image of Listener perceptions of customer service agents’ performance
Buy:$35.00 + Taxes



This study investigated listener-based assessment of the job performance of second language (L2) speakers employed as customer service agents in outsourced foreign-based call centers, focusing on agents’ job performance as a function of the comprehensibility, fluency, and accentedness of their speech. Using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing platform, 116 native English-speaking listeners evaluated two-minute recordings of actual customer service conversations featuring 18 Filipino agents, assessing them for three global speech dimensions (comprehensibility, accentedness, and fluency) and three performance indicators, including agents’ confidence, competence, and listeners’ interest in future communication with agents (a measure capturing customer patronage). Comprehensibility and fluency consistently predicted how the listeners assessed the agents on all job performance scales, and accentedness was additionally associated with how strongly the listeners wished to communicate with the agents. Findings generally highlight the importance of fluent and comprehensible L2 speech in workplace settings.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


  1. Almeida, S., Fernando, M., Hannif, Z., & Dharmage, S. C.
    (2015) Fitting the mould: The role of employer perceptions in immigrant recruitment decision-making. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 26, 2811–2832. 10.1080/09585192.2014.1003087
    https://doi.org/10.1080/09585192.2014.1003087 [Google Scholar]
  2. Archer, D., & Jagodziński, P.
    (2015) Call centre interaction: A case of sanctioned face attack?Journal of Pragmatics, 76, 46–66. 10.1016/j.pragma.2014.11.009
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2014.11.009 [Google Scholar]
  3. Bartoń, K.
    (2020) MuMIn: Multi-Model Inference. R package version 1.43.17. https://CRAN.R-project.org/package=MuMIn
    [Google Scholar]
  4. Bates, D., Mäechler, M., Bolker, B., & Walker, S.
    (2015) Fitting linear mixed-effects models using lme4. Journal of Statistical Software, 67, 1–48. 10.18637/jss.v067.i01
    https://doi.org/10.18637/jss.v067.i01 [Google Scholar]
  5. Bestelmeyer, P. E. G., Belin, P., & Ladd, D. R.
    (2015) A neural marker for social bias toward in- group accents. Cerebral Cortex, 25, 3953–3961. 10.1093/cercor/bhu282
    https://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhu282 [Google Scholar]
  6. Blankenship, K. L., & Holtgraves, T.
    (2005) The role of different markers of linguistic powerlessness in persuasion. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 24, 3–24. 10.1177/0261927X04273034
    https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X04273034 [Google Scholar]
  7. Bosker, H. R., Pinget, A. F., Quené, H., Sanders, T., & de Jong, N. H.
    (2013) What makes speech sound fluent? The contribution of pauses, speed and repairs. Language Testing, 30, 159–175. 10.1177/0265532212455394
    https://doi.org/10.1177/0265532212455394 [Google Scholar]
  8. Brennan, E., & Brennan, J.
    (1981) Accent scaling and language attitudes: Reactions to Mexican American English speech. Language and Speech, 24, 207–221. 10.1177/002383098102400301
    https://doi.org/10.1177/002383098102400301 [Google Scholar]
  9. Brennan, S. E., & Williams, M.
    (1995) The feeling of another’s knowing: Prosody and filled pauses as cues to listeners about the metacognitive states of speakers. Journal of Memory and Language, 34, 383–398. 10.1006/jmla.1995.1017
    https://doi.org/10.1006/jmla.1995.1017 [Google Scholar]
  10. Camilleri, M. A.
    (2021) E-commerce websites, consumer order fulfillment and after-sales service satisfaction: The customer is always right, even after the shopping cart check-out. Journal of Strategy and Management. Advance online publication. 10.1108/JSMA‑02‑2021‑0045
    https://doi.org/10.1108/JSMA-02-2021-0045 [Google Scholar]
  11. Campbell-Kibler, K.
    (2007) Accent, (ING), and the social logic of listener perceptions. American Speech, 82, 32–64. 10.1215/00031283‑2007‑002
    https://doi.org/10.1215/00031283-2007-002 [Google Scholar]
  12. CFI Group
    CFI Group (2020) Contact center satisfaction index: Managing the entire customer experience. https://cfigroup.com/resource-item/contact-center-satisfaction-2020
    [Google Scholar]
  13. Chicu, D., Pàmies, M., Ryan, G., & Cross, C.
    (2019) Exploring the influence of the human factor on customer satisfaction in call centres. Business Research Quarterly, 22, 83–95. 10.1016/j.brq.2018.08.004
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brq.2018.08.004 [Google Scholar]
  14. Cocchiara, F. K., Bell, M. P., & Casper, W. J.
    (2016) Sounding “different”: The role of sociolinguistic cues in evaluating job candidates. Human Resource Management, 55, 463–477. 10.1002/hrm.21675
    https://doi.org/10.1002/hrm.21675 [Google Scholar]
  15. Cowie, C., & Murty, L.
    (2010) Researching and understanding accent shifts in Indian call centre agents. InG. Forey & J. Lockwood (Eds.), Globalization, communication and the workplace: Talking across the world (pp.125–144). Continuum.
