“What is the impact of an accent on a customer’s service experience?” is the question that researchers at the University of Adelaide set out to answer in a study that was recently published: The Effect of Service Employees’ Accent on Customer Reactions. With many corporations off-shoring their customer service operations, it is becoming common place for customers to encountering help desk representatives with an accent different from their own. The research conducted by Dr. Rao Hill set out to specifically determine the emotional impact of a customer during this kind varied accent communication. There have been many studies on various aspects of customer services, but little research on the impact of foreign accents. This research is important as many companies only look towards saving money while failing to fully appreciate the impact of the overall customer experience.
The research revealed when the customer is in a negative emotional state, like when calling to make a complaint, a foreign accent makes the situation worse. When a customer is confronted with a service employee with a foreign accent, negative emotions like fear and sadness are increased, but when the service employee has the same accent as the person calling, there is no significant impact on the customer’s emotions.
“Customers may be fearful of not having the problem resolved when they encounter a service employee with a foreign accent. Service managers need to be aware that accents will exacerbate perception of already difficult service situations,” says Dr. Hill.
For companies to successfully deliver a satisfying service experience for their customers while using cost cutting off-shore service departments, it is critical that their non-native English speaking employees are not only well trained and competent, but they also must have neutral or similar accents.
One of my goals at Atlas Speech Coaching in working with non-native English speaking professionals in the customer service industry is to help overcome stereotypes and improve overall acceptance of diversity in the workforce. Being a subject matter expert in a role to help customers will be significantly undermined if the representative providing the solution uses distracting accented speech. The expansion of companies globally is nothing new, but an investment in employee accent reduction training is an important new requirement to ensure the success of the company and it’s employees going forward.