How to get transferred to a customer service rep with less accent?
February 1, 2017 12:41 AM   Subscribe

Is there a polite way to ask to be transferred to a different customer service person with a less-strong accent? I'm hard of hearing, and I genuinely can't understand very strong accents, including a strong Scottish accent, a strong Yorkshire accent, or a strong Indian accent. But I don't want the customer service person to feel hurt or to feel that I'm asking for racist reasons.

My hearing problems are actually central auditory processing disorder, so a hearing aid won't help - I had a lengthy hearing test and a lengthy discussion with an audiologist last year.

I can hear okay on the phone as long as:
a) the other person doesn't have too-strong an accent;
b) the other person doesn't talk too fast.
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us to Human Relations (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
As an alternative or for when this is not possible: does your country offer a National Relay Service? (You and a middle person communicate by text/typing and they talk to the phone operator - usually a free service)
posted by Chrysalis at 1:22 AM on February 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

Does your provider have an email or live chat option for contact? You could use one of those methods to request a call back from a representative with whom you are able to communicate effectively. That would be a perfectly polite request and likely to be granted.

Asking to speak with a representative who has an accent that is neutral (to you) or familiar/intelligible (to you) could be difficult to oblige in many call centre set-ups and may not be received well.
posted by esto-again at 2:51 AM on February 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

In cases like this I ask if it's possible to be transferred to a customer service representative in my own country.
posted by Rob Rockets at 3:36 AM on February 1, 2017

I do not recommend asking to be transferred to a customer service representative "in your own country". The presence of a strong accent or dialect does not necessarily mean the person speaking isn't a resident or citizen of your country. Customer service reps have spoken out about how emotionally wearing it is to be frequently assumed to be non-residents/citizens (all too often with associated hostility and/or racism).

I have trouble deciphering accents/dialects, and I usually opt to be up front about it if I'm struggling: "I'm so sorry, I have a terrible ear for accents, could you speak more slowly please?". Obviously your being hard of hearing is not something you should have to apologize for, but an apology for inconveniencing them is helpful shorthand to communicate good intent. I think if you explain your difficulty, and ask if there's anything you can do to make sure your request to be transferred doesn't negatively impact their performance stats, that you'll be okay.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 4:46 AM on February 1, 2017 [33 favorites]

I've managed call centers. I think this is a fine request, as long as it's done the right way, ("I'm so sorry, I have some trouble hearing..."), but am not sure exactly how you'd state what you need in a way that makes sense to the person you're speaking with. Everyone has an accent - there's no such thing as "less accent." I also think having the conversation via relay service or chat, or emailing to request a conversation, is going to be your best bet.

Asking to be transferred to someone in your own country is a bad idea. First, people in the same country have a myriad of accents - both foreign (think especially bilingual agents), and domestic/dialectic. Second, you'll come off as insensitive, and at worst, racist.
posted by marmago at 4:48 AM on February 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

This may be completely unhelpful given your condition, but I remember really struggling to understand what many people were saying when I first moved to NYC. In time I got better at it. I wonder if purposely exposing yourself to heavily accented speech might train your ear.

Another thing you can do is end the call (make a polite pretext if you need to) and call again. In most cases you'll get someone else.
posted by bunderful at 4:55 AM on February 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

The best thing to do is excuse yourself, hang up, and call again.
posted by grouse at 5:20 AM on February 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've done this twice and it's gone fine. You don't have to explain your hearing condition to anyone, but it is helpful to say that you have trouble hearing - even without that it could be a challenge if you are on a cell phone or they have background noise. So "I appreciate your help but I can't understand you clearly; I'd like to speak with someone else on your team." 99% chance the second person won't have the same combination of accent/pitch/speed that you find difficult to hear.

I am not concerned about ruffling feathers but I am concerned that the person with the accent not be penalized because I can't understand them. So I've been very clear to say "I appreciate your help but I can't understand you clearly" and when I do speak to another person I am clear to say "the first person I spoke with was very helpful and patient and I appreciate you stepping in as well." The second time I did this I had an opportunity to do a post-call survey where I was able to clarify again how the first person was very helpful and the team was very accommodating.
posted by headnsouth at 5:26 AM on February 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

To the people suggesting just hanging up and calling again: when you've been on hold for 30 minutes before getting through, this is not practical...
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 5:31 AM on February 1, 2017 [15 favorites]

I would focus on the speed angle. Say that you have a hearing disorder and ask if they would mind speaking slowly and clearly. See how that goes - my guess is that it'll make enough of a difference that accent won't be such a big deal.
posted by pipeski at 5:36 AM on February 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

I have, in the past, simply said that I'm having a hard time understanding their accent and can they please transfer me to someone else. Just be polite.
posted by INFJ at 5:57 AM on February 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Can you time your calls so you are most likely to get an accent you understand? (If you happen to be calling say, British Airways, then I can tell you you're much more likely to get someone with a UK accent if you're calling during business hours in the UK.)

