Lest any doubt remains that U.S. customers do not appreciate hearing heavy accents when they’re on the phone with contact center agents, a new survey reveals that this is, in fact, one of the top sources of frustration among those who call for assistance.
Difficult-to-understand accents was the top complaint, at 29 percent, in a recent survey that investigated customer experiences interacting with contact centers in nine countries. The No. 2 complaint was rude or condescending agents, at 18 percent, while being made to wait too long on the line was a close third, at 17 percent. Having to listen to an agent “upgrade” their services also drew ire, at 15 percent. The research was conducted forNetReflector.
The accent objection is hardly a novel finding; indeed, many U.S. firms have began to recall customer service operations from foreign-based contact centers, based on anecdotal reports of customer unhappiness.
There are many reasons driving this trend, according to Bob Hayes, Ph.D., and author of the book Measuring Customer Satisfaction: Survey Design, Use, and Statistical Analysis Methods.
They include the growth of outsourced customer service operations in general, with a growing backlash among companies as a response.
To be sure, there is also more than a touch of xenophobia that has come to characterize public discourse in some quarters of American politics, which could be playing a role. It is unclear, though, how much of that translates into the perception that an accent automatically equals poor customer service.
“Consumers are most likely to voice discontent when faced with the sheer frustration of a language difficulty,” Hayes told CRM Buyer. Conversely, the rep is frustrated because he or she cannot express his knowledge of the product or service adequately.
Outside the United States
Other nationalities do not object as much to a foreign accent, Hayes’ research suggests. For example, French and German survey respondents said that waiting on the phone was their prime problem, while Chinese and Russian respondents couldn’t stand contact center staff who were condescending or rude.
One possible reason behind this disparity is that there are fewer foreign-trained Chinese or Russian speakers — and, hence, fewer of these customers are subjected to accented Chinese or Russian, Hayes said.
Besides repatriating outsourcing operations, companies are also leveraging other technologies to skirt this issue. Online chat, e-mail and improved automated voice systems are a few examples. These are only half-measures at best, however, for the majority of U.S. customers.
The survey also found that more than three-quarters, or 76 percent, of U.S. respondents preferred to contact customer service departments by phone, while 20 percent liked e-mail best, and 1.8 percent selected chat as their top choice.
Other firms are bringing home only some of their customer service operations; ‘accent reduction therapy’ is yet another possible solution.