Accent translation software is the shiny new tool in the contact center industry, and hopes are high for what it could mean for markets where accent-related friction is a common issue among CX agents.
Speech technology company Sanas launched its eponymous accent translation software in June, during the latest edition of Customer Contact Week (CCW). The firm already struck a partnership with BPO giant Alorica, which has big expectations for what Sanas’ translator will mean for the market.
“We think that this groundbreaking technology really provides our existing and new customers with the option of leveraging markets that they may not have been able to consider in the past for voice due to concerns about the accent,” said Michael Moore, Senior VP of CX & Digital Solutions at Alorica, in an interview.
Described by Marty Sarim –President at Sanas– as an “accent synthesizer tool”, the software is installed, like any other application, in the agent’s desktop. It works as a digital microphone that modulates the speaker’s voice in real time, eliminating any traces of an accent. What comes out the other side sounds like any standard, neutral American voice.
Though it would appear as a minor issue, accents are a key factor in the interactions between CX agents and customers. Accent-related friction can turn conversations awkward, making the agent’s job more difficult. They can be unpleasant for customers too, making the experience irritating and, in some cases, resulting in harassment of the agent.
Alorica expects that Sanas will make accent-related friction a non-issue and reopen paths to markets where agents with a heavy accent are common, like India and other Asian countries.
“This helps to change that dynamic again and reopen the Indian market specifically,” Moore said. “But we also see this as a benefit in the Philippines, to make sure that we can broaden our talent pool, particularly in some of our provincial locations. Also in Central America, where we’re gonna be able to make sure that we can broaden our talent pool in many ways.”
Although Sanas agrees, the company has a broader vision for its software. Marty Sarim –who characterizes the software as “GDP-shifting”– sees the translator being used globally to service countries beyond the United States and other important markets in the Anglosphere.
“Brits struggle with [understanding] Australians, and Australians struggle with Africans, and Africans struggle with Eastern Europeans. This is a global solution. This is not just for America; this isn’t just for English,” he said in an interview.
High Hopes for Lower Attrition
Alorica trusts that Sanas will make the experience more pleasant for CX agents, which might in turn lower the high levels of attrition that the industry is known for.
The company assures that, according to their own internal surveys, agents tend to worry about their accents when speaking to customers. Software that “standardizes” voices will make agents more confident in their interactions with customers, leading to improvements on performance metrics like speed and handle times, explained Moore.
“We believe this type of technology will make communications easier, which will then have a positive impact on our agents and customers,” added Alorica’s communications team in a written statement. “In our experience, happy employees stay with their employers longer and deliver exceptional service that leads to happy customers.”
Attrition rates in CX vary from company to company, but most estimates put it somewhere between 30% and 40%, with agent turnover happening within a year of their hiring. Some surveys show attrition numbers close to 60%.
Although there are several reasons for high turnover in contact centers, harassment by customers is a common issue suffered by agents, as well as one of the main drivers of attrition. For contact center workers, being verbally abused on the phone for their accent is not unheard of.
“From the agent level, there’s a lot of issues that happen with agents that drive attrition, which is the largest expense in a call center,” commented Marty Sarim. “Agents are human beings, so when you’re constantly getting harassed, you’re playing defense. And when you’re playing defense on a phone, you don’t have the best customer satisfaction skills.”
What Comes Next
Though less than a month has passed since the launch of Sanas, the company is already planning for what will come next for the software.
Sarim told NSAM that their team is working on personalization options for the application, which is still officially in an early stage. Agents will be able to choose to sound male or female, and even pick an accent that adapts better to the customer’s region. They’ll be able to sound English, Southwestern, Bostonian, Texan, Indian, Mexican, Chinese, etc. Sanas will also tune the software’s adaptation to more regional accents and iron out minor bugs.
In spite of it being in an early stage, Alorica assured they feel very satisfied with how Sanas is working. The company will execute an alpha launch of the software this week, testing it among its own agents. Testing with customers will happen weeks later, in the planned beta launch.
“It’s gonna reopen the world”, assured Marty Sarim, with palpable enthusiasm in his voice. “It works, man; I’m telling you. Its that cool.”