When it comes to the customer service world, your clients desire an authentic connection with the person on the other end of the line. Unfortunately, with an often subconscious linguistic prejudice present, customers tend to react negatively to telephone representatives with “thick accents” or language barriers.
As a business owner, it is important to keep social prejudices in mind as you make decisions regarding customer satisfaction. Regardless of your personal convictions, you should understand the roles that social factors play in your business decisions.
If your business is one that is built on customer satisfaction, then you need to understand how each decision you make will affect your client. There are changes that business managers can make to increase customer satisfaction and retain current employees and protocols.
Red Flags in Telephone Customer Service
When it comes to telephone service, there are two major issues that customers often report. As a business owner, it is critical to remember that people typically call a customer service line when experiencing an issue.
Understanding the frame of mind the customer is in when they call will help you understand their needs throughout the experience. Many customers begin these conversations already frustrated with your company. They have called customer service to help them resolve this issue, and when they feel there is a communication barrier, this can escalate an already negative situation.
The first major frustration customers report when discussing telephone customer service experiences is the desire to speak to a real person. Many companies utilize automated telephone menus and artificial voice intelligence. However, customers report that this tends to annoy them.
The second frustration that customers report is a language barrier between themselves and outsourced telephone operators. In many circumstances, the employees on the other end of the telephone are not native English speakers. This can cause communication breakdowns and can enhance the annoyance of the customer.
These frustrations are valid. Although it is most desirable for our world to be inclusive, customers want to communicate effectively with the people on the other end of the phone. Many customers do not feel that they can do that with a robot or a language barrier in place.
Accents and Customer Satisfaction
Most large companies choose to outsource their telephone customer service representatives because it is cheaper to hire services outside of the United States and Canada. While it might be a cost-effective solution for the business, when a customer has to deal with a representative whose native language is different, it can create some negative reactions. This is especially true for representatives with perceived “thick accents”. Customers may have to ask representatives to repeat themselves again and again, which can cause frustration to build in the customer.
One study suggested that already frustrated customers tended to experience heightened sensitivity to emotional distress. In the study, customers became much more easily frustrated with a non-native accent on the other end of the phone than with a more familiar accent.
The Role Accent Plays in Prejudice
It is an unfortunate truth that our world is full of people who are wary of differences. Differences in appearance, language, culture, and upbringing create an unfortunate divide. These divisions often seep into every part of our daily lives, from watching television to running errands, and even the way we raise our children. One form of division that is often overlooked is based on differences in accent.
It is important to remember that accent prejudice does not occur solely with people who speak a different language. There are hundreds of different native accents and each one comes with its own set of stereotypes.
For example, an accent from a southern state, such as Mississippi, might cause accent prejudice to occur in someone with a northern dialect. Although the person from the south is likely a perfectly well-educated person, the stereotypes associated with southerners may be brought to mind.
Unfortunately, there is not much your business can do to change the world in regard to accent prejudice. Although you might consider offering cultural awareness training for your employees as a starting place.
It is important to keep in mind that this prejudice occurs. As a culturally aware company, you do not have to cease hiring overseas customer service associates. In fact, we encourage you to continue this practice. Being aware of the potential problems will allow you to be proactive when it comes to combatting these issues.
Does Accent Affect Trustworthiness?
Although we all want to live in a world where appearance, culture, and language do not define our opinions of others, there is some evidence that a non-native accent might cause customers to distrust the representative. Whether this is based on past experiences or cultural bias, we may never know.
Although there is a certain level of mistrust that could occur, there are ways for the business to combat this negative action. Provide high-quality customer service training for your employees to ensure that effective communication occurs.
Options for Business Leaders
This does not mean that you should not outsource your business customer service matters. There are actually quite a few resources available for combatting the problems that arise from accent discrimination.
Accent reduction or accent modification is a training service available for customer service associates from around the world. Companies can send employees through accent reduction training classes designed to foster easier to understand, fluent spoken communication skills.
You can also provide thorough training for common issues that arise in your customer service phone calls. Coaching your representatives through these issues will allow them to become more comfortable with the most frequent requests and the appropriate responses.
As our world continues to become increasingly culturally diverse, we will continue to struggle with the various prejudices that arise. Although accent prejudice certainly exists, it does not have to be detrimental to your business.
Be proactive and combat the potential issues that may arise with your culturally diverse employees. More importantly, remember that by embracing diversity and hiring culturally diverse populations, you are becoming a solution to this unfair accent bias.