Call Centers in India: Is an English Accent Important? Just do Your Job

Necessity–or Prejudice?

Do you feel you are somehow getting better service when someone at a call center in India speaks with an English Accent? Is it better to speak with someone who speaks perfect clear English but who is not energetic or helpful? Which person gets your respect and trust? These questions actually go right to the heart of our attitudes and beliefs about customer service.

Americans are notorious for complaining about companies who use callers from call centers in India because they are hard to understand, do not understand the other person’s accent, and do not inspire confidence. The conventional wisdom is that if you are calling native English speakers, your call center will do better if you have callers who speak with an English or American accent. Call centers in India that call people in the U.S. generally do better when they hire native English speakers. This is what the mainstream media generally reports.

It is possible, though, that Americans have become suspicious of foreigners and just aren’t willing to compromise on what they want. They feel uncomfortable with accents and immediately remember their jobs are being taken away be “these people.” According to a 2011 Q&A session with professor Steven Neuberg in Scientific American, “People who are foreign to us are more likely to pose certain kinds of threats” and are not seen as having our interests at heart. They are more likely “to take more than their fair share” and to cheat us. Currently, the Better Business Bureau and many other organizations that are reputable and influential have blogs that include consumer comments on “foreign” accents. The FTC itself has a website blog “Fraud Affects 25 million people” that includes many consumer comments demonstrating suspicion about foreigners. If foreigners are cool– should we condone such comments? If outsourcing is going to work–shouldn’t we be extra careful about what we say and publish? The spin on foreign accents always seems negative, never positive.


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English is The Cat’s Pajamas

That expression, by the way, is an English slang expression meaning “the top” or “the best.” Just how important is your accent?

According to most surveys, neutral English accents are preferred; people do not mind talking with someone from a call center in the Philippines, for example, because that person can speak clear English. That is a major reason why call centers in the Philippines are getting so much work lately: native English speakers want to interact with those who speak English.

Listen to the Information, Not the Accent

However– what if you are a highly motivated and reliable worker at a call center in India and you do not speak perfect English? A call center manager who employs callers in various parts of the globe told us that if your Indian accent is not particularly heavy–but you understand the person’s questions, can explain everything clearly, and make a good impression–you can do just as well as native English speakers if you just do your job.

Doing your job at a call center in India means conveying the message, getting a positive response from the person at the other end of the line, maybe making a sale or giving good advice about a product, and not having that person hang up on you or complain. If the person has gotten good information, he or she will not feel the caller with a foreign accent has been dishonest or unreliable in any way.

Just Do Your Job

If you are able to convince the person you are calling that you understand what is being said, and if you can respond in an upbeat manner with good suggestions or comments, you may do just fine.

I would rather hear from someone at a call center in India who is positive and smart than someone who sounds lazy and stupid but speaks perfect English. I don’t care what the person’s name is if I can understand what is being said and I get some good information. I am not worried that this person will take jobs away from the U.S, because that person is a human being who is trying his or her best…and where the jobs go is beyond my control. The success of the conversation depends only on whether the person is doing the job.

If you work at a call center in India, you owe it to yourself to try to speak clearly and give the very best information you can. Be natural and helpful, and don’t worry about the person on the other end of the phone. Just do your job!

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(1) Is it more important to have an English accent or to just speak clearly and do your job?
(2) Many Indians think a UK accent is the way to get ahead. Being helpful counts more!

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