Two Utah women draw on life experiences, listening skills to succeed at work

Story and photo by NICHOLE BUTTERS

Many assume that the youth of the millennial generation is taking today’s job market by storm. They come fresh out of college with an energetic drive to succeed, and are comfortable using modern technology in every aspect.

But are they more successful? Corinne Place, a 65-year-old senior account manager at Discover Financial Services, will tell you: not so fast.

Corinne Place enjoys connecting on a personal level with her customers.

Corinne Place enjoys connecting on a personal level with her customers.

Place has worked at the company’s call center in West Valley City, Utah, for 15 years and is currently the top incentive earning manager in her team and department. Representatives at the center speak to customers throughout the country to assist them with their credit card needs. Customer service, collections and hardships are examples of the many different departments there. Place works in the hardship department and assists customers who are several months delinquent on their payments.

She takes every call seriously and spends the time with her customers to make them feel heard and understood. She has a way of getting the job done in a professional manner without ever backing down to pressure from younger generations.

“When I was first being trained for collections, a team leader made a comment and said, ‘She won’t be here long,’” Place said. “I guess I proved them wrong!”

In a collections position, success is measured on a set of team metrics and individuals strive for incentives. It is a competitive atmosphere where agents try to out-collect each other in order to be the top-ranking representative. In January 2014, Place was ranked first on her team and in her department. She received a bonus of more than $2,300 on her check.

“I’m successful because I’m experienced with the social aspect of collecting,” Place said. “Some younger generations don’t have the people skills. They’re great at computer skills, but I have the people experience. I can relate to others on a personal level.”

Discover Financial Services has seen a trend in the higher levels of the company. Where there used to be many representatives in their 20s and 30s out on the collections floor, the majority of individuals on the teams that deal with high-risk clients are now older adults in their 60s and 70s. What used to be a center filled with conversations focused on social media, is now becoming an atmosphere filled with family stories, advice and a work-based family.

Place is able to help customers at all ages in many difficult situations. But, she has a special connection with those her age. “I have compassion for the older generations. I get where they’re coming from and know exactly why they’re struggling, which is why I’m able to personally connect,” Place said.

Peter Hebertson, information and referral program manager at Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services, has had 22 years of experience studying and working directly with aging communities. “The millennials are good with technology, but when you go up to talk to them, it’s tough to have an old-school conversation,” Hebertson said. “They’re always plugged in.”

Heberston said that while these generations are absolutely able to work together and have successful relationships, it comes down to how both generations were raised. “It’s not so much that they don’t get along, they just view the world a little differently.”

Sandy Smith, 64, is a senior account manager at Discover Financial Services. She is a soft spoken representative who frequently uses the phrases “sweetie” and “honey” as she speaks with her customers. But don’t let that loveable façade fool you.

Smith is relentless. She is successful in every aspect of her job and has quickly moved up in the levels of the company. She received multiple promotions in 2013, and in January 2014 joined the department that deals with the customers who are at the highest risk of “charging off.” Representatives must have excellent negotiation skills to work with these card members and try to avoid writing off their balance as a bad debt.

“I work full time, so I speak to a lot of customers,” Smith said. “You have to be patient with them. A lot of younger generations get impatient quickly, and don’t take the time to get to know who they’re working with. I’ve had a lot of experiences in my life that I can relate to the customers, and have once been in just as much debt as they have. So I tell them my story, and they listen.”