For some time, Merlana Boissiere worked out of the marketing department of Sagicor planning and preparing for the company’s annual awards ceremony. She never knew that one day she’d be the recipient of one of those awards. Last year Boissiere, a customer service supervisor at the insurance company was taken completely by surprise when some members of her staff nominated her for employee of the year 2011. When Boissiere’s family saw the full-page newspaper advertisement in full colour that highlighted her achievement they were excited and proud. Her friends felt the accolade was long overdue and her six year old son was just in awe that his “mummy” was in the newspaper. “Nothing happens before its time,” was Boissiere’s humble response to the public recognition. “I just did what I had to do and I am happy when I see my staff progress.”
As part of her prize Boissiere spent a weekend in Barbados where she attended the island’s award ceremony; later this year she would be a part of the company’s bi-annual convention in Argentina. It is a convention, she said, that only agents qualify for, so she is honoured. There was a time that Boissiere actually contemplated resigning from the insurance industry altogether. Immediately after leaving high school she entered the industry and for the last 24 years worked in just about every department, starting out in underwriting, then moving on to accounts, marketing, and conservation. She never sold insurance, she said, because she didn’t think she had a knack for it. She felt satisfied at that point, that she had ‘been there and done that’ and there was no more room for her to grow. Boissiere applied for VSEP when the then Barbados Mutual became Sagicor, but when the St Augustine branch opened its doors and advertised a vacancy for a customer service supervisor, her spark for insurance returned. She successfully got the position and withdrew her VSEP application. Boissiere now supervises the customer service departments in Chaguanas and Pt Lisas. “We are the bridge between the customer and the company, so we do our best to facilitate our clients. Sometimes we get irate clients who want to know more about their insurance plans and the benefits, some come to us with queries and then there are those with standing order issues. I tell my staff to put themselves in the client’s shoes and no matter what kind of day they are having, always put the customer first.”
Boissiere said she feels a sense of satisfaction when a customer compliments one of her representatives or reports to her that a problem was solved. “It is so simple. At the end of it all the company is also seen in a good light. Ensuring that a customer is happy may be seen as a small thing but it makes all the difference to a frustrated client.” Boissiere is encouraged that the company’s customer service success so far, has seeped into different departments. Out of the office, Boissiere's home life is just as demanding and fulfilling. The 46-year-old mother of one is also her mother’s caretaker and breadwinner of the home. Unlike most women, Boissiere conceived her son late in life. She is thankful that she spent her younger years doing all the things she wanted to do – pursuing karate (she is now a 1st degree black belt), competing in aerobics marathons, dabbling with body building and a woman’s favourite pastime – socialising. “My life has definitely changed since my son came along,” she said with a laugh.
“When you don’t have children you never think about putting aside for a rainy day. Now that I have him I do. My outlook on life has changed and I am fortunate that I have a mother who played a very active and supportive role in helping me raise him; she has been a big help.” Boissiere doesn’t sugar-coat the fact that motherhood ‘over 40’ has its challenges, especially when having to balance home and work.
“Time management is very important. Sometimes I go to the office very early or I stay back very late to complete the day’s work. My mother helps me to get my son ready and I take him to school. Thankfully I have an understanding boss.”
Boissiere, who often mentors and empowers those under her supervision, is bothered by the number of single mothers who appear in the media to highlight their unfortunate circumstances. She said more single mothers need to empower themselves. “It is all about your focus. As it is, I find it tough to raise one son; I can’t understand why mothers who can’t take care of one child would have four and five children.” Boissiere thinks that there are a lot of opportunities that single mothers can seize to make a better life for themselves and their children. “I understand that not everyone is academically gifted but they can use their hands. There are courses being offered in tile-laying and carpentry for example, where a single mother can be self-employed instead of sitting down and waiting for the Government to help.
As I tell my young staff: knowledge is power, in business as well as in life.”