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Communication in the English language has become a critical aspect of a business, where company employees are expected to display a measurable proficiency in speaking and writing matters to elucidate and articulate their products, services and facilitate their clientele, offering them a pleasing experience.
The English language has especially assumed greater importance in consumer-facing roles, where spoken proficiency is arguably the deciding factor in tilting the scales in favor of a company by offering consumers a superior service experience. It may be related to selling a product, offering an in-depth understanding of a newly-launched service, or assuaging an irate consumer’s concerns, who may be flirting with the idea of ditching the company for its competitor.
These are some of the countless circumstances where spoken English, intonation, pronunciation and a grasp of the language play a decisive role in sealing a sales outreach’s fate or a bid to retain a client. It essentially means ‘how’ something is conveyed is as critical as ‘what’ is being conveyed. Your own countless experiences in life will attest to my assertion.
The BPO or the call center industry frontloads these functions for organizations by onboarding employees to take on consumer-facing roles. Their trials and tribulations in finding the secret elixir to offering a top-notch consumer interface have led them to develop a VNA (Voice and Accent) assessment to evaluate those keen on assuming such a role. A voice and accent test in a BPO screening examination is an integral part of the candidate evaluation process.
After all, no matter how good your skills or experience, you cannot persuade your clients unless you can articulate and engage effectively.
Therefore, candidates are subjected to a series of tests of their skills and attributes, including an English speaking fluency test, to shortlist the most suitable from the lot. To sum up, a VNA assessment is the backbone of a call center assessment, without which BPO companies cannot conclusively discern your employability.
I am confident I have piqued your interest in knowing more about the nuts and bolts of a VNA assessment. You are at the right place! In this blog, I will detail everything you need to know about a VNA assessment. I will explain how it is administered, how and on what parameters it is evaluated, and who evaluates it. What else? I will also share some crisp and meaty strategies to help you ace this exam.
I don’t know! That is what the VNA assessment will evaluate you on. Let us get started.
A voice and accent assessment, also known as the VNA round, is an oral skills evaluation of a non-native English speaker. It is a part of the interview process to ascertain candidate fitment for client-facing roles, most notably for BPOs. Such a voice assessment test is usually mandated by all BPO companies that hire employees to converse with clients.
It is an evaluation of the grasp of the language and its intricacies, such as English accent, clarity of speech, pronunciation, intonation, listening skills, grammar and fluency. The test is conducted in a simulated environment where you perform specific tasks, such as answering calls, replying to pre-recorded messages or speaking a pre-written script. These activities are in line with the duties expected of you in any consumer-facing role.
A voice and accent round is a part of the broader call center employability interview, which involves shortlisting resumes from bulk applications, an interview to gauge skills and relevant experience, a voice and accent assessment and an HR round to iron out specifics on remuneration and cost to the company.
A voice and accent trainer evaluates the VNA round. VNA trainers are typically certified on the CEFR framework, a widely-accepted mechanism of spoken English skills evaluation. A VNA trainer assesses candidates on the traits and proficiencies detailed above to provide a candidate report and a rating based on the test results. Company HR professionals make informed decisions on the candidate fitment based on the VNA test report submitted by the VNA trainer. Before I discuss this any further, let me explain what constitutes the CEFR framework and how it is a structured framework for evaluating the spoken English skills.
CEFR stands for ‘Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.’ It is a set of guidelines to determine learners’ proficiency in foreign languages throughout the European region. It is now being employed globally and is generally the most-accepted framework for language assessment. VNA trainers or assessors may be trained on other frameworks. However, they are primarily trained on the CEFR framework, a common standard for English evaluation guidelines.
The CEFR framework establishes language proficiency on three different levels of expertise and a six-point scale. The three different levels of expertise are basic, intermediate and proficient. They are further divided into a six-point scale, including A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2 – with A1 being the lowest and C2 being the highest on the scale. A basic language user is segmented into A1 (beginner) and A2 (elementary). An independent-level user is bracketed into B1 (intermediate) and B2 (upper-intermediate). Likewise, a proficient-level English language user is bracketed into C1 (advanced) and C2 (proficiency).
You are highly likely to be evaluated and rated in line with the CEFR framework or even on a company-customized rating. Generally, a company uses a certain framework to analyze your expertise and establish your language proficiency levels.
As detailed above, a VNA test is the most common means of assessing a candidate’s voice and accent compatibility/fitment for consumer-facing roles. It is a part of the candidate assessment process or interview in BPOs and other such establishments. The voice and accent round is arguably the most crucial round in your selection journey. Irrespective of your industry knowledge and experience as a professional, you must clear this round to be considered for call center roles or other corporate functions involving direct client interactions.
