Creating a Niche, and Earning a Promotion

In 2007, I was hired at the Transamerica Life Insurance Company, as a customer service representative in the distributions services department. I processed requests for distributions from our annuity policy holders around the country. Sometimes, that involved contacting clients for more information. Someone might have forgotten to sign a form, for example, or might have omitted security information. To solve the problem, I’d mail the person a letter.

The company had been through several mergers and acquisitions, so in our department alone we had a collection of about 140 templates for letters related to distributions. The longer I worked with the letters, the more I saw how they could be improved. Some had overlapping information and could be combined. Some had incorrect grammar or needed updating. I also noticed that industry terminology wasn’t standard across all the versions.

When I told my department supervisor about this in 2008, she agreed that the letters needed revamping. She said I should stop what I’d been doing and start the new work. In a relatively short time, I was able to make numerous improvements and reduce the number of letters to 70. It was an informal job change — until a managers’ meeting several months later.

At that meeting, a vice president who was unaware of my new work mentioned that the division’s entire stock of 1,700 letters should be reviewed. My manager told her that she knew the perfect person for the job: me. After all, I was already doing this work for my department. The position was still considered temporary when I took on the extra tasks, but I was able to show that the work had value, and I was officially promoted and given a raise in November 2009.

My story has two lessons. First, a new job may be at your fingertips and you may not even know it. Being in the right place at the right time can play a part. It also helps if you work for someone who recognizes your strengths and is willing to support you, and if the company has the type of culture that lets you run with your idea. You might not expect an insurance company, which is typically viewed as conservative, to be so open-minded, but mine is.

Second, you never know how the skills you acquire in one job will come in handy later. Before moving to Transamerica, I worked at a Toyota Financial Services customer service center for 14 years, holding positions that gave me broad experience. Working in departments like collections, repossessions and lease terminations allowed me to see the big picture and the details.

In addition, a few of my colleagues and I were trained in kaizen, the Japanese process for continuous improvement. It teaches you to recognize a problem, get to its core and solve it. That was extremely valuable, but I couldn’t know that I’d be able to apply it the way I’ve done at Transamerica.

My new title is external communications project leader. One of the best parts about the job, besides the promotion and the raise, is the job satisfaction. What I do has increased efficiency significantly and improved the company’s image. We tracked the calls made to our call center from clients having questions about our distribution form, and the number dropped after I added a page with tips for completing it.

So far, I’ve reduced the number of letters in the division, excluding my own department’s, to about 650. I’ve revamped some and written hundreds of new ones for our companies. I believe that I’m doing something worthwhile, and I feel appreciated. Colleagues tell me how much better the letters are and how helpful it is to have someone to go to when a letter needs changing. It used to be a lengthy process, if it got done at all.

MY duties continue to expand. I work on letters for special projects, and I help develop new forms for our clients with annuities. I’m also involved with an online system that we use for e-mailing clients.

Next, I’m tackling about 2,200 system-generated letters sent out automatically. I have a feeling that I’ll be at it for a while.

As told to Patricia R. Olsen. E-mail: [email protected]

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