What it’s like to work at Amazon in South Africa

Amazon has been on a recruitment drive in South Africa, hiring thousands of people in customer support and various technical roles.

MyBroadband previously spoke to three people who gave different perspectives about their experiences applying for jobs at Amazon.

The first was someone who had applied when Amazon was on a drive to hire 3,000 new customer service agents from South Africa last year to serve the North American and European markets.

While he did not end up taking the job, he was complimentary of Amazon’s efficient systems. He also commented that Amazon was a company that demanded a high level of self-discipline from workers.

The second and third were former Amazon Web Services (AWS) employees who gave a detailed account of Amazon’s hiring process for technical support staff.

These two former Amazon staff members have now provided an insider’s perspective of what it was like to work for the tech giant in South Africa.

Both were part of Amazon’s support teams at the AWS offices in Cape Town and said that Amazon is obsessed with customer satisfaction.

They also said that the work environment is more intense than many South Africans would be accustomed to and that while it may not be for everyone, it can also be immensely rewarding.

One source said that your experience working for AWS is highly dependent on the manager of the team you are assigned to.

Before joining a team, however, employees go through the AWS onboarding process, which one source described as the best he had ever seen in any company.

Amazon HQ Cape Town
Amazon HQ Cape Town

If you do not live in Cape Town, Amazon will facilitate your relocation. Once your move is done, you begin with the company’s 30-day onboarding process.

These thirty days consist of seminars and workshops, familiarising new employees with the company’s culture and the different internal products and systems they will be working with.

At the core of the AWS culture are their leadership principles, which one source described as  “the bible of Amazon”. Throughout an employee’s time at AWS, they will be constantly required to use these principles as a reference point for their work.

It’s worth noting that our sources worked at AWS while Jeff Bezos was the CEO of Amazon and when there were 14 leadership principles.

Before he left, Bezos added two more leadership principles:

  • Strive to be Earth’s best employer
  • Success and scale bring broad responsibility

After onboarding, new employees join their teams and are assigned mentors to guide them as they grow accustomed to the company.

From the first moment, however, new employees are expected to reach their targets.

Work hours

At AWS South Africa, teams are assigned to three different shifts and three different shift times per day. The allocations are as follows:

  • Sunday to Thursday
  • Monday to Friday
  • Tuesday to Saturday

On each day, the shift hours are:

  • 06h00 to 15h00
  • 09h00 to 18h00
  • 10h00 to 19h00

Amazon expects you to resolve as many cases as possible during these hours.

Customer obsession and metrics

AWS proudly states that it is customer-obsessed, which means that, at all costs, employees need to ensure customers’ satisfaction.

This is reflected in the results Amazon expects from their employees, which managers closely monitor.

These metrics are the overall measurement of an employee’s performance, from case resolves to customer ratings and hours worked, as well as the minutes spent on break and the number of minutes taken to accept support cases.

Both our sources admitted that its obsession with customer experience is so relentless that employees can suffer under it.

“You are only as good as your last three months’ performance at any given time,” one source explained.

For support teams, a primary benchmark for employee performance is the number of case resolves.

This is not the only performance measurement, though.

Another major factor is the star ratings customers give to employees, with a 5-star rating being expected by the company and a 1-star rating being inexcusable.

Both our sources reported that receiving a 1-star rating is a disaster as an Amazon employee. The moment a 1-star review shows up on your profile, your line manager and, at times, even higher management will storm to your desk within minutes.

Even a 4-star customer rating is questionable, according to one source.

Customers can abuse the star system, a source said, 1-star ratings can be given “to get the attention of the team, especially [from] some clients who know how to manoeuvre the system.”

In an extremely intense period, our source said, two of their colleagues were hospitalised due to the mental exhaustion caused by the severe pressure and scrutiny of the company.

And this is where managers can make a crucial difference.

Both our sources said an employee’s AWS experience is significantly impacted by their individual manager.

One source explained that the managers are there to manage the exceptions, and if your manager is not willing to defend you, you are in for a difficult time at the company.

Of course, managers are expected to manage teams so they achieve their results, and, regardless of the manager, employees are always under pressure to reach the company’s expected metrics and are closely monitored.

 If you can handle it, Amazon will change your life

When you work at Amazon, you work with some of the most brilliant people in the world.

The company is a cultural melting pot, and you’ll be working with people ranging from the US to Brazil, India, Israel, Kenya, and, of course, South Africa.

Even though you are placed in a stressful environment, AWS provides a valuable opportunity for skills development.

When you maintain metrics, the company allows you to choose roles that best suit you and allows you considerable mobility within the company, including taking positions in other countries.

Of course, this all depends on your metrics.

According to one source, the biggest factor to consider when going to Amazon from a South African company is the culture shift.

Amazon expects you to do R10,000 worth of work if they pay you R10,000, and they will monitor your every step.

That level of scrutiny is foreign to many South African work environments.

Ultimately, if you work at AWS for one week, our source said, it is bound to change your life.

Now read: Amazon is looking for South Africans to work from home

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What it’s like to work at Amazon in South Africa