It’s all about the accent

The Power99 controversy elicited several comments on our website that seemed (to me at least) to partially condone the Shock Jocks behavior because they were receiving “poor service.” The customer service representative, Tina, said “ma’am” instead of sir for example. Many Americans also seem to resent the fact that the Indian call center operators are being taught English in order to supposedly “fool” them into thinking they are talking to a representative in the U.S. The Tampa Tribune reported last week that the imperfection of these learned accents may cost some call centers their jobs:

When Sykes Enterprises began considering India for its customer service call centers a few years ago, it saw a country with many bright, hardworking and English- speaking citizens. What it didn’t anticipate was how much the Indian accent would perplex some American consumers.

On Thursday, Tampa-based Sykes said it would cut the volume of work at its Bangalore, India, facility by half. The call center, which in the past has provided customer service functions for Delta Air Lines and the Internet Service Provider MSN, generates about $4 million a year in revenue. About $2 million of that business will be shifted to Sykes call centers in other Asian countries. Sykes did not name these other countries.

Just because Indian accents aren’t good enough doesn’t mean the jobs will be returning to America. I guess the trick is to better fool American ears. Apparently perception is more important than reality. But where will they be moved?

Formerly controlled by the United States, the Philippines offers a more “Americanized” culture and employees with lighter accents. Also, there is less employee turnover than in India.

So let me get this straight. Slightly imperfect accent -> verbal abuse -> high turnover -> outsource the outsourced work to another country. I guess that would be considered market driven but the fact that its based more on perception than on reality makes it seem kind of silly to me. Then again, I guess everything in the business world is based upon perception.

3 thoughts on “It’s all about the accent

  1. It’s cheaper, I am told, to move further east in search of acceptable accents. But it’s finer PR to justify this in terms of business reasons instead of costs. Ofcourse by Title VII (US law) it is illegal for American employers to discriminate on the basis of accent, national origin etc. But this rule doesn’t apply to foreign employees working in in foreign countries. So both the law and PR is in favor of getting out of India.

  2. That fark thread really opens your eyes to how much animosity there is towards outsourcing and how that manifests itself into pure, raw hatred and racism. It’s ugly.