VNA trainers give you a topic to speak on and assess your performance based on fluency, comprehension, grammar usage, intonation, clarity of speech, etc.
A VNA trainer could assess you based on the IVR method, meaning you would be speaking on a telephone, a recorded line, following the instructions given to you by the VNA assessor. Such a test is conducted using means of telecommunication, which has long been the established method of assessing English language proficiency. Once you are done taking the test, the VNA assessor plays back the recorded assessment at a convenient time to evaluate how you fared. He or she compiles a report of the review and assigns you a score based on the CEFR guidelines, which I have already discussed above. The VNA assessor uses his or her experience and expertise to conclude and offers a report to the organization for which they are conducting such an exam.
Or, you could be asked to be physically present at the examination center where you undertake the assessment in front of the assessor who analyzes your proficiency by hearing and watching you undertake the test. Such exercises have become increasingly uncommon as compared to the method discussed above, given that convenience and ease for both assessors and assessees have gained more importance. VNA assessors have usually been employing IVR-based tools to undertake such candidate assessments, which has been the standard industry practice and a bellwether.
However, technological advancements, coupled with industry requirements, have expedited the use of automated, AI-based spoken English skills assessment tools.
I must mention that some of these AI-based tools have caught on because companies are now onboarding candidates at scale to reduce the time-to-hire and also save financial resources. Such a trend may also indicate a globally growing corporate footprint and a wider, more elaborate area of operations.
Such AI-powered, automated tools enable a more precise and bias-free evaluation of candidates’ language skills – which may not be possible with VNA-based evaluation requiring extensive human involvement. Further, they offer enhanced security and a cheating-free interface, assuaging all concerns on the onboarded candidates’ quality.
I will come back to what distinguishes VNA-led processes and AI-based automated tools-based processes a little later in the blog.
Some leading companies, such as Mercer | Mettl and Versant, offer spoken English language assessment tools, which replicate a VNA trainer to evaluate candidates’ listening skills, comprehension, fluency, grammar, and pronunciation. These comprehensive tests ascertain whether you can provide clients with real-time email and telephonic assistance and offer coherent and easily consumable information while speaking. Besides, the test gauges whether you make trainable or non-trainable errors when communicating with the clients. These simulated tests enable shortlisting candidates who are trainable and can be offered the requisite training before exposing them to client-facing positions.
Those making non-trainable errors are considered unsuitable for candidate-facing roles (Gives you a hint about stringent quality standards adopted across the industry).
You must be wondering what constitutes trainable and non-trainable errors. Let me give you an example to dispel any confusion on the subject. For instance, a pronounced ‘T’ or ‘D’ sound while speaking are examples of non-fatal or trainable errors. If you pronounce “Soe” instead of “shoe,” it would be considered a non-trainable error, a.k.a fatal error.
Thus far, we have conclusively established what entails the VNA round, who administers it and how it is administered. Let us now deep-dive into how automated tools are administered.
In the automated process, the work of a VNA trainer is taken over by an AI-led tool. The tool replicates the VNA trainer by giving a rating based on your speech. AI-based algorithms are used to provide a candidate score on predefined parameters discussed above. You can take the test based on the IVR method or using a computer. Either way, your voice recording is assessed using software to discern how you fared.
A computer-administered and software-based, AI-driven automated online tool, such as SpeechX, offers voice and accent online tests. Such an automated tool would provide examinees with a rating, similar to a rating given by the VNA trainer, to determine their English proficiency and employability. It evaluates critical parameters, such as pronunciation, grammar, fluency and listening skills, accurately assimilating the nuances examined by VNA trainers. Thus, such a tool simulates the entire VNA-led process, only better.
Such an automated tool replicates the functions of a VNA trainer and analyzes the English language proficiency based on the CEFR framework guidelines. It incorporates the best practices of the BPO industry and other such client-facing service industries to offer a holistic evaluation of the candidates’ language skills and proficiency levels.
I have discussed with you how each of the two types of process work. Both are used to assess your English language skills and proficiency and provide insights to the organization for which you are applying. But some key differences between the two can significantly impact your candidate experience. They can also impede the quality, accuracy, and scale of the outcome, besides reducing the speed at which the results are evaluated. Thus, impacting you and the company in equal measure. Let us examine them one-by-one.
