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Having trouble understanding the person at the end of the support line you’ve called to get some customer service? A Silicon Valley company wants to make problems like this a thing of the past.

The company, Sunus, makes software that uses artificial intelligence to remove accents in the speech of non-native, or even native, English speakers and output a more standard version of the language. “The program performs phonetic-based speech synthesis in real time,” Sharath Keshav Narayan, one of the firm’s founders, told TechNewsWorld.

Furthermore, the voice characteristics remain the same even after the accent is removed. The sound output by the software sounds the same as the voice input, only the pronunciation has been removed, for example, the gender of the speaker is preserved.

“What we’re doing is allowing agents to keep their identity, keep their tone, it doesn’t need to change,” said Sunus CEO Maxim Serebryakov.

“The call center market is huge. It’s 4% of India’s GDP, 14% of the Philippine GDP,” he told TechNewsWorld. “We’re not talking about a few thousand people whose Along with their cultural identity they are being discriminated against on a daily basis. We are talking about hundreds of millions of people who behave differently because of their voices.”

“The concept is sound. If they can make it work, that’s a great deal,” said Jack E. Gould, founder and principal analyst at J.Gold Associates, an IT consulting firm in Northborough, Mass.

“It can make companies more efficient and more effective and more responsive to consumers,” he told TechNewsWorld.

talking local

Gould explained that local people understand the local dialects better and engage better with them. “Even talking to someone with a heavy Southern accent gives me pause sometimes,” said the Massachusetts resident. “If you can be too much like me it affects the effectiveness of the call center.”

“Many call center employees are located overseas and customers may have trouble understanding what they are saying in terms of strong accents,” said John Harmon, a senior analyst at CoreSight Research, specializing in retail and technology. told TechNewsWorld, a global advisory and research firm.

“But the same could be true for the regional American accent,” he said.

However, Taylor Goucher, COO of Connext Global Solutions, an outsourcing company in Honolulu, cited discounts as a source of customer frustration.

“It is well known that companies outsource call center support to different countries and rural parts of the United States,” he told TechNewsWorld. “The bigger issue is the positioning of employees and the right selection for the training and processes to make them successful.”

customer perception

Harmon notes that consumers may have a negative reaction when they encounter a support person with a foreign accent at the other end of a support line. “A caller may feel that a company is not taking customer support seriously because it is looking for a cheaper solution by outsourcing service to a foreign call center,” he said.

“In addition,” he said, “some customers may feel that someone overseas may be less able to help them.”

Goucher cited a study conducted by Zendesk in 2011 that showed customer satisfaction dropped from 79% to 58% when a call center was relocated outside the United States. “Everyone I know is likely to have a bad customer experience at some point in their life with an agent they didn’t understand,” he observed.

He said the biggest problem with poor customer experience is the lack of support systems, training and management oversight in the call center.

“Too often we see companies take call centers offshore just to answer the phone.” They said. “In customer service, answering the phone isn’t the most important part, it’s what comes next.”

“Agents, Accent or No Accent, will be able to deliver a winning customer experience if they are the right person for the role, have the right training, and have the right tools to solve customer problems,” he said. “It’s easy to say the pronunciation is the problem.”

prejudice against accents

When a customer support person doesn’t have the tools to solve a problem, it can be a huge disappointment for the customer, Gold said. “If I call someone, I want my problem solved, and I don’t want to go through 88 steps to get there,” he said. “It’s frustrating for me because I spent a lot of money with your company.”

“Anything that can be done to get over that hump faster has many benefits,” he continued. “From a consumer standpoint, I have the advantage of not annoying. Plus, if I can move faster, it means the service person can spend less time with me and handle more calls. And If I can understand the problem better, I won’t have to call about it again.”

Even if a customer support person has the equipment they need to provide the highest level of service, accents can affect the caller’s response to the person on the other end of the phone line.

“A customer may be bothered by decoding a foreign accent,” Harmon said. “There’s also a stereotype that some American accents seem illiterate, and a customer may feel like the service provider is getting cheap support.”

“In some cases, I think the biggest pre-existing bias is that if the agent has an accent, they won’t be able to solve my problem,” Goucher said.

options for voice

Serebryakov noted that one of the goals of Sunus is to provide people with options for their voice. “When we post photos on Instagram, we can use filters to represent ourselves however we want,” he explained. “But you don’t have a uniform medium for voice. Our mission at Sunus is to provide that kind of choice.”

Although Sunus initially targeted call centers for its technology, there are other areas that have potential for it.

“One of the biggest uses we see for the technology is in enterprise communications,” Narayan said. “We got a call from Samsung that they have 70,000 engineers in Korea who interact with engineers in the US, and they don’t talk in team meetings because they’re afraid of how they’ll be interpreted. That’s the next use case That’s what we want to solve.”

He said the technology also has potential in gaming, healthcare, telemedicine and education.

Sunus announced a $32 million Series A on June 22, marking the largest Series A round in history for the speech technology company.