READY TO ASSIST Verna Cruz (standing, seventh from left), with the rest of PayPal’s deaf team —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO.
For Verna Cruz, 43, working as a deaf customer solutions agent at global financial technology company PayPal is more than just a job.
“With my work, I am able to inspire my other deaf colleagues,” she tells the Inquirer through a sign language interpreter via Zoom interview.
Hired by PayPal in October 2021, Cruz takes pride in being able to exemplify what the deaf people can do despite their personal challenges. “I can also encourage them by sharing my experience so we can all continue to believe that we can do it,” she says.While she can’t be the usual call center agent, Cruz responds to queries via chat boxes. Admittedly, this presents a challenge in identifying the customers’ mood during the conversation.
“Customers are frustrated, especially if it is about money. We just do our best to empathize with them,” she says. “[We] connect with them and try our best to explain whatever we can explain.”
PayPal makes certain allowances to accommodate the deaf, including the three-month training under Project Pierre, which was launched with the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde School in 2021. This was the first program in the world specifically for the deaf that was introduced by PayPal.
John Nicholls, senior director for global customer services and site lead for PayPal Philippines, says the three-month period gives the prospective employees time to learn about financial instruments. It is only expected of them to know about these given the nature of the company and their job as customer solutions agents who deal with customer queries.
According to the 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices by the US Department of State, persons with disabilities (PWDs) in the country have to deal with discrimination in hiring and employment; only 10 percent of employable PWDs are able to find jobs.
The inclusive hiring policy of PayPal, as such, is deemed a great opportunity for underrepresented communities.
Nicholls says their organization’s principles are anchored on four core values: innovation, collaboration, inclusion and wellness.
“For PayPal, we are an organization that very much values diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging,” he tells Inquirer.
Widening talent pool
Nicholls has made it clear: hiring deaf employees is not a charity. It is about finding the suitable employees for the needs of the company by tapping into a wider talent pool.
“What we are doing is we are looking for talent so our expectations have to be the same,” he quips.
The training program, Nicholls explains, prepares the employees for the demands of the job, noting that it levels the playing field for both the deaf and hearing employees.
“Some of our deaf teammates, they don’t necessarily have credit cards or they don’t have much association with understanding credit. So that first three months is really about learning some of the basics of the financial industry and learning around customer excellence, customer service,” he explains.
The deaf team is also being led by a leader who is fluent in sign language for better communication, he adds.
“From there, we have to think about how to create an environment that will allow our deaf team to be as successful as our hearing teammates,” Nicholls says. “When we refer to equity, that is what we are building there.”
“PayPal was giving support through teaching us the tools, having interpreters and giving visual instructions. They really adjusted materials so it will be easier for us to learn the product,” Cruz shares.
For her part, the customer solutions agent is showing PayPal that she is not wasting the opportunity given to her by performing diligently.
Cruz, who answers several customer queries in a day, always checks customer evaluations to gauge her job performance.“At work, I take note of my productivity and I review all my responses so that I can make sure that I have responded correctly,” she adds.
Understanding the community
PayPal has made conscious efforts to understand first and learn more about the deaf community as it pursues the project.
It includes learning how to properly communicate with the deaf people and address them. Nicholls shares they were taught the correct terminologies, for example.
“When I first started on this journey, I was using the term ‘hearing-impaired’ because I thought that was the politically correct term. But actually, one of my very first learnings was that if you talk about ‘hearing impaired,’ you are focusing on a disability, whereas being deaf is simply a fact,” he says.
“Some of us are hearing, some of us are deaf. [That is a] simple fact,” he quips.
Some of the PayPal employees, including Nicholls, also underwent sign language training, both basic and intermediate levels.
All their efforts have paid off.
“We have created a sustainable model where we have attracted very good talent,” Nicholls says.
Recently, one of the deaf teammates was even hailed as top-performing employee for the month, which he finds remarkable.
“For me, that is great. That begins to change the narrative. We are no longer talking about a deaf teammate. We are now talking about a talented teammate, who just happens to be deaf. That, for me, is the best,” Nicholls adds.
Climbing the ladder
PayPal envision bigger roles for its deaf employees: the company wants them to become mentors for other workers as well in the future.
“We want to see some of our best-performing deaf teammates become mentors, which is kind of the next step in their career levels,” he says.
Nicholls also wants them to turn into specialists and subject matter experts who can help teammates in responding to complex customer queries.
“If the right tools and right environment are created for a lot of those with disabilities, we end up finding out they are as talented as anybody else. We should start to focus on their abilities and not focus on their disabilities,” Nicholls concludes. INQ
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