Scotland has been named a ‘call centre nation’, with so many options to locate call centres whether in the UK and abroad it got us thinking if it is the Scottish accent that is winning people over.
Throughout the late 1970’s and 80’s brands that were technologically advanced recognised the importance of call centres to their business. In 1985, Direct Line was the first company to sell insurance entirely over the phone and from there the call centre boom began.
Increasingly we see more and more call centres based around the UK and particularly Scotland, it’s a great hub for the industry but it was not always that way. Let’s take a wee look back at the history of call centres and where the popularity in Scotland began.
The Backlash Against Offshoring
When the demand of customer contact call centres grew, the owners of the companies thought that the best way to ensure customer satisfaction was by cutting out the frustration of call waiting times and connecting the caller through to an advisor as soon as possible.
The most economical way to do this was by contracting large call centres offshore in countries like India where labour was cheap, the available workforce was large and the level of English was reasonably high. However, they suffered years of complaints and a bad reputation, especially when the telephone operator couldn’t solve basic problems. Large organisations, especially in the insurance and banking industry, found a much higher satisfaction rate when customers engaged with telephone operators from the UK.
In the 2000s a lot of call centres including BT and Natwest promised to bring all call centres back to the UK. This time the decision of where these call centres should be based was one that was thought through carefully. Scotland turned out to be a very attractive option to locate call centres but was that down to the Scottish accent or something else?
The image below illustrates the breadth of customer contact centres operating within Scotland.
Click the image to enlarge it.
The Scottish Accent
Although the Scottish accent is said to be one of the most difficult to imitate and sometimes tricky to understand, a study has recognised that the accent is found to be friendly and honest throughout the UK. They score highest for both trustworthiness and competence which instils confidence in people. In fact, there has been so much positive feedback from the accent representing a number of brands that Scotland is said to be turning into a call centre nation. There are over 108,000 employees in over 400 contact centres in Scotland.
The reason that call centres are drifting from Mumbai to Motherwell is due to a number of factors. Firstly, it’s the Scots’ ability to understand English colloquialisms and deal with each case individually. Their job isn’t simply to read from a standard script. Building rapport with customers is very important for brands interested in building brand loyalty. A positive call centre experience and a sympathetic sounding Scot can make all the difference. The natural Scots tone, sounds neither haughty nor detached. Scottish voices have ‘something’, and that something is worth a lot to business.
The reason the accent is so renowned may be down to the way they actually pronounce their words. Have a look here at some examples of how the Scottish would pronounce certain words:
|English word||Scottish pronunciation|
The Scots are also known for the pronunciation of the rolled ‘R’, however recent research from Glasgow University and Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University have found that younger generations are softening words such a car, far and fur. There is belief that rolled ‘R’ could die out and some have suggested it’s because of the exposure to English television.
Dr Lawson noted: “It’s not media or TV, it’s just a natural sound change. It seems to happen in languages all over the world over time, particularly at the end of words.”
We know that there isn’t just one standard Scottish accent so we don’t expect language changes to happen at the same time. Accents vary all over Scotland from Glasgow to Edinburgh, Tayside to Dundee and of course in the Highlands & Islands just to name a few.
Have a listen to comedian Kevin Bridge from Glasgow talking about his Scottish accent whilst travelling abroad and notice the way he pronounces his words.
Call centres may be dotted all over but it seem that Glasgow is a hot spot in terms of location and hiring staff. It may be down to the friendly and honest associations with the accents or it might be the fact that the Glaswegians know how to enjoy a good bit of telephone banter. Whatever it is we are sure there is no going back overseas and the call centres industry in Scotland may even grow in the coming years.
Companies with call centres in Scotland include: Santander, HSBC, Dell, Standard Life, Thomas Cook, Direct line, Tesco bank, BT and IBM.
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