For firms, talk isn't so cheap

Facing those of us who spend too much time on the phone each workday, a telemarketer who calls during the dinner hour stands little chance of getting a hearing - no matter what she says, or how she says it.

Remarkably, the Direct Marketing Association says 5.6 million telemarketers will collectively ring up $585 billion in sales for 2000.

That's some persuasive talking.

Yet lately, more of such callers - to my house, at least - have been almost incomprehensible.

The phone rings. There's that tell-tale pause before a voice comes on the line. Then comes the fast and garbled pitch, blowing right past my "no, thanks."

It's been said that call centers are often set up in the Midwest, both for time-zone convenience and because the bland, flat accent commonly associated with the region is thought to go over well with most Americans.

Where'd the plain talk go?

A New York-based market-analysis called Datamonitor says the total number of call centers will climb from 69,500 last year to 78,000 in 2003. The industry may just be running out of articulate job candidates.

In all sectors, a need for workers may be lowering the minimum lingual standards for greet-the-public work. From a consumer's point of view, that's a problem.

But today's lead story looks at accent discrimination from the worker's perspective. ("Accent" is used broadly to describe anything from a regional twang to a shortage of "proper" syntax skills.)

To beat our evolving language into a dull homogeneity would be a shame - a kind of phonetic fascism. But the looming challenge for today's global firms is to hire communicators who are clear, whatever their speaking styles.

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(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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