Our Kofi: “How could you be so… human?”

Kofi Eschoe-Wilson, Customer Service Consultant, on competing for his country, turning down Cirque du Soleil, and tackling taboo.

Kofi Eschoe-Wilson, Customer Service Consultant, on competing for his country, turning down Cirque du Soleil, and tackling taboo. It's been a wild ride. 

If a customer has a question about their pension, they ring us and speak to somebody like me.

I talk to customers on the daily.

I helped one customer – this is a sad but uplifting story – she was about to retire, and her daughter had terminal cancer. She wanted money from her pension to take her on a weekend retreat. She'd been saving up but didn’t have enough.

I remember our conversation, she said they were smiling though it and trying to do the best they could. This lady, she really touched me.

After I put the phone down, I spoke to my manager and we were able to speed up her payment.

We've got something called Simply thank you, too, where we can send gifts to customers – so I booked a gift experience for her and her daughter.

Later, the customer got back in touch and she was crying. She was so thankful for the gesture.

Kofi on a call, wearing a headset
Kofi on a call in our London office

On random chance

When I was 10, we did summer activities. We got these random cards. Some people got football, rugby, tennis...

I got gymnastics. I was like, ‘What am I going to do with gymnastics?’ I couldn’t do a cartwheel; I couldn’t do the splits. I didn’t think I could do it, but it turned out to be my sport.

I got scouted for the national team, then the international team. I competed for Great Britain and got to travel around the world – Mexico, Europe… Nice was my favourite.

My squad, we trained at the National Sports Centre in Lilleshall, UK. It's in the middle of nowhere, secluded, no internet. The ideal setting for a horror movie, I suppose, but that's where we were. They were good times. Gymnastics was my life - Kofi the gymnast, that was me.

I got dropped due to injury just before the 2012 Olympics. It was anticlimactic. I went from training 7-8 hours a day to... nothing.

I was offered a contract with Cirque du Soleil, but I couldn’t take it up because my family needed me. So, I threw away all my medals, my leotards, and came home.

I had no qualifications, but I got a retail job. That was my initiation into customer service – it was a wild ride. There was a lot of finger-spacing hangers and folding up clothes.

I wasn't very good at it, so I moved on to Sky. I had a decent experience there for a couple of years. I learned listening and communication skills, teamwork and leadership skills.

Then, three years ago, I joined Aviva.

Kofi standing in reception of St Helens, our London headquarters
Kofi standing in reception of St Helens, our London headquarters

On blowing up

At work, I'm part of a diversity and inclusion group.

I host a podcast with them called Me, you and taboo, which is kind of blowing up. It covers subjects that people don't always speak about, but we should - just to normalize these difficult conversations and situations we find ourselves in.

When we started Me, you and taboo, it was received pretty well but nothing major.

Then I was talking to Mel, my co-host, and she was like, ‘Why have we not done more with it? Why have we not filmed anything?’ I didn’t think people were really feeling it, didn't want to oversell it. ‘Shut up!’ she said. ‘Get your camera on, you’re filming me tonight.’ And it took off from there. 

Mel, she's got cerebral palsy and she's a wheelchair user. The first episode we did was about disability awareness. She wanted to share how she goes about day-to-day life, and answer those awkward questions that people really wish they could ask but don’t for whatever reason.

That episode was shared with our senior leadership team, and then in team meetings across Aviva.

We have quite a few eyes now. 10 episodes in, we've covered LGBT plus, mental health, domestic violence, carers, volunteering, neurodiversity, grief awareness…

One person got a diagnosis of autism after watching our podcast.

Another person reached out to one of the guests in our domestic violence episode to help them escape a hostile situation.

After the grief episode, someone came forward to say they’d had a similar experience to our podcast guest and suffered PTSD as a result. Our podcast really hit home for them, they felt included.

Hearing that feedback, it’s been humbling for me.

On never thinking it’ll be your reality

Kofi holding up his phone, showing a picture of his nan
Kofi holding up his phone, showing a picture of his nan

Years ago, my nan was in hospital for a couple of weeks after feeling and looking weary. She’s 90 and she’s had diabetes for years.

