Age no barrier to learning for ‘Mummy Esther’

‘If you’re not willing to try new things, you can never learn’

Esther Tan feared the worst when her then-employer, an American pizza chain, went out of business in 2004.

Out of a job, in her 40s, and with little technical skills and knowledge outside those she picked up during a near two-decade career in the F&B industry, Esther fretted over whether she could re-enter the workforce.

“Of course, I was stressed and worried,” she recalled. “It took me another six months before I finally found another job – at DBS’ Customer Centre.”

The initial going at DBS was tough for Esther. Despite her experience in handling customer calls back when she was still in F&B, the scale of her new job was far bigger.

“In my old job, most of the calls I received were quite straightforward – they were about delivery orders or about special requests for food; but at a bank, the customer needs are much more complex – you have to know all the different financial products to their details and terms,” she said.

Nevertheless, Esther pressed on. Today, she is one of the longest-serving Customer Service Officers (CSOs) at the bank, and last year, she was recognised by her department as the top performing CSO in her team – measured by KPIs such as customer satisfaction and ability to answer customer queries in a fast and efficient manner.

“Mummy Esther”, as she is affectionately known among her colleagues, attributes her success to a desire for continuous learning.

“In my job, learning is necessary. I had to learn so much when I first joined, and I guess I just kept learning every day from then on.”

“For instance, at first, I would handle calls on just one product, but today, I see myself as a one-stop support for any of my callers’ needs. We have to learn all the time about our new products and services, so we can help or advise the customer with anything.”

According to the 56-year-old, working alongside much younger colleagues also motivates her to keep picking up new skills and knowledge. Today, she handles not just calls, but also email queries from customers. “Mommy Esther” has also taken on the recently-created role of DBS Live Chat Agent – interacting with customers via the DBS and POSB websites and mobile banking app.

The role of DBS Live Chat Agent is among 13 new job roles that DBS has introduced in recent years, as the bank aims to creates the customer centre of the future to serve customers better. Over 500 customer centre employees have been upskilled and retrained to take on new roles and responsibilities such as customer experience designers, voice biometrics specialists and natural language processing engineers.

“I’m very proud that even though I’m one of the oldest CSOs, I can still continue to contribute to the company in new and different ways and keep up with my younger colleagues,” said Esther.

“I’m also very appreciative of my younger colleagues, who are always there when I ask for help especially when learning new technology,” she added.

The appreciation goes both ways. Last year, when she was named as top CSO, her department threw her a small celebration in the office.

DBS Head of Customer Centre Singapore Geeta Sreeraman, also praised her, saying: “Esther is a very committed and hardworking staff, a motherly figure who is a great mentor to our younger colleagues. She has seen so many changes in the centre and is always willing to adapt and learn to stay relevant in her role.”

Despite the admiration and respect of her colleagues, Esther remains humble. Sheepishly discussing her recent accolade, Esther said: “It’s all a team effort. I’m blessed to be here and with the team.”