How to Handle the Foreign Accent
By Nancy Friedman, the Telephone
more and more common for us to talk with people whose native language
isn’t the same as our own. These
callers often have accents that are difficult for us to understand.
These accents can be both international and domestic.
How many times have you talked with someone from a different
region of the USA and you failed to understand him or her?
Miscommunication is easy with anyone who's not talking in a
manner we are used to hearing. Today,
with more businesses going global, it’s key to be ready to know how
to deal with a callers who have accented speech.
forget, sometimes it is us that has the foreign accent to others.
To those from another country, we are the ones that have the
foreign accent! So these
tips will go both ways, plus they’re effective both on the phone and
in person. Taken from our
video, How to Handle the Foreign Accent, here are the five key
points to know to help you at your call center job (and in your
personal life too) when working with someone who is difficult to
understand, accent or not.
Pretend to Understand: It’s
okay to gently explain you are having a little difficulty
understanding them. Let’s
face it, if you have an accent – you know it.
So it’s not a surprise. One
of the least effective things you could do is to pretend that you do
understand, when in fact, you don't.
Some folks nod or say, “Okay,” just to move the
conversation along. That’s
not doing anyone any good. It’s
perfectly acceptable to simply and gently say, “I apologize.
I am having a little difficulty understanding you.
If you could slow down, just a little bit, I’ll be able to
get it all correct for you.” That’s
the most important thing to the person with the accent, knowing you
want to help and that you want to get it right.
They’re aware you might be having difficulty.
If you pretend you understand, it won’t help the situation at
all. Your tone of voice is
international and universal. So
keep it at a light, slower pace, and yes, smiling is also universal.
They’ll hear your smile in any language.
phrase I mentioned above is most effective and a key phrase to learn.
I know for a fact, it is accepted very warmly.
I’ve had many a person from another country come up and thank
me for sharing that technique with the audience.
It apologizes, acknowledges, empathizes, and creates
credibility. It shows you
want to help.
threatens callers. Often
there’s a tendency to want to really rush someone who speaks with an
accent. That is not a good
idea at all. Rushing
threatens the best of us, let alone someone who is not able to express
themselves in our style. Slow
down, not to excess of course, but if you find yourself constantly
saying “Uh huh,” over and over in rapid succession, you’re
probably rushing the caller.
with accents are not hard of hearing.
We usually get a little laugh on this one.
Many times we subconsciously speak louder, or repeat the same
word over and over, thinking that will help.
It doesn’t. People
with accents normally hear very well.
It’s insulting to shout at them.
Keep that smile on your face.
It’ll show that you have the patience to help and keep trying
to let them know you are there to help.
It might take time, but it will help.
Be Rude: No one really
thinks they’re rude. But
if you’ve ever said: “Hey, I can’t understand you” or even a
short, terse, “huh?” – you’re considered rude.
Again, go back to the first item and explain you’re having a
little difficulty understanding. They’ll
often repeat it for you. If
the situation is hopeless and you simply aren’t getting anywhere,
don’t be embarrassed or afraid to seek help.
Perhaps another agent or a supervisor in your call center can
better understand what the caller is saying.
But remember, being shuffled from one person to another is
frustrating to anyone, accent or not.
a Job Aid Available: Most
often, we hear that 80% of the calls are from a certain area with the
same accent, be it all Hispanic, or all Asian, or all European.
If your job has you working with a large percentage of
individuals with one accent, keep a few simple phrases in that
language near you. Short
phrases that would let the caller know you’re trying.
If you’re in an Hispanic environment, phrases like, “Un
momento por favor” (One moment please) will help.
Even if we mispronounce it, they’ll understand.
Hopefully, there is someone in your area who is either fluent
or well spoken in one particular language who can help you formulate
an effective work aid.
what we said earlier; your smile is universal.
Use it early and often, no matter whom you are talking to!
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