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Meet face behind ‘mteja wa nambari uliyopiga”

Maggie Wazome is the owner of the infamous Safaricom automated voice that responds whenever you cannot reach a person on phone

Betty Muindi @BettyMuindi

We have all been there. You dial a number trying to reach someone over an emergeny situation or just check on them. It rings a few times and just when you thought the other person has picked the phone, a reassuring voice comes through, “‘Samahani,
mteja wa nambari uliyopiga hapatikai kwa sasa, tafadhali jaribu tena baadaye
(Sorry, the mobile subscriber cannot be reached. Please try again later),”  the strange woman rumbles. You get anxious and call again,and the stubborn woman on the line calmly tells you the same thing, again! You bang your phone and make a few clicking sounds with your mouth and mumble, “that annoying woman!”

Support analyst

Well, that voice you angrily clicked at is the voice of 57-year-old Maggie Wazome, a voice over artist and customer care support analyst at Safaricom’s Jambo Contact Centre.

When I meet her at her workplace along Mombasa Road, I am awed by her bubbly personality. And her voice bears a lot of noticeable resemblance to the popular automated notification.

I mention that to her and she assures me that I am not the only one; “Most people think that I am a robot,” she laughs.

The audition

She is dressed in a black and white print skirt, black top, stockings and heels and a matching head scarf, which her colleagues complement as she leads me to her desk on the first floor of the giant telecommunication company customer care centre.

As the voice of the infamous ‘mteja
wa
nambari
…’ line, the Mombasa born voice over artiste has been overwhelmed by the impact of her unique job.

“When I meet people and they put it together that I am the voice in their phone they feel like they already know me,” she chuckles.

It all began back in 2000 while doing her secretarial job at a firm that was a subsidiary of Booker Tate when she was contacted among 30 other candidates by  Andrew Crawford of Crawford Agencies. He wanted them to read some lines in Kiswahili for a client.

“We were given several lines to read and one of them was “Mteja
wa
nambari
…”, but I had no idea for who or for what I was reading those lines. By then Safaricom had not yet made a debut in Kenya,” she narrates.

The winning voice

After recording her voice, Crawford, who was then in charge of producing commercials at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) said that they would be getting back to successful candidates once their client was satisfied.

She later received a call from Crawford informing her that she made it among the top 16 and that they needed to read the lines once more.

So you can imagine her joy when she received news that her voice won the client’s heart.

Still, she had no clue that it was Safaricom, until a friend later told her that a voice on the newly launched telecommunication company, Safaricom’s automated responses sounded familiar.

One year later, her other passion for customer care prompted to look for a related job at the very company that had liked and bought her voice, Safaricom.

They hired her. And today, 17 years down the line, Wazome has literally grown with the now Kenya’s most profitable company, marking 18 years since it first opened its doors.

Wazome has grown from working as a customer care representative mandated with handling customer’s concerns for 12 years, to her current position as a support analyst.

Her voice was used again to record more automated responses. “My voice is the one behind the Kiswahili prompt that lets you know what to do when you dial a wrong number and maybe leave out a digit. I have done other recordings that are being used at appropriate times,” she notes.

The mother of two, a 25-year-old daughter and 24-year-old son loves listening to rhumba, Jazz
and Zilizopendwa when she is not working. Together with her children, she also engages in charity activities as well as mentorship programmes.

Wazome admits she had no clue that her few seconds voice recording for safaricom would offer her world recognition.“Today, many people who don’t want to call me by my name or don’t know me by name simply refer to me as ‘mteja’, which I am beginning to accept as my nickname,” Wazome says.

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