    [Google Scholar]
  16. D’Ausilio, R.
    (1998) Wake up your call center: How to be a better call center agent. Purdue University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  17. Darian, J. C., Tucci, L. A., & Wiman, A. R.
    (2001) Perceived salesperson service attributes and retail patronage intentions. International Journal of Retail Distribution Management, 29, 205–213. 10.1108/09590550110390986
    https://doi.org/10.1108/09590550110390986 [Google Scholar]
  18. Davila, A., Bohara, A., & Saenz, R.
    (1993) Accent penalties and the earnings of Mexican Americans. Social Science Quarterly, 74, 902–916. https://www.jstor.org/stable/42863257
    [Google Scholar]
  19. Derwing, T. M., & Munro, M. J.
    (1997) Accent, intelligibility, and comprehensibility: Evidence from four L1s. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 19, 1–16. 10.1017/S0272263197001010
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0272263197001010 [Google Scholar]
  20. (2009) Comprehensibility as a factor in listener interaction preferences: Implications for the workplace. Canadian Modern Language Review, 66, 181–202. 10.3138/cmlr.66.2.181
    https://doi.org/10.3138/cmlr.66.2.181 [Google Scholar]
  21. Derwing, T., Fraser, H., Kang, O., & Thomson, R.
    (2014) L2 accent and ethics: Issues that merit attention. InA. Mahboob & L. Barratt (Eds.), Englishes in multilingual contexts (pp.63–80). Springer. 10.1007/978‑94‑017‑8869‑4_5
    https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-8869-4_5 [Google Scholar]
  22. Difallah, D., Filatova, E., & Ipeirotis, P.
    (2018) Demographics and dynamics of Mechanical Turk workers. Proceedings of the Eleventh ACM International Conference on Web Search and Data Mining, 135–143. 10.1145/3159652.3159661
    https://doi.org/10.1145/3159652.3159661 [Google Scholar]
  23. Downing, J. R.
    (2011) Linking communication competence with call center agents’ sales effectiveness. Journal of Business Communication, 48, 409–425. 10.1177/0021943611414539
    https://doi.org/10.1177/0021943611414539 [Google Scholar]
  24. Dragojevic, M., Giles, H., Beck, A.-C., & Tatum, N. T.
    (2017) The fluency principle: Why foreign accent strength negatively biases language attitudes. Communication Monographs, 84, 385–405. 10.1080/03637751.2017.1322213
    https://doi.org/10.1080/03637751.2017.1322213 [Google Scholar]
  25. Erickson, B., Lind, A. E., Johnson, B. C., & O’Barr, W. M.
    (1978) Speech style and impression formation in a court setting: The effects of “powerful” and “powerless” speech. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 14, 266–279. 10.1016/0022‑1031(78)90015‑X
    https://doi.org/10.1016/0022-1031(78)90015-X [Google Scholar]
  26. Forey, G., & Lockwood, J.
    (2007) “I’d love to put someone in jail for this”: An initial investigation of English in the business processing outsourcing (BPO) industry. English for Specific Purposes, 26, 308–326. 10.1016/j.esp.2006.09.005
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esp.2006.09.005 [Google Scholar]
  27. (Eds.) (2010) Globalization, communication, and the workplace: Talking across the world. Continuum.
