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When Spanish-speaking customers need help, this El Paso team is ready to answer the call.

By Theresa Miller

January 15, 2020

When Deserie Rubio’s phone rings at Prudential’s operations in El Paso, Texas—and it rarely stops—chances are she’ll answer in Spanish.

Rubio is one of a handful of Spanish speakers among more than 30 customer service representatives who handle between 12,000 and 15,000 calls a day from participants in retirement plans managed by the Enabling Solutions U.S. Business Contact Center. Callers choose which language they need when they dial in and representatives see that, knowing which language to speak before they answer.

Of all the center’s callers, about 3% speak Spanish. They are largely workers contributing to Taft-Hartley multi-employer and manufacturing clients’ retirement plans, says Karen Jones, vice president of customer service for Enabling Solutions. “When you talk about 3% of thousands and thousands of calls, it adds up,” she notes.

Until late 2016, Prudential customer representatives would transfer Latinos—like all non-English speakers—to an outsourced language service for translation, often after a failed attempt to handle the call in English, Jones says. With English as a second language, many were happy for the transfer to a Spanish speaker. Still, Jones says, “We always wondered whether the translation was getting at the heart of what they needed.”

When the company announced it was opening a new office in El Paso, the businesses saw an opportunity to bring Spanish translation in-house, along with a chance to hire military veterans and spouses and tap into the region’s Hispanic population. They began with about 15 and have since doubled the size of the team. Now customers get information faster from someone who understands Prudential and its clients. The calls are shorter and save Prudential money by avoiding the $100-per-call language line. The company continues to use the service for other languages because there are far fewer calls.

“This contact center sets us apart in the industry,” says Jones. “Most of our peers continue to rely on language lines. And within the U.S. Businesses, this sets a great example of how we can build new capabilities. We’re now able to meet these customers where they are so they can better achieve financial wellness.”

In fact, Jones says, the program is working so well it may soon be scaled across other product lines.

Simplifying the complex

Rubio and her Spanish-speaking colleagues were hired not only for their language skills, but their ability to explain complex financial concepts and help customers understand how they can save for retirement and meet other financial challenges through their plans, says Gloria Garcia, who oversees the El Paso team. The diverse team includes military veterans and spouses, along with one staff member who immigrated to the U.S. from Juarez, Mexico—just across the Texas border.

Contact center training doesn’t stop after the initial hire, Garcia says. Rubio, for example, is studying for the Securities Industry Essentials exam, an introductory assessment of basic financial services knowledge. From there, she’ll be able to pursue qualification exams like the Series 6 and Series 7 exams.

Rubio grew up in Salinas, California, where she married her high school sweetheart. He was in the Army and they moved from place to place, including a four-year stint overseas, until finally settling in El Paso with their three boys. Her husband transferred into the reserves from active duty in 2016 so he could begin to use his GI Bill to go to school full-time, so it was time for Rubio to look for work.

“We moved so much, the last time I worked was in 2006,” Rubio says. So, finding a full-time gig was difficult. She initially took on seasonal work preparing taxes in early 2017 and when that job ended, she worked part-time in retail. Then she saw a listing on Indeed.com looking for bilingual service center representatives and applied through Workforce Opportunity Services, which partners with Prudential to train prospective employees for jobs in technology and business operations.

At the end of June 2017, after a series of interviews in English and Spanish, Rubio learned she was accepted to a customer service class. She joined the company in November 2017, first as a WOS consultant, before being hired as a Prudential employee in May 2018. In addition to specializing in calls with Spanish-speaking callers, she and her colleagues also provide interpretation for the company’s registered representatives when they need help.

Meeting diverse needs

Rubio says she’s noticed a difference between Spanish- and English-speaking callers that echoes the findings of Prudential’s Financial Wellness Census, which found that Latino Americans share the same retirement goals as the general population, but place greater importance on paying down debt, supporting family members and increasing homeownership in the near term. Almost 60% consider taking care of parents and family members important, compared to more than 40% of the general population.

Rubio says, “In the Hispanic culture, people like to save as much money as possible for family. People will call asking, ‘My mom is sick in Mexico and she needs medicine. Is there anything I can take out?’” Other common requests are for money to buy plane tickets to see family or pay rent for relatives outside of the U.S.

Spanish-speaking customers also will often call to better understand their plans, Rubio observes, because most of the reading material is in English. Some callers in auto-enrollment plans, for example, don’t understand why money is being taken from their paychecks. Once they do, the El Paso team will Skype in a registered rep and stay on the line as callers then choose investment options that fit their goals.

Taking all calls into account, says Jones, about 60% are related to a request to withdraw money, whether through a loan, a hardship request or because they’ve left the company that holds their plan.

In January, the El Paso team members will head straight to one of their busiest seasons, working long days to handle high call volume through tax season. Some callers expect a product pitch, Rubio says, but that’s never the case. “We’re not trying to sell anything, we’re just trying to help customers keep their money in savings,” she says.