‘Building rapport’ with customers across the world: the global diffusion of a call centre speech style

Hultgren, Anna Kristina (2011). ‘Building rapport’ with customers across the world: the global diffusion of a call centre speech style. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 15(1) pp. 36–64.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9841.2010.00466.x

Abstract

This paper identifies a particular ‘rapport-building’ speech style prescribed to call centre workers in four countries – Denmark, Britain, Hong Kong and the Philippines – irrespective of the language being spoken in the service interaction. It then compares Danish and British call centre workers’ compliance with the prescribed speech style and finds that Danish workers adhere significantly less to it than their British counterparts. It is suggested that this is attributable to the predominance of different politeness norms in the two cultures. The paper then discusses the indexicality of the prescribed speech style and argues that it is more commercially than culturally marked, despite the American origin of call centres. Overall, the paper draws attention to inadequacies in the paradigm focusing on the global spread of English, while lending support to recent theoretical suggestions to focus instead on how practices and styles are exported globally and potentially independently of language.

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