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Why Accent Matters in Customer Service Centers


The accent issue is increasingly becoming a global problem. This results to the shifting of location in markets where additional training will be no longer required.

Neutral Accent is Important in Customer Service

Language barriers arise due to differences in cultural, sociological, neighborhood and political influences. The essence of language is communication while the purpose of communication is to convey an intended meaning. Effective interaction with a person belonging to a different country and culture requires communicating in a neutral accent.

To call centers, neutral accent is the key to effective customer experience. The accent is the key ingredient in establishing a connection between the customer and the agent. For example, there are more technical support agents in India compared to the Philippines, but tech support in the Philippines has been gaining ground in the outsourcing market.

Simply part of the job

Offshore call center providers cater mainly to customers in English-speaking countries – United States, Australia and Great Britain. Call center agents must be able to sound like an American or Australian or British while still maintaining their composure in dealing with racist abuse by some of irate customers.

For many call center agents, English must be their second language as they are expected to immediately adapt to a variety of accents, familiarize themselves with the language and recognize common slang and idioms.

Trusting a Call Center representative

Communication between agents and customers is critical in all interactions and there has been a lot of research into the effect of accent of agents on the various aspects of customer service.

In 2011, Zendesk published an infographic containing all the combined data from various studies and researches from sources including University of Chicago, Psychologytoday.com, CFI group and the Journal of Experimental Psychology. The infographic shows how customers are more likely to attribute a bad customer service experience to the fact that their call center agent has an accent. It also showed that bad customer service could lead to damage of the rapport of the company to its customers and the perception of the quality of the company’s service.

Most customers prefer to deal with call center agents who can speak their language in a neutral, easy-to-understand accent.

Philippines has an open secret

Offshore, an in-demand call center destination is the Philippines, where English is spoken with a neutral accent. The Philippines currently ranks as the third largest English speaking country in the world. It can be traced back when US defeated Spain during the Spanish and American war in in 1898 and colonized the country. The next five decades of US conquest have been described as horrible invasion albeit the public education system focused mainly on English.

The Philippines’ close competitor, India, lost 70 percent of its call center business to Philippines because of accent. Filipinos can speak better English because of their neutral accent while the accent of Indians is unacceptable to many customers.

What’s the secret to success of the Philippines? Filipino agents can easily mimic Western accents over the phone. Philippine call center agents speak fluent English with a neutral accent which is what customers prefer and is the primary reason why BPO business is thriving in this country. Cultural proximity to the US and availability of skilled manpower are the main ingredients of the Philippines’ success and why Western companies prefer outsourcing their operations in the Philippines.

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