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Dealing with Accents


I am in Canada and we have an office in Manila.  When a customer makes a statement about the rep's accent such as "I dont understand what you are saying" or "Your accent is too strong"; our reps freeze and do not know how to respond to the customer.

I am creating a Verbal Communication training and one of the topics is Accents.  My goal is to be able to handle this type of feedback from the customer with confidence and continue their call.  My goal is not to try to change their accent and sound "North American".

Does anyone know where I can find this type of material?

Thanks in advance!

6 Responses

  1. tough?
    Dear Clumsy
    Sadly you are on the receiving end of a fairly common problem; when organisations look into outsourcing (I’m being presumptive here) to somewhere where labour is cheaper, the accountants didn’t factor in the accent issue to the spreadsheet that made it all look like a great idea.

    I cannot see any alternative than to try to encourage your reps to lose their distinctive accent when speaking English; they may try to sound English or North American but what they cannot continue to sound is unintelligable to the customer.

    The trick of claiming that your name is Kevin, or Joan, when you quite obviously come from and are based in the Indian Sub-Continent or the Pacific Rim, I personaly find (as a customer) patronising and dishonest, add to that an accent that I cannot understand, and I’m afraid you have a Moment Of Truth that is distinctly negative for the company that employs the rep.

    Assuming that your reps are well educated and can easily produce totally clear written English (and many are probably better qualified that many of their customers in this instance) you might want to consider online live help in a written format but I guess that will require a huge and slow investment in new technology.

    It looks to me as if you need to invest most of your training time to accent issues on the grounds that it really doesn’t matter how good their content is if the listener just can’t understand it.

    Sorry not to be more help

  2. Strong accents
    Hi Clumsy
    This is not an easy one to tackle and we have to be very sensitive to staff who, quite rightly, may be very proud of where they are from and what it represents. I would also be very careful in these enlightened days of racial and ethic discrimination of encouraging staff to change their voices markedly.

    However one practical thing that you could do is encourage speakers with strong accents to slow down their speech and practice / record / playback with them. This will give them a little more time for their mouths, lips and tongues to get around the pronunciation of the words. When we get stressed in busy jobs, we have a tendency to speed up our words (we should adjust our rate of speech anyway on the telephone because they can’t see our lips move which can help speed understanding).

    Another factor encouraging people to speed up are call duration, call volume and sales targets. Lowering the target can help take the pressure off Operators.
    Hope that helps
    Happy Days!

  3. Using the power of the pause

    This has been one of the many recurring themes in my work as a communications specialist over the last 12 years.  People are born with the accents they have and is part of their being and who they are.  Without spending too long on this I would suggest that one of the key ways you can encourage clearer communication is to train your reps to use silence more when they communicate.  DO NOT ask them to slow down their rate of word delivery because they will lose all the tone and intonation in that wonderful Philippino accent and they will sound monotonous.  Instead make sure they allow a good long pause at the end of each sentence so they allow the listener the time to catch up and understand.  The pause is like a verbal full stop. There are other tips around opening the mouth more to ensure clearer annunciation.

    If you would like more on this – contact me at and I will give you some further ideas.

    Good luck

    Susie Hall

    The Impact Coach

  4. Accents

    As someone who when starting as a trainer had this problem,  some thoughts,

    Consider speed of delivery, we can get used to talking to people like us in tone, voice and delivery so we tend to build up a nature way of speaking that fits in, think about when people move back to an area they are originally from, the accent returns! and yes use pause etc to regulate

    Identify if there are specific words that lose people, accents can impact certain words more than others and then see if there are any that can be used instead or focus on how they are said/used.

    Try not to focus on the negative impacts of the accent more on the benefits of helping others through change!

    hope this helps




  5. A lesson for us all

    I realise that you have a specific geographic accent issue to address but I think this is more common than we might appreciate. I have been in conversation by phone with people in the UK with strong regional accents – and indeed my own Scottish accent has occasionally caused problems.

    I think that clarity and simplicity of the words used could be a focus. If your advisers have to use technical jargon then that will be tricky to address but take a look at the structure of the "script" and see if simple words can be used – both parties in the call might appreciate that!

    I teach public speaking skills and work with groups where English is not the first language for participants but I give them the same advice as I did someone with a particularly strong Scottish accent – speak slowly ( but not artificially so…) and pause to allow the listener to  catch up – both of which are suggested by other commentors. Also summarising what they have heard as an issue from the caller might help prevent  the frustration that sometimes comes from giving the right answer to the wrong question.

    Hope this helps

  6. Try getting the message across with different words

    In addition to all the excellent advice given, sometimes having a greater vocabulary can help. If a particular word is hard to understand, using a word with the same meaning can help.


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Maria Santiago

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