Building Trust Among Global Non-desk Workforces

Employee engagement around the non-desk workforce is often overlooked. Yet, these are the employees who roll up their sleeves and get the job done in many companies. And while most industries globally rely on non-desk workers, there is a lot of distrust and contentious history that engagement helps mitigate.

South African digital employee engagement scaleup Wyzetalk set out to address this pressing problem by building technology that help complex and large-scale organizations effectively communicate to non-desk employees on mobile devices in order to build trust and improve business.

“If we make life better, simpler and efficient for non-desk workers over time, we believe we’re going to make life better for an organization as a whole,” says Wyzetalk CEO and Co-founder Gys Kappers, a member of YPO.

Engaging employees at all levels

Using human resource records from major systems such as SAP, Oracle and Peoplesoft, Wyzetalk automatically segments employees based on role, location, shifts and other attributes and provides customized menu options relevant to each employee. A team of Wyzetalk strategists and content managers work with the organization to construct a communication and engagement plan that will ultimately reduce absenteeism as well as health and safety incidents and increase productivity and profitability for the organization as a whole.

Since launching the product in 2014, Wyzetalk has grown more than 100% per annum and into a fully branded, experiences-services business. Today, over 600,000 employees in the retail, hospitality, mining and shipping sectors use its solutions.

“If you believe your people are an asset, how would you treat them? You’d train them better, you’d be more transparent, you’d build a trusting environment,” says Kappers. “And what we’re seeking to do is show the world that if you actually build a trusting environment with your people, then things do improve for the business over time.”

Wyzetalk is a highly customizable, agile platform that can be deployed into complex organizations in eight weeks to five months. It works online and offline, which is particularly important for miners or workers on vessels or oil rigs at sea with intermittent connectivity. It also allows an organization to communicate through white labeled apps in the Apple App store and the Google Playstore, internet browser to reach smart phone users as well as older generation feature phone users by way of two-way SMS and USSD, which comprise 35% of the global population and are more prevalent in emerging markets.

“We are able to reach a level of employees that others can’t,” says Kappers.

Understanding non-desk workers

Wyzetalk enables an organization to deliver critical, crisis comms, CEO presentations and company news to an organization. Through the platform, employees can complete surveys, induction programs, microlearning sessions or training. Coupled with their reward, recognition as well as full multi-language capabilities within the solution result in very high engagement levels.

Employees can also process leave requests, digital pay slip delivery, schedule management, and more through the platform.

“We’ve integrated elements of HR because the moment you start running HR with communication and survey capability, etc., usage rates skyrocket,” says Kappers. “On average, our organizations see 70 to 89% usage rates of our solutions.”

Wyzetalk can follow the employees’ journeys to capture their perspectives and help organizations better understand their employees automatically updating their personal menu structures. Being able to engage with and deliver critical information to this workforce as well as provide them with the capacity to communicate back has helped improve health and safety and provide necessary support. And the impact can be seen at the individual and corporate level: a miner used the solution to ask for help when he was suicidal, and one of the largest mining companies in South Africa recognized the platform for helping them achieve the best safety record in history – three years without fatalities.

“We’ve been able to communicate to people about elements of fatigue and to the organization about equipment condition or the work environment, and the organization has managed to make changes to those environments, which has then led to a phenomenal result in terms of zero fatalities,” says Kappers. “As we learn about how we do that in particular sectors, we can transfer that information to other organizations.”

Those learnings are also incorporated into the platform through approximately 50 updates a year. Continuing to be able to improve safety and productivity is ultimately what success looks like for Wyzetalk.

Laying the groundwork for expansion

After landing AngloAmerican, which has 18 different operations around the world, and De Beers Group, which mines in four countries on two continents, Wyzetalk is working in 12 different countries on five different continents. Taking its solution international seemed like the logical next step. After a multi-million dollar investment in 2019, Wyzetalk set up headquarters in Utrecht, Holland. It now has a team of 75 with five employees including the chief operations officer based in Holland.

In addition to attractive employee and company tax incentives, Kappers chose Holland because he is of Dutch ancestry and speaks the language. Also, the country’s second language is English, and South Africa and Holland have similar cultures and are in the same time zone.

“If you are going to expand internationally, you had better understand the markets that you’re going to go into before you try and land it,” says Kappers, “and identify how big that market could be for you, whether there is a fit for your product and if there will be cultural alignment.”

Key to the company’s success has been its people, non-desk employees and beyond. Wyzetalk has focused on almost 95% staff retention by engaging its employees and offering them opportunities to acquire new skills and understand how their work contributes to the company’s success.

“I believe every employee has the leadership quality in them and if our teams can help people grow, we can keep those people,” says Kappers. “I fully recognize the people in our business that are doing things much better than I ever could. My responsibility is to try and steer the ship in a direction that we can all support and that we can all share in the success as we go along.”

non-desk workforce

Finding good people is a process. Kappers knows they can’t afford to invest the time or money into the wrong people and the company has a comprehensive hiring process, which includes a personal interview with him.

Aside from cultural fit, there are unique hiring challenges Wyzetalk has faced in South Africa and Holland. Programmers in South Africa typically earn 50% of those in the United States, which is why their solution can be extremely competitively priced. Typically 50% cheaper than their competitors too.

In Holland, an unemployment rate of less than 1.5% means that potential hires typically have three to four offers on the table. In addition, they earn significantly more than their South African counterparts. Given the wage difference, Wyzetalk had to find another way to equitably compensate its workers. About four years ago, shareholders gave up 10% of their equity to provide for an employee option plan. Employees with a massive salary discrepancy will be offered a direct stake in the company’s performance through stock. By doing so, it hopes it will help attract and retain a talented workforce – another competitive edge.

Investing in long-term partnerships

Wyzetalk is not a software-as-service play so it can’t simply be downloaded over the internet for use. He believes that building partnerships with his clients is a long-term journey and those partnerships take time.

“Delivering a single communication and engagement tool to our 60,000+ front line staff spanning the globe whilst catering for variants in culture and languages, remoteness of the operations and both central and localized functional requirements is a mammoth endeavor,” says Darrel Botes, Principal Digital Media for Anglo American.

“WyzeTalk have and continue to be an invaluable extension of our project team working alongside us every step of the way and with our stakeholders to help ensure the successful delivery of the solution. Drawing from WyzeTalk’s expertise has further helped us develop a governance framework and operational support model that ensures the long-term sustainability of the platform.”

“If we do what we do well for the organizations we serve, and we do have 100% client retention, those clients immediately become proponents of our solution,” says Kappers.

The largest user base of its solution is Shoprite Holdings with 155,000 employees on the African continent followed by AngloAmerican with 90,000 employees throughout the world. Over the next four months, Wyzetalk will roll out its solution for two shipping companies in The Netherlands.

“For us, not only is the user base and client important but trying to win in sectors that we haven’t truly explored yet is going to be the next phase of our business,” says Kappers. “My forecast in the next three or four years is to be at about three million users, and if we get that right, we’re going to start making a difference globally.”

Wyzetalk will continue to focus on the European markets and the retail, hospitality, mining and shipping sectors as well “any industry where health and safety factors are of importance like food and manufacturing.” It will target the bigger players with 3,500 users or more that already have a global footprint.

“We like to go shark fishing with a fly rod,” says Kappers. “So we put ourselves into really challenging positions and execute.”

Wyzetalk was Co-founded by Gys Kappers and Gerhard Pretorius, Head of Platform and Chief Technical Officer. 

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