Addressing the Accent of Globalism

Globalisation creates the opportunity to trade products and services between locations that could be on the other side of the world from each other.

The contact centre industry is one industry that lends itself well to globalisation. A centre can deliver customer services or drive sales campaigns in destinations located far from where they operate and, for some, it even provides the opportunity to offer 24 hour service to businesses located in different time zones.

We featured a number of articles through our Linkedin group in 2011 that described a trend away from seeking cheaper service offers in countries where challenges with local accents arise.

But what of the challenges that New Zealand-based contact centres face when employing highly motivated and talented people who come from another country and feature an exotic, non-traditional Kiwi accent?

“Although they may be highly motivated, employing people with hard to understand accents or who find it difficult to understand callers presents challenges for New Zealand Contact Centre Managers,” says Sue Smith, Managing Director of Accent Solutions.

With thirteen years of experience in human resources and around nineteen years in speech therapy practice and training practitioners, Sue says that she understands the challenges and is working with employees and their managers to overcome them through classes, one-to-one coaching and professional advice.

“Challenges for individuals include addressing the accent itself as well as developing greater understanding about the New Zealand culture and lifestyle”, says Sue. “For managers, it’s about creating discussion with employees about their accent in a way that is non-discriminatory and addresses performance in a proactive and positive manner”.  

Sue says that employers can successfully develop and implement accent-related training that fits well with standard call centre training and development programmes.

The first hurdle will likely come during the recruitment and selection process. Employers need to determine whether someone’s accent could prevent them from successfully carrying out their responsibilities by being unable to understand callers and clearly articulate the company’s messages.

Drake New Zealand Business Development Manager, Suzanne Pratley says that around a third of all current applicants recruited into frontline contact centres through Drake Contact Centre have English as a second language.

“When a non- native tongue speaker applies for a frontline position, either certain concessions have to take place or they will not meet the standard recruitment criteria,” says Suzanne.

Suzanne has worked in many different countries, running and recruiting for positions within contact centres, including Malaysia, Europe and throughout Australasia. She says that she’s identified a common theme across all locations.

“When screening an applicant into a phone-based position, obviously a comprehensive phone-based interview gives a real insight into the candidate’s communication skills, their understanding and comprehension of the spoken word within a standard conversation format.”

“Secondly, a written assessment which establishes words and their meaning in the context of a written passage, and spelling assessments complement the phone and one on one interview.”

She says that Drake Contact Centre also utilises its own web-based interactive contact centre simulations as part of the recruitment process. These assessments test candidates in activities that include taking orders, selling or finding information on a web-based application, talking to a ‘customer’ via a headset, searching a data base, and inputting information and wrap up notes.

I believe there is some resistance by Contact Centre Managers in hiring candidates with English as a second language into front line roles,” says Suzanne. “They wonder if they will be able to be trained adequately due to possible comprehension issues, and whether they will be able to communicate well with demographics of New Zealand, taking into consideration Kiwi colloquialisms and regional accent variations.”

Suzanne says that the job of recruiters is to consultatively address these concerns by supplying supporting evidence of a candidate’s understanding, comprehension and communicative abilities, as well as establishing skill set and competency matches to the job applied for.

Sue Smith supports this and adds that managers can easily develop knowledge and awareness of working with accents in the workplace to assist successful recruitment and ongoing employee development.

“In many cases, it’s the same as recruiting for any position for your company,” says Sue. “If you identify someone who has the willingness and motivation to succeed in the workplace, you can teach them the skills they need to be successful. This includes helping them to improve their accent and overall communication.”

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