s important to create a safe space where team members can express their concerns and receive support. As part of the team or at an individual level, encourage team members to take bias training, and have open conversation about this topic regularly.
An important thing to keep in mind when it comes to preventing bias is to ensure that the team members participating in the calibration exercise are diverse and representative of the customers they serve. Diverse teams bring a unique perspective and insight that can help in identifying and preventing bias in customer interactions.
Prevent decision making fatigue
Ever stood in a supermarket, trying to decide what crisps you want, only to be overwhelmed with the vast amount of choices available? That is decision making fatigue in progress. It’s a phenomenon that occurs when the accumulation of choices that you have to make in a day causes the brain to overload.
Unless you are using an AI tool that helps alleviate the manual labour side of QA, you will be doing a lot of reviews in your role as QA specialist or team lead. If you spend a few hours going through interactions and choosing which score to give them, bias will undoubtedly creep in.
Here are a few ways you can prevent DMF while reviewing support interactions:
- Reduce your scorecard size. There is no need to have hundreds of options on the rubric in order to accurately determine quality. Less choices means a reduced level of fatigue.
- Break up your reviewing time into smaller chunks. Rather than setting aside one (partial) day to get all your reviewing done, spread them out over the week. This will help you keep your mind fresh and fatigue at bay.
- Keep an eye on cues that may indicate decision making fatigue: lack of motivation, chronic fatigue, poor quality of work, trouble keeping up with the amount of work assigned. Keep in mind that these are also symptoms of burnout, and should be discussed with your manager if you notice them happening consistently. You might need to adjust how you go about your workday.
Using tools that help alleviate the number of manual reviews that need to be done can be exceptionally helpful for your Customer Support or QA team.
- Your body may be pushing you to make worse choices after a day of hard thinking, study finds
- What doctors wish patients knew about decision fatigue
Deliberately challenge your bias
As I mentioned before, we all have unconscious bias. It’s only human, and having it does not make you a bad person. It is, however, incredibly important to challenge it in yourself. This can involve actively seeking out and valuing diverse perspectives and experiences, and working to create environments that are welcoming and inclusive. Reducing bias is an ongoing process; there is no one-stop-shop solution that resolves it. It requires continuous self-reflection and a commitment to learning and growth.
You can unlearn implicit bias once you recognise it. One way to find your own bias is by substitution: would you respond the same way when the person in question was a different gender or had a different cultural background? Would increasing or decreasing their age change your perspective on their capabilities? It’s not an easy process, as you have to be quite honest with yourself. But in terms of bias recognition, you will discover a lot more about yourself than you initially thought.
Individuation is another helpful tool. Rather than seeing people as part of a group, consciously seeing them as an individual can be very insightful. While someone may be part of a specific ethnic or religious group, they do not speak for the entire group and cannot be seen as such.
Because humans are such creatures of comfort, whatever is familiar to us makes us feel better. Stepping outside of your comfort zone and directly challenging your personal biases, you will create an environment that is more inclusive to the people you work with.