They Came to Cornerstone for Job Training and Left With Careers They Love

Denise Davis wearing black rimmed glasses and an Audible t-shirt sits in front of a computer monitor showing a photo of Audible's Newark headquarters.

To say that Denise Davis is good at talking to customers would be an understatement. “I love people. And for some reason, people love me,” she laughs. It’s a good thing, because as a customer care representative at Audible, Davis spends all day talking with people from around the country and helping to resolve their issues. Often their conversations turn to everyday life. “They’ll talk about their environment and I’ll talk about mine,” she says. Part of Audible’s protocol is to call customers back to ensure their issues have been resolved to their satisfaction, so Davis uses the opportunity to create her own “little book club” with customers, recommending listens and telling them, “I’ll call you back in two weeks and we’ll talk about it!’”

“We are big on personalization and speaking to our customers like family,” explains Pamela Selitto, who works on Audible’s human resources programs. This natural gregariousness and ease with strangers—that’s the part of the job that can’t be trained; it has to be hired. That’s exactly what Audible’s Cornerstone program has been doing since 2017: finding locals, like Davis, who have a gift for talking with and helping people, and teaching them the ins and outs of customer service.

To find this local talent, the Cornerstone team works with organizations like Newark Workforce Development Board, Covenant House and Newark Alliance, advertising job training that can lead to full-time employment at Audible or other Newark businesses. “The focus is not on Audible,” clarifies Selitto, “but on transferable professional skills and abilities” necessary for a customer service role anywhere.

Cornerstone has evolved from conducting workshops out in the community—teaching skills such as communication, time management, and critical thinking—to a paid on-the-job training program, where applicants who are accepted are given equipment to train virtually. “This helps onboard people who might not be accustomed to working in a corporate environment,” says Pooja Singh, an instructional design manager at Audible who heads up training for Cornerstone. “Learners get to participate in multiple hands-on activities and group discussions with their peers,” which creates a supportive, close-knit team, one that employees describe as feeling like family. They’re also able to get comfortable talking to customers on the phone that much sooner.

Cornerstone lasts eight weeks, and trainees work 40 hours per week at Audible; in addition to the pay, trainees receive a stipend to help with medical insurance premiums. Upon graduation, they are encouraged to apply for open customer service roles at Audible, or they may receive placement assistance for a role elsewhere. When they interview, candidates are assessed on their potential. Skills like confidence, active listening and empathy are valued over previous call center experience.

Another effective feature of the program is that it combines instructor-led and self-paced learning with a personalized support system, an assigned "buddy," for the duration of a new hire’s onboarding journey. This way, employees get help whenever they need it, from a peer who has walked in their shoes, like Davis. When Davis first attended a Cornerstone workshop, in 2017, she had decided to go back to work after retiring from a long-time role as an administrative assistant at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. "Because of my age, nobody would hire me, even with all the experience I had." Audible took a chance on her, she says, and now she gets to extend that opportunity to trainees. "There’s talent coming from everywhere if you just take the time and invest in getting to know somebody."

And that investment doesn’t end with being accepted to Cornerstone, or being hired for that matter. Aiyonnah Post, who went through the program in 2018 and is now the program’s trainer, says, “Audible never ceases to amaze with the level of support and guidance offered to me.” Audible’s tuition reimbursement, which provides financial assistance to employees pursuing education and credentials related to their careers, made it possible for her to receive training certification, “but even before that, every manager I had the pleasure of working with has been instrumental in guiding me towards the person I am today.”

Now Post is able to pay it forward, using her experience to inspire and support others, “equalizing opportunities, creating magic and empowering voices everywhere.” Looking back on the past few years, Post says she’s amazed how much her life has changed. “But that’s just the Audible way: moving fast to make new possibilities real!”

Sue-Ellen Brown-Jean is a Cornerstone graduate who was recently hired as a full-time customer care representative at Audible. When Brown-Jean first heard about Cornerstone, she was working at a grocery store and felt ready for a bigger career opportunity. She was used to talking to people, but she was a little nervous to take her first Audible customer call by herself. That nervousness disappeared right away as she and the customer realized they had the same last name. “Her husband and I are both from the Caribbean,” she explains. After Brown-Jean walked the customer through her issue with her listen, she says, “we stayed on the phone much longer, trading experiences of culture and of immigrating. I felt like I knew this person forever.”

In fact, Brown-Jean has found talking to all Audible customers easy and enjoyable. “They’ve all been so nice and so open to talking to you about whatever’s going on.” And the feeling seems mutual. Her first customer, the one with the same name, told Brown-Jean, “I enjoy talking to you so much. I’ve never had a company where I called and their customer service wasn’t rushing me off the phone.”

It’s been two months since that call and Brown-Jean no longer gets nervous. “I just give everyone the same respect and put excitement in my voice when I pick up the phone. If my day is going bad, I just bring that positive energy all the time—I learned that from Miss Denise.”

On that note, Davis has some advice for trainees, which is to believe in themselves and what they can do. “I never saw myself as a tech person,” she laughs, “and now I can help people with their tech devices!” Reflecting on her role as guiding jobseekers through a process she once went through, Davis says, “I want them to think the sky’s the limit.”


What We Talk About When We Talk About Care

Throughout his ten-year career with Audible, Sanchez Brown has gone from being a customer support agent to leading a Global Support team. He credits his success to Audible’s culture of caring — both for our customers and for each other.