When she came out, she was a different person. She came through the door of the house she’s lived in for 60 years and didn't know where she was.

I wanted nan to stay in her own home even if she didn’t recognise it. I already had a lock on her diabetic care, checking blood sugar and administering insulin. So, I became her full-time carer.

I’d already had the honour of caring for my grandad, but dementia was completely new to me. You see it on TV and you never think it’ll be your reality. Then it was. It is. That’s how the cookie crumbles sometimes.

You can never look at somebody and know what their story is or how they came to be who they are. Being a carer is a massive part of my life, has been for the past six years.

I’m no GP and no councillor. I’m not the biggest fan of blood and anything like that but when you're a carer, you have to push that aside to get the job done.

I shared my story about being a carer with colleagues. I’d taken quite a bit of carers’ leave – sometimes having to dash home or to emergency appointments.

Somebody from the Aviva Carers community got in touch, and I talked them through my situation.

From there, I’ve been able to help shape our carers’ policy, share my story with more people and generally become an ambassador. That’s important to me because if you don’t have caring responsibilities, if you don’t know anybody who does, it isn’t something that resonates with you. 

On learning respect

I was brought up in a single parent family. My mum, me, my sister and brother. We were a bit of a handful, I suppose, so my grandparents stepped in.

My nan, she was always a matriarch. I learned a lot about respect from her, about trying to have the best outlook on life.

When I think back to when she wasn't ill, I think of the times she taught me how to fold my clothes or we made apple crumble on Saturday mornings.

They say when people get dementia, they revert to the worst parts of their personality. But even now, watching my nan when she's erratic, it's generally because she's trying to help somebody that doesn't exist or that's not actually there.

It’s testament to her that even through this illness she's still trying to help, still trying to be the best person she can.

Kofi wearing his Nan's brooch. It's gold, heart shaped, features two birds and the word "Mother". It's pinned above his heart.
Kofi wearing his Nan's brooch

On overcoming doubt

In the past, I’ve had a tendency to be self-deprecating, sometimes a bit pessimistic.

If I made a mistake, I’d beat myself up and be like, ‘How could I be so stupid?’ Then someone said to me, ‘Don't think of it as stupid, think of it as human: how could you be so human?’

That mental re-framing really works for me. It helps me look past the negatives and see there's a whole heap of positives that come out of every single situation.

What is perfection anyway?

Now if I'm ever doubting, maybe I'm nervous about hosting a podcast. I feel like I can't do it, I'm going to embarrass myself, or stammer through my words. That’s when I tell myself, ‘Who said you can’t do it? Nobody. You put that on yourself. You've done it before, you can do it.’

When it comes to mental health, I have to look after myself because I've got somebody depending on me.

Whatever I'm feeling, it’s valid – everyone’s feelings are valid. I try to address it, verbalise it, understand it the best way I can so it doesn’t manifest into something negative.

On hopes and dreams

Kofi our London office, talking to our editorial team
Kofi in our London office, talking to our editorial team

Oh gosh. I really want a house one day. I've been looking for the past two years, but I'm very particular about what I want. And what I want, to be fair, is out of my budget for now.

I want to do work that leaves an impression – for my customers and the people around me.

All the things that make people unique, I want to acknowledge those differences and use them to create an environment that welcomes everyone. 

Me, you and taboo

In this clip from podcast series, Me, you and taboo, Kofi shares his bittersweet experience of being a carer with co-host, Melissa Dempsey. 

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Transcript  for video Me, you and taboo

I think it's a bit bittersweet because of my Nan's condition that she doesn't necessarily always know who I am.

Like, we'll be sitting down for a period of time, and after we've had a coherent conversation, she'll be like, "Who are you?"

"Who are you?" and be like, "Have you seen Kofi?" and I'll be like, "No, I've not seen Kofi, Nanna..."

But then I walk out the room and then I walk back in, and she'll be like "You alright, man? You alright, Kofi?" And I'll be like...

So little bits and pieces. Like, I hold on to those little golden moments.

And any time she said my name or something just little, I see it as such an achievement - for her - and I just think, yeah, I can, I can remember those little pieces and the little fragments of her personality do still stay.

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