The best piece of advice Yvette Russell-Minor ever got came from her grandmother Susan Green: You make it work, and then you make it better. “She believed in being the best at what you do, no matter what you do,” said Yvette, who is Director of Customer Engagement for the Board of Pensions.
Yvette has run with this advice throughout her 31-year career at the Board, first as a benefits representative, then as Regional Service Team Manager, Director of Retirement Benefits, and Director of Employer Services. “I don’t believe in hanging out in ‘can’t do that,’” Yvette said.
In her role as Director of Customer Engagement, Yvette provides guidance to Benefits Plan members and employers, including the Board’s five Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) sibling agencies — the Office of the General Assembly, Investment & Loan Program Inc., Presbyterian Foundation, Presbyterian Mission Agency, and Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.
“The word service appears nine times in the Board’s six-page business plan for the years 2019 and 2020,” Yvette said. “That’s us.” Her team is responsible for understanding and responding to both employer and member needs. It includes the service representatives, who spend their days on the phones, helping employers navigate plan offerings and assisting members with benefits matters.
The team’s responsibilities grew in 2017, when the Board made benefits available in a menu. For the first time, employers could pick and choose which benefits to offer their non-installed ministers and employees. Naturally, this new flexibility added decision-making to the mix — and the need for more guidance.
“People are willing and want to work in new and creative ways to deliver an exceptional customer experience that is impactful and purposeful,” Yvette said. “Service is a hallmark of the Board. We have to anticipate the kinds of questions we’re going to get and be prepared to answer them.” As the Board continues building choice into the plan, keeping it commercially competitive, the representatives are always ready to “serve better,” she said.
Being prepared requires great dedication because of the growing number of PC(USA)-affiliated employers joining the plan, Yvette said. While churches likely have a volunteer from the congregation handling benefits for pastors and employees (who are often part-time), affiliated employers usually have at least one human resources professional and a mix of employee types.
“That’s a contrast I see,” Yvette said. “It means there’s not one right way to assist the person on the other end of the line. We have to have a deep understanding of the Benefits Plan in order to meet that person where the need is.”
Understanding the Benefits Plan is where it all began for Yvette. On her first day at the Board, she asked, “So, how do we work?” She chuckled at the memory. “They handed me a copy of the plan and told me the phone was going to ring. That was it.” Things have changed a lot since then.
Yvette joined the Board in October 1988 from Prudential Insurance, where she helped AARP members understand the association’s health plan. She was used to process. “They were cutting edge,” she said of her former employer. “They made sure we followed procedure.”
So, as a young woman in those early years at the Board, Yvette shared what she had learned at Prudential, and changes came about. “My voice was one that was welcome,” she said, and that helped her grow professionally. “Everyone has a gift, and I learned that I have a gift of service and administration,” Yvette said.
Today, Yvette listens to the voice of another young woman — her 16-year-old daughter, Simone. “No more water bottles!” said Simone, an environmentally conscious vegetarian. Acknowledging that her daughter “helps me a great deal,” Yvette said that she’s “made other changes for the environment,” like planting her first vegetable garden.
For Yvette, this is all about getting back to basics, to her grandmother Susan Green, who grew up on a farm and “was organic before there was organic.” You make it work, and then you make it better. That’s pretty basic.