The Impact of Accents

Topics: English language, Psychology, Stereotype, Customer service, Social psychology, Sociology / Pages: 8 (1817 words) / Published: May 6th, 2013
The Impact of Accent Stereotypes on Service Outcomes and Its Boundary Conditions

The Impact of Accent Stereotypes on Service Outcomes and Its Boundary Conditions


“When we listened back to calls people had complained about often they were fine. Some people wanted the member of staff to fail because they were in India. I don’t know why that should be, but when customers start voting with their feet, you have to respond.”
--Adrian Web (Call Center Manager, BBC news, 2/14/2007) The accent of service providers may positively or negatively bias customer perception of service quality—especially in service contexts where visual cues are absent (e.g., call centers). In this research, we explore the effects of accent stereotypes in a variety of call center situations. With two laboratory experiments, we demonstrate that even with identical service outcomes, customers’ perception and interpretation of their service experience changed as a function of customer service employee accent (i.e., British, Indian and American). However, biases caused by accent stereotyping decrease when relevant objective information is available (i.e., the industrial norm).

Sociolinguistics literature (Lippi-Green 1994, Giles and Powesland 1975) suggests that accent is an important indicator of one’s ethnicity, regional affiliation and social class. Even though accents may be subtle, individuals are still able to perceive and distinguish among different accents (Cargile 2000; Giles, Williams, Mackie and Rosselli 1995). People attribute positive traits to certain types of accents based on the prestige of the class or group that possess it (e.g., sophistication and politeness associated with British accent) (Ladegaard 1998). In contrast, people also discriminate against the speakers with foreign accents (e.g., African-American, Indian, and Mexican-American) which may “link to skin that isn’t white, or signal a third-party homeland” (Lippi-Green,

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