The Monday Interview - "So, what's it really like working as a...team manager (insurance)?"

call centre manager

Welcome to this week’s ‘The Monday Interview’.

I’m really excited to be bringing you today’s interview as it comes from someone positively brimming with enthusiasm about their career, and their employer. Also, something a little bit different - it comes from a contributor for the USA. Whilst this will please my stateside readers, of which I have a fair few, it also makes a really useful comparative study for my UK readership, as we can note the differences in work practices, not to mention also annual leave entitlement!

It is fair to say that we are not always known for our customer service standards in the UK and most people would agree, if you want to experience real customer service then the USA is a safe bet. Today’s interview gives a simple reason why that may be the case, as the interviewee’s emphasis on spending time on the development of her staff is significant, to say the least.

Meet Taneea. She works as a Team Manager in the insurance industry - an industry that I always feel gets unfairly overlooked in terms of what it can offer. Her interview shows that being a manager doesn’t have to mean locking yourself away in meetings all day. She prides herself on her hands-on approach to team development and clearly finds this element of her role extremely rewarding. This is someone so enthusiastic about her job that she has recently moved her family hundreds of miles across the country to take up a promotion.

Many thanks for your contribution, Taneea. And all the best with your new position :)


So, briefly, what is your job?

“I work for State Farm Insurance, the #1 auto insurer in the US. I am a team manager in our auto claims department. I supervise a group of about 13 associates who handle low complexity auto claims. I spend at least 50% of my time developing my associates. This is done through call monitoring, sitting side by side with them to see how they move through the claim process and also one on one development sessions where we discuss their goals and career path.”

How did you get into it?

“I started for State Farm 15 years ago at an entry level position in our after hours call center. I set up claims and took messages for our agents, I then moved up to actually handling the claims as an adjustor. I obtained my bachelors degree in organizational leadership in 2010 and started pursuing leadership at that time. I was given several stretch assignments in my role as adjustor that helped me develop my leadership skills and recently was promoted to my current role. As for qualifications, we are big on continuing education, having my college degree was one step and then working towards an insurance designation was next. I am currently pursuing my CPCU (Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter) designation. One other piece to getting in to leadership here is mobility. We have several hub operations across the US and your ability to move between them is important to the company.

To get this job I had to wait for openings to become available, then submit my request for consideration. The hiring panel reviews your request, along with your manager comments and we also have a tool called a talent profile that is reviewed. The talent profile is a working document that each employee is responsible for keeping up to date with your significant business achievements. You can also list out what areas of the company you are interested in and the skills and competencies that you possess. After reviewing all the requests, the interview panel will send you a request for an interview. In my case, since I was located in a different part of the country, I was asked to do a video conference interview. It lasted 30 minutes and consisted of several competency based questions. I didn’t find out until 2 weeks after my interview that I had been selected. I was then given 45 days to move my family across several hundred miles and report for my new position!”

Describe a typical day.

“My days are driven by my email and my calendar. As I mentioned, we spend at least 50% of our time with our associates, so first thing I do is check my calendar to see how many side by sides I have scheduled. We are also responsible for completing file reviews and other reporting. So once then I start to set aside time to complete those duties. We also have a daily team huddle that lasts 5 minutes and is meant to give my team a snapshot of how we are performing, so I will work with my team lead to get our numbers on the board and a quick discussion topic together. We also have section manager meetings weekly to prepare for. Other responsibilities include handling complaint calls from customers who are unhappy with their claim, reviewing our standard claim processes and adherence to duties to ensure my team is in compliance with how they are handling claims. Also monitoring associate performance and having those coaching moments to help an associate who isn’t performing within the established metrics.”

What do you enjoy most about your job?

“DEVELOPING MY PEOPLE!!! I LOVE seeing that star performer get a promotion and move on to the next level. I also love seeing a struggling team member make improvements and achieve goals. Those are the rewarding moments. I enjoy knowing that my team is helping our customers recover from an unexpected occurrence.”

And the least?

“Managing performance problems. The associates I lead are entry level, so a lot of them are younger and this is their first “career” job, sometimes they haven’t developed a good work ethic. One of the major problems I manage currently is late arrivals and call offs. It is never fun to have that crucial conversation explaining to someone that they have been late too many times or missed too much and failure to improve could lead to termination. It’s even more disheartening when you do all you can for that person and they just never get it…”

What are the common misconceptions that people have about the work you do?

“I think a common misconception is that management does nothing but attend meetings all day and hide in their offices. I think that is why I spend so much time on the floor right there with my associates. I want them to know that they are the reason I am here and that we are a team.”

What are the main skills you need to work as a team manager?

“You must be able to build relationships easily and have excellent written and oral communication skills. You have to have leadership courage to handle the tough situations. Adaptability is another skill that is necessary - our world in auto claims is ever changing, so you must be able to roll with that change. And the ability to work with people from various backgrounds is a must as well.”

Tell us a little about the benefits that come with the job.

“I can’t speak highly enough of the benefits that my company offers -that is the main reason I have stayed with them for 15 years. When I was young, I never said “I want to work in the insurance industry when I grow up!” :)

Along with the paid vacation (you get 2 weeks paid vacation when you start, then another week after 10 years and a 4th week after 15, then a 5th week after 25 years), we are one of the few Fortune 500 companies that still have a pension plan for the associates. We also have medical, dental, and vision plans, along with spouse and dependant life insurance plans. We have a savings & thrift plan, which is similar to a 401K retirement plan. We have annual performance reviews for all employees and based on your rating you get a raise and also cash bonus. The last 2 years we have been given a separate growth incentive bonus that is based on the number of policies we retain and grow by.

The pay is very comparable to the industry, some companies pay slightly more, but they don’t have the other benefits.

We are very aware of work life balance and have so many different schedules that you could get. My operation is open 6am-9pm 7 days a week, and we do assign shifts, but you are able to switch with another associate if you need to. As a manager, I have a lot of flexibility in my schedule which even allows me to work from home on occasion if needed.

We have a wonderful tuition reimbursement program and do not limit what you can study, so if you want to go to college you don’t have to study insurance or business. We also sponsor employees who work towards an insurance designation, I won’t pay anything out of pocket for my CPCU (I believe it is about $300 for books plus $180 for each test and then are 8 parts to it). Every year, the company also pays for the employee who completes their designation and a guest to go on an all expense paid trip. Next year the destination is Hawaii.

If you get a promotion with the company and move to a different location, they will pay relocation for you. This includes covering the cost for you to sell your house, send you on a week long house hunting trip at your new location, cover the closing costs for the sale of your old home and purchase of your new home, pay for movers to pack and move your home goods, and cover your lodging and meals until you are in your new house.

This is just the major benefits, there are so many more that would take me so much time to list!”

What advice would you give someone wanting to break into this career?

“My advice is to learn all you can about the insurance industry and to have continuing education, perhaps with an insurance designation. But even if you don’t, there is still a place for you here!!!”

Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?

“I would love to be at the section manager level, which is about 2 steps/levels up from where I am now. I would have my own section and group of team managers to lead.”

AND JUST FOR FUN…

First in the office or last to leave?

“First in. The early bird gets the worm.”

Tea or coffee?

“Coffee in the morning, iced tea in the afternoon.”

Staff canteen or packed lunch?

“Most of the time, staff canteen.”

The lift or the stairs?

“Lift, although the stairs would be better for my figure”

Out after work or straight home to bed?

“Home to my family.”


Momentum Careers Advice is based in St Albans, Hertfordshire, but can provide careers advice, guidance and support via Skype, across the UK and beyond