VNA trainer-led processes employ telecommunication, which is susceptible to the vagaries of the weather, external circumstances, static noise and other such uncontrollable irritants. Such impediments can distract you from taking your exam with utmost focus. (I don’t need to tell you that you will have butterflies in your stomach when appearing for such job assessment interviews! It is just one more thing to worry about. Not good.)
On the other hand, the automated process uses AI-based online tools that are much less susceptible to external distortions. They offer an enhanced test-taking experience, keeping you free from network issues, letting you focus on what you should.
VNA trainer-led processes are not scalable. Interviews conducted by using VNA assessors means companies need to employ several assessors to conduct large-scale hiring. Such tests’ results also depend entirely on the pace at which a VNA assessor evaluates an assessment. Any attempt to expedite the evaluation process can lead to inadvertent mistakes, a big no-no for organizations and candidates.
Alternatively, an automated process employs AI-based online tools that are highly scalable and can be utilized to conduct thousands of tests concurrently. No manual interventions and minimal touch-points considerably streamline processes. You can expect to be taking your exam with hundreds, if not thousands of candidates, vying for a handful of seats. Buck up! And, either way, you will hear from the company very soon.
They offer an inferior-quality user experience (No sugar-coating here, folks!). I have already told you that there could be patchy connectivity, challenges of call drops (pray that your network operator does not ditch you!) and just more hassle-prone. It is also logistically-intensive for organizations giving these assessments, requiring significant human resources and finances. So, you and your dream company are losing out!
Automated processes use AI-based tools that are more seamless, integrated and offer a superlative user experience for test-takers and givers. As long as you know how to use a computer and a microphone, you will have no issues.
Also, such a speech test online can be attempted round-the-clock as it does not require human intervention. So, it is completely your choice when you wish to attempt it. Whether you are a late-night owl or early-morning person, feel free to take it whenever you want!
They are also resource-light as organizations do not have to hire VNA assessors to give such assessments and merely buy the software by roping in a service provider.
This is not a commentary on your morals and ethics. Just plain speak. VNA trainer-based tests cannot be monitored as efficiently. Therefore, possibilities do exist that someone may be prompting or helping you to give the right answers or coaching you to provide an utterly error-free reply. Despite VNA evaluators’ best intentions, such instances occur, putting a question mark over your abilities and expertise, also sowing seeds of doubt in your company – not the best way to hit-off a professional relationship.
AI-based tools cannot be gamed as your voice assessment test online session is video recorded and up for a later review to check for discrepancies, if any. A tool such as SpeechX auto-generates cheating flags using AI-proctoring technology. It fully ensures the sanctity of the evaluation, firmly establishing your credentials as an able and skilled professional, ready to assume duties in customer-facing roles and represent your dream company.
You have now become a bit of a self-taught expert on the intricacies of voice and accent assessment. Let me also share some interesting insights into the leading service providers offering such evaluation mechanisms to organizations. As an enthusiast seeking a job in consumer-facing roles, you must know about the commonly available tools on the market. Here is a brief list to keep you abreast.
Mercer | Mettl offers SpeechX, an industry-leading, AI-powered automated English evaluation tool. This assessment tool is completely machine-administered and auto-graded to measure a non-native speaker’s ability to speak and understand English. It is a scalable means of assessing prospective hires’ abilities with high accuracy by simulating a VNA trainer. Aside from call center companies, this tool is equally beneficial and a ready-to-use assessment solution for corporate houses to hire for critical client-facing roles and sales profiles.
It offers an online voice assessment test called the ‘Versant English test.’ The 15-minute test assesses candidates on comprehension, vocabulary and pronunciation. Candidates can use a computer or smartphone to take the test, which is then evaluated to gauge their English proficiency levels.
It is a product of AspiringMinds. The company website describes SVAR as an automated AI-powered language assessment of spoken English proficiency. SVAR auto-evaluates and scores candidates across six key parameters: pronunciation, fluency, active listening, grammar, vocabulary, and spoken English comprehension.
Converse is a product of Talocity. The company offers fair and accurate English language assessment, which is in-sync with industry standards. Converse offers real-time results and cheating-free assessments.
I have shared with you detailed insights on the various facets of voice and accent assessment. If you have been with me thus far, you are a serious aspirant who is eager to join consumer-facing roles and may soon be competing with many others to join your favorite company.
While the details shared above are enough to offer you a perspective on the making of a voice and accent assessment, you must familiarize yourself with some tips and tricks to gain a competitive advantage when faced with such a job screening.
Here are some pointers to help you emerge victorious in the voice and accent test.
