An eclectic mixture of nationalities encompassing myriad accents is embraced within the service sector for the vibrant flavour it offers to the customer or guest experience, after all delivering a customer experience that is unrestricted by the shackles of homogeneity is to be welcomed. Yet whilst individuality is appreciated by the luxury retailer or hotelier, that guest and customer can understand each other clearly is, of course, a fundamental ingredient in the service encounter. So how can the luxury service provider protect the individuality of their staff and employees whilst ensuring that the spoken word of their staff and employees is crystal clear to the ear of the guest and customer?

Many international staff will enter front line roles within the service industry, and when considering a narrow aspect of communication between them and their guest or customer, namely the two way verbal exchange, an accent can either hinder or enhance communication through its comprehensibility to the guest or customer.

Traditionally, a persons’ accent could be used to establish both geographical and regional location of birth and also social class but like culture and etiquette, accents evolve over time. In addition, the increasing occurrence of worldwide travel and migration means that accents become a tapestry woven from the strands of their owners’ lives. The international service industry professional uses their cosmopolitan knowledge to add genuine empathy in interactions with their guests and customers; they understand them because they’ve experienced the world that bit more, but what international staff often crave is confidence in their spoken English that is beyond fluency. As with etiquette, the rules and techniques of clear spoken English can be taught.

English is the international language of business and is perceived to be more acceptable than other accents because it is easiest for most people to understand, yet can be a challenge to speak clearly due to its complexity and non standard rules. What many that are newly fluent in English do, and indeed do in any newly mastered language, is apply the rules of their own language to English, resulting in an accent that is not clear. On the front line, this can cause embarrassment for the staff member or employee as their speech is not understood clearly. In addition to pronunciation, word production, clarity, diction and voice projection can be challenging for non native English speakers.

In the service encounter, individuality does not have to be sacrificed for comprehensibility; they can co-exist as complimentary flavours working together in the rich melting pot that is the customer experience. It all comes down to getting your measurements right.