I also agree that asking them to slow down is fair game and may be very helpful for your understanding.
posted by nat at 6:07 AM on February 1, 2017

I gather your goal is to get your issue handled in an understandable, friendly and timely manner by both interested parties.

Politely request that they repeat or slow down. If not, politely ask to speak to another person who can help you; the reason doesn't really matter.

Ultimately, you need someone (who is understandable, friendly, timely) that helps you with your problem.
posted by mountainblue at 7:21 AM on February 1, 2017

You can just politely say you're having trouble understanding and ask to be transferred. IT doesn't really matter why you can't understand, for all they know English could be your 3rd language that you're still learning.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:41 AM on February 1, 2017

I have this problem -- repeat exposure does not help, or at least it doesn't for me; I knew a very heavily accented Scots couple, parents of a good friend, for two decades and never got any further along in deciphering the accents -- I can read the accent (qv "Oor Wullie," "The Broons"), I have grown up surrounded by people with milder UK accents, and yet never really managed a conversation that was more than "'ee's gon' oot fer da nicht" -- "He's out? Okay, thanks for letting me know; please tell him I called."

Anyway, in customer service calls, I am a bit of a coward about this and have never been able to bring it up directly. I have occasionally managed to find/"remember" a totally trivial excuse to talk to their supervisor. I'm very sorry, this has nothing to do with you, but could I please speak with a supervisor? I just remembered I had an unresolved issue about my last bill and that I had been meaning to call and talk with a manager or supervisor about it. I really appreciate all your help so far... Then I get transferred (probably to the person sitting next to them; who cares) and ask a trivial question about, I don't know, removing a fee, and then go on about the original reason for my call.
posted by kmennie at 11:33 AM on February 1, 2017

"I have a medical disorder that makes it very difficult for me to process individual speech sounds. [I'm having an especially bad day, so] it's hard for me to understand accents that are different from my own. Would you be able to transfer me to someone with an accent that is similar to mine?"
[If not]
"Thank you, I understand. Can you speak slowly and [whatever else might help]? Thank you for being so patient."
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:30 PM on February 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I work on the tech support desk for CapTel, captioned phones for people who are HoH or deaf. I assist USian customers, but AU also has CapTel services (FYI/FWIW).

It is absolutely smiled upon when customers ask to speak with another agent whose voice is different than the initial person their call is connected to, and this happens ALL the time. Like, All.the.time. High vs low pitch, female vs male, etc. I've been told my voice is soothing and melodious but that's worth diddly if it's not understandable, and my feelings have never ever been hurt when customers ask to speak to someone with a deeper voice.

We also have tech support reps who have hearing impairment and who use captioned phones themselves, whose speech is sometimes difficult for others with hearing impairment to hear/understand. As long as a customer isn't a thoughtless jerk about requesting to work with someone different, I am happy to continue working with a transferred customer, but I will not tolerate disparaging remarks about my co-workers' speech and have advised rude customers as much.

It helps to know how I might be able to help you understand my speech better. Might be 'talk really loud', or 'you don't have to raise your voice, just talk more slowly', or 'it's hard for me to hear most consonants like D, T, C, B, etc, could you speak crisply?', or whatever it is that you know from your own previous experience will help.

You could state simply, 'I truly appreciate your help, but I have hearing loss and am having some difficulty understanding your audio, no fault of your own. Might I be able to speak with a different rep? Maybe I'll be able to hear them a little better.'

I don't recommend just hanging up mid-call without mentioning the difficulty you're having, and then calling back again with your fingers crossed that you'll get someone different, because in centers like mine the call will route to the next available rep, and if that person you hung up on is the only one currently available, guess who you'll not understand twice in a row. Or, like you said, you may end up on hold for a million hours again.

Some companies (many telephone service providers, for example) offer services specifically for people with disabilities. If you have access to that option they'll already be prepared to accommodate whatever need you might have, and you will not have to try to navigate automated phone menus, it'll go straight to a live person. If ever you have an issue with your phone service let the telephone company know you have a hearing impairment and they often will light a fire under tech support to get the issue fixed faster since it is especially important your phone work properly in case of emergency.

Speaking as a CSR who talks on the phone all day every day, here's the real magic trick: manners. No matter what you need, being polite will get you ev.ery.where.
posted by mcbeth at 6:53 PM on February 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

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