There are no shortcuts to success. But a continual focus on how you speak and pronounce will dramatically improve your chances of clearing the voice and accent round. You can record yourself while you speak a written script and hear it to analyze and critically evaluate the improvement areas. You must use your jaw, lips and tongue to pronounce correctly. You are your best critic, so judge yourself modestly. You will be able to identify your shortcomings in speech and pronunciation through voice assessment practice.
People tend to develop an accent because of their environment, mother tongue, socio-economic background and experiences, native language, and education medium. There is nothing wrong with it. But given the nature of consumer-facing roles, you are likely to interact with a cross-section of consumers from different cultures and backgrounds. Thus, companies prefer individuals with a neutral accent. You must regularly undertake voice and accent training exercises to develop a neutral accent. Accent tests online can help you master the nuances of speaking in a neutral accent.
A good grasp of English and a good-quality voice and accent are critical to clearing the assessment with flying colors. However, confidence is equally a highly sought-after attribute by companies. No one can profess to know-all. Especially, consumer-facing roles are highly unpredictable and require you to think on your feet. You may not know the answer to all your client questions or queries or even voice assessment test questions, but you must never be short on confidence. Companies welcome individuals who are high on confidence quotient.
You must slow down while speaking. Speaking at a slow pace enables your listeners to understand you better. You must try to speak at a pace that is neither too fast nor too slow and enunciate your words correctly. It enables effective communication and allows your listeners that extra split second to internalize your communication, further sharpening your message’s effectiveness. Also, not everyone is equally proficient in English. Your speaking slow works well for all and establishes you as a considerate individual.
There is no secret sauce to acing voice and accent assessments. You must offer a combination of quality English speaking skills, a neutral accent, clarity of speech and confidence to become a preferred candidate for organizations. The key to becoming successful in consumer-facing roles is to continually sharpen your skills. Keep practicing, and you will be surprised how far you come along in a short timeframe.
I hope this blog has offered you some insights into the process of voice and accent assessment and what it takes to clear the exam. I encourage you to share your thoughts below in the comments section. We will add them to this blog for the benefit of our readers.
I look forward to hearing from you.
A voice and accent test is an oral skills test and a part of the evaluation process to assess candidates’ fitment for client-facing roles, primarily in BPOs and other corporate profiles. A voice accent test is undertaken by VNA assessors who provide a candidate score after their detailed evaluation on several parameters, such as fluency, intonation, pronunciation, and speech clarity.
Voice is a person’s quality and modulation of speech, which people hear when someone speaks. The accent is the peculiar style and rhythm of speaking a specific language, which can be influenced by several factors. They include one’s socio-economic background and experiences, mother tongue, native language, and the education medium.
You can prepare for a voice and accent round by developing a rudimentary understanding of how to service clients, preparing a brief note about yourself and possess a fundamental awareness about how to speak a given script succinctly and effectively. It will help you answer voice and accent trainer interview questions. It would help if you equally focused on your voice modulation and accent to prepare yourself well. Such preparations will help you ace any voice accent test online.
You can improve your voice and accent by focusing on the elements that constitute a voice and accent test, i.e., pronunciation, intonation, grammar, fluency, and speech clarity. You must learn to speak slowly by taking adequate pauses, identify the words that must be stressed in a sentence and develop the ability to listen to others more intently. All these factors will cumulatively help you to improve your voice and accent.
A voice assessment round is part of the companies’ candidate screening process, most notably BPOs, to identify your fitment for client-facing roles that require regular communication. Companies assess non-native English speakers’ communication skills, including pronunciation, intonation, fluency, and speech clarity, by asking English speaking test questions in voice assessment tests in interviews.
Several tools are available on the market to help you gauge your pronunciation proficiency. You can take short tests using such tools to measure your levels of ability. You may also use a mirror to check your lips, jaw and mouth and see if they make the correct shape when you speak. You may use online tutorial videos or voice and accent test apps to learn about pronouncing right. You can employ one of the many readily available free voice and assessment test apps to ascertain your preparedness.
Originally published December 15 2020, Updated December 15 2020
Shashank has been working in the publishing and online industry for eight-plus years now. He has donned many hats and has reported on diverse industry verticals, including aviation, tourism, hospitality, etc. He is currently the senior editor at Mercer | Mettl.
An English proficiency test software is used to evaluate the English-speaking and comprehension skills of an individual. Customer-facing industries like hospitality, retail, BPOs, etc., often used some variant of an English proficiency test software to assess the pronunciation, fluency, accent, intonation and grammar of potential employees.