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Last Updated: Monday, 14 April, 2003, 15:21 GMT 16:21 UK
Indians learn to be Brad and Britney
Pearly king and queen, BBC
Indian call centre staff get lessons in British culture
Elocution lessons are helping staff working at call centres in India neutralise their accents and make their sales pitch more effective.

Increasing numbers of Western firms are turning to so-called off-shore service centres to handle customer calls or sell new services on their behalf.

Many of the firms operating the call centres are using language and culture classes to make the accents of their workers sound like the people they are calling.

Research has shown that potential customers react best when they can talk to someone who sounds just like they do.

Teacher talk

The falling cost of international phone calls and the vast disparities in labour costs between many Western nations and India have meant that call centres based on the sub-continent are booming.

Some call centres are going to great lengths to make their staff sound like they are natives of the country they are calling rather than where they are calling from.

Zia Sheikh, head and co-founder of Infowavz International in Bombay, also known as Mumbai, said new staff go through a month-long training programme to help them neutralise their accent and learn about the culture of the countries they are serving.

Still from Monsters Inc, Image.Net
Watching films helps workers become familiar with US culture
"There are definitely challenges around bridging that cultural gap between someone sitting in Denver and someone supporting them from India who's most likely never travelled outside the country," said Mr Sheikh.

Staff are given Western pseudonyms such as "Britney" and "Brad" instead of their real names that they must use while calling potential customers.

They also watch films from the UK and US to learn about how people live their lives and attend language classes to remove native accents.

Payal Khan, an accent trainer for Infowavz, told the BBC Go Digital radio programme that she spent a lot of time teaching people to speak clearly and slowly.

"If the customer is not able to understand the kinds of words and phrases that Indians use, then it's very difficult for them to make a sale or to get something forward to them," she said.

Ms Khan said that Indian languages use very similar alphabets and many of their letter sounds are much harsher than their Western counterparts.

Language training helps staff soften spoken vowel sounds to produce a more authentic accent.

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20 Mar 03  |  England
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19 Mar 03  |  Scotland
India's call centre boom
27 Nov 02  |  South Asia

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