    [Google Scholar]
  28. Friginal, E.
    (2007) Outsourced call centers and English in the Philippines. World Englishes, 26, 331–345. 10.1111/j.1467‑971X.2007.00512.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-971X.2007.00512.x [Google Scholar]
  29. (2009) The language of outsourced call centers: A corpus-based study of cross-cultural interaction. John Benjamins. 10.1075/scl.34
    https://doi.org/10.1075/scl.34 [Google Scholar]
  30. Friginal, E., & Cullom, M.
    (2014) Saying ‘No’ in Philippine-based outsourced call center interactions. Asian Englishes, 16, 2–18. 10.1080/13488678.2013.872362
    https://doi.org/10.1080/13488678.2013.872362 [Google Scholar]
  31. Gaffney, C., & Côté, S.
    (2020) Does personality influence ratings of foreign accents?Journal of Second Language Pronunciation, 6, 68–95. 10.1075/jslp.18042.gaf
    https://doi.org/10.1075/jslp.18042.gaf [Google Scholar]
  32. Gatbonton, E., Trofimovich, P., & Magid, M.
    (2005) Learners’ ethnic group affiliation and L2 pronunciation accuracy: A sociolinguistic investigation. TESOL Quarterly, 39, 489–511. 10.2307/3588491
    https://doi.org/10.2307/3588491 [Google Scholar]
  33. Gluszek, A., Newheiser, A.-K., & Dovidio, J. F.
    (2011) Social psychological manipulations and accent strength. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 30, 28–45. 10.1177/0261927X10387100
    https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X10387100 [Google Scholar]
  34. Goldberg, L. R.
    (1993) The structure of phenotypic personality traits. American Psychologist, 48, 26–34. 10.1037/0003‑066X.48.1.26
    https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.48.1.26 [Google Scholar]
  35. Grandey, A. A., Dickter, D. N., & Sin, H.-P.
    (2004) The customer is not always right: Customer aggression and emotion regulation of service employees. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 25, 397–418. 10.1002/job.252
    https://doi.org/10.1002/job.252 [Google Scholar]
  36. Graziano, W. G., & Tobin, R. M.
    (2017) Agreeableness and the Five Factor Model. InT. A. Widiger (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of the Five Factor Model (pp.105–132). Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  37. Hallgren, K. A.
    (2012) Computing inter-rater reliability for observational data: An overview and tutorial. Tutorials in Quantitative Methods for Psychology, 8, 23–34. 10.20982/tqmp.08.1.p023
    https://doi.org/10.20982/tqmp.08.1.p023 [Google Scholar]
  38. Hamp-Lyons, L., & Lockwood, J.
    (2009) The workplace, the society and the wider world: The offshoring and outsourcing industry. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 29, 145–167. 10.1017/S0267190509090126
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0267190509090126 [Google Scholar]
  39. Hayes-Harb, R., & Hacking, J. F.
    (2015) Beyond rating data: What do listeners believe underlies their accentedness judgments?Journal of Second Language Pronunciation, 1, 43–64. 10.1075/jslp.1.1.02hay
    https://doi.org/10.1075/jslp.1.1.02hay [Google Scholar]
  40. Hood, S., & Forey, G.
    (2008) The interpersonal dynamics of call-centre interactions: Co-constructing the rise and fall of emotion. Discourse & Communication, 2, 389–409. 10.1177/1750481308095937
    https://doi.org/10.1177/1750481308095937 [Google Scholar]
  41. Hosman, L.
    (2015) Powerful and powerless speech styles and their relationship to perceived dominance and control. InR. Schulze, & H. Pishwa (Eds.), The exercise of power in communication (pp.221–232). Palgrave Macmillan. 10.1057/9781137478382_9
    https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137478382_9 [Google Scholar]
  42. Hosman, L. A., & Siltanen, S. A.
    (2011) Hedges, tag questions, message processing, and persuasion. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 30, 341–349. 10.1177/0261927X11407169
    https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X11407169 [Google Scholar]
  43. Hosoda, M., Stone-Romero, E. F., & Walter, J. N.
    (2007) Listeners’ cognitive and affective reactions to English speakers with standard American English and Asian accents. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 104, 307–326. 10.2466/pms.104.1.307‑326
    https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.104.1.307-326 [Google Scholar]
  44. Hox, J. J., Moerbeek, M., & Van de Schoot, R.
    (2017) Multilevel analysis: Techniques and applications. Routledge. 10.4324/9781315650982
    https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315650982 [Google Scholar]
  45. Hultgren, A. K.
    (2011) “Building rapport” with customers across the world: The global diffusion of a call centre speech style. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 15, 36–64. 10.1111/j.1467‑9841.2010.00466.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9841.2010.00466.x [Google Scholar]
  46. Isaacs, T., & Trofimovich, P.
    (2012) Deconstructing comprehensibility: Identifying the linguistic influences on listeners’ L2 comprehensibility ratings. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 34, 475–505. 10.1017/S0272263112000150
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0272263112000150 [Google Scholar]
