By Mary Lockley.
For centuries, as long as English has been spoken in all of its various utterances and well before the written word, people listening to spoken English have invariably misheard the spoken word, modifying it somewhat to then using that modified word when communicating with others.
There is good and bad in this but one of the positive outcomes is that many words have been added to the English language – which has increased our ‘collection’ of words to more precisely articulate our thoughts, feelings, opinions etc. to one another. When one is speaking different types of ‘English’ i.e. US English (Burger instead of Ham burger, even though its not made from ham), Singlish, (Singapore), Mangalish (India) “Strine” (Australian drawl), Filipino English which is a hybrid of US English or even UK English (Do what John?) – its easy to see that there are going to be cross cultural misunderstandings by people in different countries speaking their own version of English.
English language usage is full of perfectly serviceable, if ordinary, expressions that have been mauled, through inattention, into senseless hulks of their ordinary selves. This is particularly so in the US, where the fundamentally nonsensical ”I could care less” is a daily staple. For goodness’ sake, if you could care less, that means you actually do care, at least a bit. The correct expression is ‘‘couldn’t care less”. Words seem to creep into the vernacular when promoted by a celebrity who is considered ‘Sooo cool’- are they cold?
But to suggest (which I don’t) that this is the only means the English language has expanded is sheer stupidity – we all know English has borrowed words/phrases from many different languages such as French, German, Italian, Latin and so on. What I do want to do is focus on what people think they hear and then turn around and use their ‘version’ of the word or phrase! And for many of us, it really ‘grates’ when people use a word incorrectly – a bit like running your finger nails down a chalkboard!
For those Australians whose families have been in Australia for generations, there is no excuse for mangling your English! But for ‘new’ Australians who come from a non-English speaking background, you may be forgiven – however, only in the short term because as you enter the workforce you become the face, the representative of that company or business and first impressions are everything!
In particular, this applies to the Customer Service Industry both in Australia and offshore. From short text messages to emails to writing job descriptions on Seek, you are being judged by unforgiving and critical, Australian customers.
There already exists in the Australian ‘character’ a resistance to and resentment of people working in the call centre space (It seems to be universal in the Western world) – phone calls at inappropriate times of the day like dinner time; hard-selling and so on. This is difficult enough for the customer service agent! But what really inflames the situation, is when agents use the wrong word or phrase and totally, in the wrong context or, even the ‘over use’ of words like ‘okay’ or the teenage bimbo ‘like’! You can then be perceived by the Australian customer as being dull and unintelligent, and having an accent, however slight, adds fuel to the fire. All this serves, is to make the experience a negative one resulting in lost sales and/or customers. It tends to make the customer focus on the messenger rather than the message.
Like it or not Customer Service centres are here to stay especially as more and more businesses are outsourcing to become more productive and competitive globally. So, how can we stem the tide of lost sales and customers?
Call Centre agents servicing the Australian market both here and overseas need to be fully immersed and trained in Australian English and Australian Culture to better appreciate and understand the Australian customer. (Did you know that we have sixty-one ways to say YES? To suggest, as someone did, in training and management in an Indian based service provider that the Australian customer needs to know and understand more about “Indian ‘culture’ is ludicrous Australians neither care nor want to know about the caller’s culture, nor should they? All they want is for their query to be addressed by a professional sounding agent in a timely and efficient manner, so that they can get back to their busy day and they couldn’t care less about the geographical location of the CSR.
Not every call an agent makes or takes will be to a wealthy, middle class household – their manner and speech being ‘cultured’ and clearly spoken. More often than not they will call a regular, average Australian who at the slightest, perceived provocation would let forth with a selection of ‘colourful’ words! That will be stressful for an inexperienced call centre agent, until they realise that for some Australians swearing is part of the way they communicate.
To minimise this from happening, customer service agents need to be trained specifically for the Australian market.
Near enough is not good enough! One size does not fit all! American English and culture is not the same as Australian English and culture and neither is British English (though many of our expressions and phrases have been derived from our British heritage). It is inadequate showing agents ‘Crocodile Dundee’ or ‘The Castle’ as indicative of Australian culture and language – it is outdated and NOT a true reflection of modern, Australian society.
Companies need to train their agents with ‘real’ and current training programmes that are authentically and solely Australian resourced. They need to clearly identify the particular Australian language skills necessary for their agents to successfully service and communicate with the Australian market.
The FACCT (FooBoo Australian Cross Cultural Training) programme is the answer! ALL material is Australian sourced. It is divided into 7 learning modules the first being ‘Australian Culture’ and the remaining 6 cover the essential skills of listening, speaking, reading, writing and digital literacy as well as conflict resolution. Specially trained practitioners of English using an online platform and a face-to-face approach deliver FACCT. In so doing, it keeps the content ‘fresh’ and practical. FACCT is continually updated as English, the primary language of business, is constantly changing and growing to meet the needs of an ever-increasing and demanding, global, business community.
Once dedicated Australian agents whether onshore (Australia), near shore (New Zealand) or offshore (India, Mauritius, The Philippines or Malaysia) have completed the FACCT course, many of their uncertainties, doubts and questions would have been addressed thereby empowering them to proceed with a greater confidence when approaching the Australian, customer market. They would now better understand the context of a situation and use the ‘tools and techniques’ taught to them more effectively and appropriately.
But it’s human nature to make things harder for ourselves; why else would the World Wildlife Fund persist with abbreviating its name to WWF even though the abbreviation has seven syllables when the whole name only has four?
Nevertheless, let’s just stamp out a few more right now
It’s not ”Here, here” ou’re getting confused with ”There, there”. The expression is ”Hear, hear!” – an abbreviation from ”Hear him! Hear him!” – and dates back to Britain’s 17th-century House of Commons, where the many local peculiarities included the prohibition of applause in the political chamber, thus obliging the invention of a verbal expression of approval.
Let’s move on to ”unfazed” and ”unphased”. If you are the former, you are in the happy position of not being at all disconcerted by some unexpected event or development.If you are the latter, as I saw one Twitter user point out last week, it means you have escaped attack by Star Trek weaponry. These are two quite different things.
The really pernicious thing about many of these misuses is that they are spellcheck stealth bombers. The problem is not that the constituent elements are incorrectly spelled; they’re just mashed together in a manner destined to make one look a fool in one’s office email chain – spellcheck cannot use contextual clues!
Mary Lockley is the Course Designer and Director for the FACCT programme (FooBoo Australian Cross Cultural Training Programme) and can be contacted at email@example.com