Speaking clear, understandable English is a critical agent skill

Did you know that only 10% of the South African population speaks English as their first language, and yet virtually all customer service agents and front-line staff have to use English extensively in their jobs. English is the language of preference in the customer service and sales environments. If your vital customer facing staff can’t speak English clearly and intelligibly then their careers are going to suffer. Research shows that not being able to understand the agent is the number one problem for customers calling in to their service providers.

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Overview of the Accent Labs E-Learning Course

Our primary product is our online accent modification course, which aims to improve the English accent of any frontline person whose second (or third) language is English. The course is also designed to improve the trainee’s auditory processing of English, i.e. teaching them to interpret what they are hearing in English accurately.

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Walking into a minefield of vowels

The effect of the South African English Accent on customer service

If your mother tongue is isiZulu, isiSotho or isiXhosa your first language will have a powerful effect on your English accent. It’s as if you are walking into a minefield of vowels which you simply don’t have in your vocal arsenal. A common feature of the South African languages is strong throat resonance. Voice is produced in the middle to back part of the mouth. This results in a deep, full, warm voice. But because of this, when English is spoken there is blurring of the forward, round English vowel sounds, such as er, ar, and or.

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Paladin Consulting now represents Accent Labs

Accent Labs has appointed Paladin Consulting as the primary sales representatives and resellers for Accent Labs’ e-learning course and face-to-face coaching and training services. Paladin Consulting is an established performance-focused learning and development consultancy servicing the South African market, with particular focus on the call centre and customer service industry.

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Excerpts from the ININ Customer Service Experience Study 2014

The study was conducted by Interactive Intelligence in March/April 2014. The sample was 1,462 individuals who had had a non-personal interaction with a business in the last 12 months. The consumers were from eight different countries; Australia, Germany, South Africa, UK, USA, Canada, Brazil and Sweden.

These were two of the key findings:

  1. The method preferred most by consumers when interacting with customer service or support, regardless of their country origin, is having a live agent via phone.
  2. Overall, consumers most frequently found that not being able to understand the agent when speaking on the phone was very frustrating.

Which channels do you prefer to use to contact customer service or support?

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English accents in South Africa

In South Africa the English accent is influenced by the Southern African languages. In particular the Black South African languages are characterized by:

Strong Throat Resonance:

Voice is produced in the middle to back part of the mouth. This results in a deep, full warm voice. But because of this, there is blurring of the forward, round English vowel sounds, such as ‘er’, ‘ar’, and ‘or’.

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