It's no secret that American companies outsource call centers to lower-cost locales. But customers often have no idea whether they are speaking with an operator in Baltimore or Bangalore. That's because overseas call centers go to great lengths to help their staffs sound American, teaching them American accents and colloquialisms like "OK" and "no problem."
Prof. David Butler, of the University of Southern Mississippi, says operators also learn the names of U.S. sports teams and use American-sounding names. "They are trying to connect with callers," he explains.
They are also trying to avoid hang-ups. A survey by BenchmarkPortal Inc. found that 65 percent of American consumers would change their buying behavior if they learned a company was using an offshore call center. So it's not surprising, says Butler, that some operators are taught to lie and say they are located in a U.S. city if asked.
"There's nothing inherently wrong with accent neutralization. It helps communication," says Don Van Doren, president of consultancy Vanguard Communications. "But when it gets deceptive, it can be damaging. You don't want conversations to start from a position of mistrust."