News Column

The Texas Hispanic Touch

January 11, 2011

Gary D. Fackler, Online Editor

"We live where you live."

It is a simple enough statement for an insurance agent to make, but in La Joya, Texas, where Ruben Solis is based, it means much more than being in close proximity to his customer.

For Mr. Solis and the other State Farm agents based in rural Texas, the nearness is as much cultural as it is physical. The company goes to great lengths to help ensure it meets the needs of customers in the region, many of whom are Hispanic customers.

It was tough for Mr. Solis to find time for an interview with HispanicBusiness magazine, because a large number of his customers are busy refinancing their homes, trying to take advantage of historically low interest rates. State Farm can accommodate them because they offer a broad range of financial services in addition to insurance policies protecting homes, vehicles and lives.

He joined the company eight years ago "because I was already a customer and a believer in State Farm," Mr. Solis says. "It made sense to be part of a large company with a strong local market share."

Stront Commitment to Hispanics
From his earliest years with the company, he noted a strong commitment to Hispanic initiatives, both in terms of career development and in the firm's approach toward attracting and retaining Hispanic customers.

Exhibit A under customer commitment is State Farm's Hispanic Advisory Committee, an ad hoc group that gets together once a year to discuss how they can better meet the needs of Hispanic customers. Field agents from across the country are brought together with corporate executives to discuss how to improve services to clients in rural Texas.

"They want to know what we need to do to be successful (with Hispanic customers)," Mr. Solis says. "And they are very thorough. Nothing falls through the cracks. They want to know what we need to do today, tomorrow and 50 years from now."

The revelations that come out of the annual Hispanic think-tank can be minor or extremely large-scale. On the minor end was a recent discovery that insurance invoices dispatched in the region should be offered in both Spanish and English. While most Hispanic households in Texas are often bilingual, the nuances of paying bills can sometimes be clearer in Spanish if the customer is first-generation.

Bilingual Call Centers
On a much larger scale was the implementation of a regional call center that incorporates staff from the region with bilingual skills.

"We started looking at internal resources (as opposed to a robotic language line)," says Janine Chapa, a regional State Farm vice president. "We in El Paso (Texas) that can handle Hispanic customer calls."

The bilingual staffers provide a human touch that is greatly preferred by most customers over mechanized cyber-Spanish. Imagine receiving a warm "hello" from a real, live human instead of a clipped, mechanical monotone voice. Staffers are oft en from the region, and fully understand both the language and the culture of the customer. And it reinforces the State Farm mantra, "We live where you live" (and, by extension, we speak your language).

Boosting Hispanic Careers
Few employees have benefited more from the company's marketing savvy than Ms. Chapa, who joined the company in 1987 as a claims representative based in Weslaco, Texas.

She rose steadily through the ranks, helped in no small part by a series of training opportunities designed to groom her for a management role.

"They made an investment in me," she explains. "They continue to make investments in me. And I feel like, yes, I've definitely been a recipient (of career benefits)."

A big part of that investment is State Farm's co-sponsorship of the Hispana Leadership Program, a rigorous four-week career boot camp, with one week's commitment every quarter for one year. The aim is to prepare the next generation of Latinas for leadership roles in the industry, in the private sector and in government.

Entry into the program is not easy, with stringent requirements for leadership experience, community involvement and an essay that details an ambitious course for personal and professional development. But the payoff is big, with enriching sessions in places like Washington, D.C., Harvard and other bastions of education and achievement.

A Company 'Para Mi'
In addition to the Hispana Leadership Program, State Farm offers it "Para Mi" program that provides tuition reimbursement programs for employees who want to boost their chances for a promotion or an expanded role. They also offer scholarship programs for children of employees who show academic promise.

And benefit from them she did.

In her years at State Farm, Ms. Chapa rose from claims representative to agency field specialist, agency field consultant, agency administrative assistant, agency field executive, director of After Hours Quote and finally vice president.

Along the way she collected an alphabet soup of credentials and accreditations, thanks to her extensive training. Among her credentials are chartered life underwriter (CLU), chartered financial consultant (ChFC) and chartered adviser for senior living (CASL).

But at the end of all the training and credentials and achievements, Ms. Chapa still makes her home in the broad, open expanses of Texas. Just what you'd expect.

After all, she works for a company whose culture is centered on, "We live where you live."

Source: (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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