Here is a topic I have not had to confront on many occasions, but it has cropped up a couple of times.
What are some thoughts around the idea of customer service employees (let's say CSRs that provide phone support) that are not native speakers of the language of business? Are there any experiences that involved client (or "near-client") disapproval over the way someone speaks and how this was addressed? For instance, if you are in the United States or Canada or the UK, where English is the primary language of business, and you have an employee whose mother tongue is not English and the employee has an accent--does anyone have any stories to tell about any negative reactions and how this situation evolved or otherwise?
I have had a situation in the past where both French and English were required for a very brief project. Neither of those languages was the first or second language owned by the person reporting to me. The person got the work done in what I considered record time with no problems that I noted. The person's accent tended to be thick at certain times, but I don't recall this being a "lost cause" where understanding the person's speech is concerned. At the end of the project, I received a complaint that apparently some number of individuals were displeased with the accent the person had in one of those languages. No metrics on that dissatisfaction, as none were supplied.
How did I handle that? I didn't provide a lot of reaction to the internal messenger of the complaint; I took in information. Later I went to the person managing that "messenger of the complaint" and said I basically make no room for the complaint, given the expertise of the completed work, and for such a minor and brief project that would have been a disaster if I had not utilized the resource with the accent. In my head, meanwhile: Not every city in the country would have the same reaction to this type of speech, but it's a big world out there, and we have to live in it. That's the gist of where I left that and where it stayed.
A later experience involved not complaints but questions about what type of regional language skill would be found across the team handling phone support. In that particular situation, I made little room for the questions to grow into further requests or changes to the linguistic mix I had in the people I was employing. That is because I wasn't being paid to supply a particular flavor of language--or to shift gears and change the flavors I had. No where was that ever required. So no where did I make room for further exploration into the idea. I provided the staff with specific skills required to fulfill a need in the languages required, and they were all very understandable, but with a mixture of linguistic influences. There was a little more political feeling to that experience and it was also a longer project. But I didn't budge on any of the lingering comments that surfaced here and there.
Who else has something to say about this? I know that I have personally experienced a frustration at some point at not understanding somebody, but I also don't suffer from that problem too much, because I live in a place that has a lot of different kinds of people. I've also done some evolving as the waves keep coming to shore.
What do you do with people who haven't--and in a business context? My questions are not based on the topic of outsourcing work between countries with great distances between them. That's a whole 'nother topic all on its own. This is strictly about people living in the same society and the presence of accents within a same society--in the context of customer service.