  47. Iwashita, N., Brown, A., McNamara, T., & O’Hagan, S.
    (2008) Assessed levels of second language speaking proficiency: How distinct?Applied Linguistics, 29, 24–49. 10.1093/applin/amm017
    https://doi.org/10.1093/applin/amm017 [Google Scholar]
  48. Kahng, J.
    (2018) The effect of pause location on perceived fluency. Applied Psycholinguistics, 39, 569–591. 10.1017/S0142716417000534
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0142716417000534 [Google Scholar]
  49. Krahn, H., Derwing, T., Mulder, M., & Wilkinson, L.
    (2000) Educated and underemployed: Refugee integration into the Canadian labour market. Journal of International Migration and Integration, 1, 59–84. 10.1007/s12134‑000‑1008‑2
    https://doi.org/10.1007/s12134-000-1008-2 [Google Scholar]
  50. Krishnamurthy, M.
    (2018) 1-800-Worlds: The making of Indian call centre economy. Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  51. Levis, J. M.
    (2018) Intelligibility, oral communication, and the teaching of pronunciation. Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/9781108241564
    https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108241564 [Google Scholar]
  52. Linck, J. A., & Cunnings, I.
    (2015) The utility and application of mixed-effects models in second language research. Language Learning, 65, 185–207. 10.1111/lang.12117
    https://doi.org/10.1111/lang.12117 [Google Scholar]
  53. Lippi-Green, R.
    (2012) English with an accent: Language, ideology, and discrimination in the United States. Routledge. 10.4324/9780203348802
    https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203348802 [Google Scholar]
  54. Lockwood, J.
    (2012) Are we getting the right people for the job? A study of English language recruitment assessment practices in the business processing outsourcing sector: India and the Philippines. The Journal of Business Communication, 49, 107–127. 10.1177/0021943612436975
    https://doi.org/10.1177/0021943612436975 [Google Scholar]
  55. Lockwood, J. E.
    (2015) Language for Specific Purpose (LSP) performance assessment in Asian call centres: Strong and weak definitions. Language Testing in Asia, 5, 1–11. 10.1186/s40468‑014‑0009‑6
    https://doi.org/10.1186/s40468-014-0009-6 [Google Scholar]
  56. (2018) Theorising communications coaching in Asian contact centres: What is the approach?Industrial and Commercial Training, 50, 312–325. 10.1108/ICT‑05‑2018‑0045
    https://doi.org/10.1108/ICT-05-2018-0045 [Google Scholar]
  57. Marbach, J., Lages, C. R., & Nunan, D.
    (2016) Who are you and what do you value? Investigating the role of personality traits and customer-perceived value in online customer engagement. Journal of Marketing Management, 32, 502–525. 10.1080/0267257X.2015.1128472
    https://doi.org/10.1080/0267257X.2015.1128472 [Google Scholar]
  58. Munro, M. J., & Derwing, T. M.
    (1995) Foreign accent, comprehensibility, and intelligibility in the speech of second language learners. Language Learning, 45, 73–97. 10.1111/j.1467‑1770.1995.tb00963.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-1770.1995.tb00963.x [Google Scholar]
  59. Nagle, C.
    (2019) Developing and validating a methodology for crowdsourcing L2 speech ratings in Amazon Mechanical Turk. Journal of Second Language Pronunciation, 5, 294–323. 10.1075/jslp.18016.nag
    https://doi.org/10.1075/jslp.18016.nag [Google Scholar]
  60. Nagle, C., & Rehman, I.
    (2021) Doing L2 speech research online: Why and how to collect online ratings data. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 43, 916–939. 10.1017/S0272263121000292
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0272263121000292 [Google Scholar]
  61. Nelson, C. L.
    (2012) Intelligibility in World Englishes: Theory and application. Routledge. 10.4324/9780203832578
    https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203832578 [Google Scholar]
  62. O’Brien, M. G.
    (2016) Methodological choices in rating speech samples. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 38, 587–605. 10.1017/S0272263115000418
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0272263115000418 [Google Scholar]
  63. Orth, U. R., & Wirtz, J.
    (2014) Consumer processing of interior service environments: The interplay among visual complexity, processing fluency, and attractiveness. Journal of Service Research, 17, 296–309. 10.1177/1094670514529606
    https://doi.org/10.1177/1094670514529606 [Google Scholar]
  64. Parton, S. R., Siltanen, S. A., Hosman, L. A., & Langenderfer, J.
    (2002) Employment interview outcomes and speech style effects. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 21, 144–161. 10.1177/02627X02021002003
    https://doi.org/10.1177/02627X02021002003 [Google Scholar]
