The employment conditions in South Africa are bleak. So bleak, in fact, that there’s an overall unemployment rate of 27%. That rate hits 51% for those under the age of 35. That statistic is what Genesys customer Harambee is trying to change.

Harambee is a not-for-profit social enterprise that aims to solve the unemployment challenges of South African youth. It partners with businesses, government, young people and other organisations committed to solving the unemployment epidemic. Its unique system is unlike traditional employment organisations; it relies on contact center advisors, like Thapelo Kwenane, to ask detailed questions and have genuine conversations with job candidates. And as a contact centre advisor and CX Hero, Thapelo is in the perfect position to do this — he was unemployed just a few years before joining the Harambee team.

Thapelo spends each day contacting unemployed candidates and engaging with them to assess their work readiness. One of the questions which form part of the assessment is, the time the candidate wakes up each day. It’s such a simple question, yet it’s so telling. Early risers are viewed as go-getters — eager to get their day started and accomplish tasks. The question measures realism which indicates a propensity for hard work and readiness. But that doesn’t condemn those who don’t wake up early. There might be extenuating circumstances that force them to wake up later. Thapelo loves to have these types of conversations. And each question he asks leads to other questions, deepening his understanding of the candidate’s situation and character.

Thapelo can empathise with other job seekers. Before becoming a contact centre advisor at Harambee, he struggled to find a job. And this first-hand experience and empathy helped change the life of Msawenkosi Maphinda, who contacted Harambee at the suggestion of a friend.

At 27 years old, Msawenkosi had been looking for a job for seven years. His situation was dire and similar to that of many young people in rural areas of Bizana, where he lived. With a wife and a child to support, Msawenkosi was desperate to find employment.

When Thapelo called Msawenkosi on July 9, 2018, Msawenkosi was skeptical — despite his desire for work. And he had every right to be; employment scams are rampant throughout South Africa. And that makes a bad situation worse. There are stories of individuals who paid tens of thousands of dollars with the promise of “guaranteed” employment, only to learn they had been scammed.

So, when Thapelo explained that Harambee is a free service, Msawenkosi thought it was too good to be true. Thapelo took the time to listen to Msawenkosi’s situation, personal life and dreams for the future — and he gained his trust. Msawenkosi began to feel that employment was a real possibility. Thapelo didn’t make any guarantees, nor did he try to push Msawenkosi a certain direction.

However, that call, which lasted only 18 minutes, would make a lifelong impression.

A short time later, Harambee identified an employment match for Msawenkosi. And this was no ordinary opportunity — it was a job with a cruise line in Turkey. For someone who had never even been to an airport before, let alone traveled outside of Bizana, this was literally the opportunity of a lifetime. Msawenkosi was overwhelmed and excited. Not only did he jump for joy after learning the good news, he jumped at the opportunity — knowing this was his chance to help himself and his growing family.

“Thank you very much. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for a good heart.”  Msawenkosi told Thapelo.

That patience and kind-heartedness is what makes Thapelo special as a contact center advisor. “Thapelo is very passionate about what he does and is a very good listener, which is important to be able to have good conversations with our candidates,” said his supervisor Nelisiwe Mzizi. “He really is a very humble guy and has all of the characteristics of a great customer service representative.”

Thapelo didn’t need to convince Msawenkosi to trust him — that’s not what he is paid to do. He could have simply ended the call early when Msawenkosi first resisted. But Thapelo persevered; he understood the situation because he had been there before. He knew what it felt like to be unemployed — and how hopeless it can seem. And he wasn’t going to let Msawenkosi go so easily. Thapelo made a human connection that made all the difference.

Genesys is excited to name Thapelo Kwenane as a CX Hero for his extraordinary work in customer service. To learn more about the Genesys CX Heroes program, check out the stories of customer service representatives who go above and beyond every day to meet their customers’ needs.

This article was written by Keith Pearce, senior vice president of corporate marketing for Genesys, and published on the Genesys blog on 3 September 2019. 

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