  65. Plonsky, L., & Oswald, F. L.
    (2014) How big is “big”? Interpreting effect sizes in L2 research. Language Learning, 64, 878–912. 10.1111/lang.12079
    https://doi.org/10.1111/lang.12079 [Google Scholar]
  66. Presbitero, A.
    (2017) It’s not all about language ability: Motivational cultural intelligence matters in call center performance. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 28, 1547–1562. 10.1080/09585192.2015.1128464
    https://doi.org/10.1080/09585192.2015.1128464 [Google Scholar]
  67. R Core Team
    R Core Team (2020) R: A language and environment for statistical computing [Computer software]. R Foundation for Statistical Computing. https://www.R-project.org
    [Google Scholar]
  68. Ramjattan, V. A.
    (2019) Racializing the problem of and solution to foreign accent in business. Applied Linguistics Review. Advanced online publication. 10.1515/applirev‑2019‑0058
    https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2019-0058 [Google Scholar]
  69. Reber, R., & Greifeneder, R.
    (2017) Processing fluency in education: How metacognitive feelings shape learning, belief formation, and affect. Educational Psychologist, 52, 84–103. 10.1080/00461520.2016.1258173
    https://doi.org/10.1080/00461520.2016.1258173 [Google Scholar]
  70. Revelle, W.
    (2021) psych: Procedures for psychological, psychometric, and personality research. Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. R package version 2.1.3. https://CRAN.R-project.org/package=psych
    [Google Scholar]
  71. Rossiter, M. J.
    (2009) Perceptions of L2 fluency by native and non-native speakers of English. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 65, 395–412. 10.3138/cmlr.65.3.395
    https://doi.org/10.3138/cmlr.65.3.395 [Google Scholar]
  72. Saito, K., Trofimovich, P., & Isaacs, T.
    (2017) Using listener judgments to investigate linguistic influences on L2 comprehensibility and accentedness: A validation and generalization study. Applied Linguistics, 38, 439–462. 10.1093/applin/amv047
    https://doi.org/10.1093/applin/amv047 [Google Scholar]
  73. Sanchez, C. A., & Khan, S.
    (2016) Instructor accents in online education and their effect on learning and attitudes. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 32, 494–502. 10.1111/jcal.12149
    https://doi.org/10.1111/jcal.12149 [Google Scholar]
  74. Schwarz, N.
    (2004) Metacognitive experiences in consumer judgment and decision making. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 14, 332–348. 10.1207/s15327663jcp1404_2
    https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327663jcp1404_2 [Google Scholar]
  75. Segalowitz, N.
    (2010) Cognitive bases of second language fluency. Routledge. 10.4324/9780203851357
    https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203851357 [Google Scholar]
  76. Soto, C. J., & John, O. P.
    (2017) Short and extra-short forms of the Big Five Inventory-2: The BFI-2-S and BFI-2-XS. Journal of Research in Personality, 68, 69–81. 10.1016/j.jrp.2017.02.004
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2017.02.004 [Google Scholar]
  77. Tavakoli, P., & Hunter, A.-M.
    (2017) Is fluency being “neglected” in the classroom? Teacher understanding of fluency and related classroom practices. Language Teaching Research, 22, 330–349. 10.1177/1362168817708462
    https://doi.org/10.1177/1362168817708462 [Google Scholar]
  78. Tavakoli, P., Nakatsuhara, F., & Hunter, A.-M.
    (2020) Aspects of fluency across assessed levels of speaking proficiency. The Modern Language Journal, 104, 169–191. 10.1111/modl.12620
    https://doi.org/10.1111/modl.12620 [Google Scholar]
  79. Timming, A. R.
    (2017) The effect of foreign accent on employability: A study of the aural dimensions of aesthetic labour in customer-facing and non-customer-facing jobs. Work, Employment and Society, 31, 409–428. 10.1177/0950017016630260
    https://doi.org/10.1177/0950017016630260 [Google Scholar]
  80. Whitaker, J., Krishnan, M. S., Fornell, C., & Morgeson, F.
    (2020) How does customer service offshoring impact customer satisfaction?Journal of Computer Information Systems, 60, 569–582: 10.1080/08874417.2018.1552091
    https://doi.org/10.1080/08874417.2018.1552091 [Google Scholar]
  81. Wilt, J., & Revelle, W.
    (2017) Extraversion. InT. A. Widiger (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of the Five Factor Model (pp.57–81). Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]

Data & Media loading...

  • Article Type: Research Article
Keywords: perception ; fluency ; foreign-based call center ; accentedness ; comprehensibility ; customer service
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error