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Opportunities in sales: Two women share their stories

28.05.2024 | Rahel Goop
Nina Pianari and Heidi Merkli are venturing into a male-dominated domain. As female Helvetia customer advisors they talk about their experiences, opportunities and challenges in this field.
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In the world of work, there are still professions that are traditionally the domain of either women or men. Advising customers is an activity that is still dominated by men. Two female Helvetia customer advisors tell us why this is the case and what opportunities this field offers.

"I was aware that there are many more men than women in this profession. But why shouldn't a woman be just as good at this job?"
Nina Pianari, Customer Advisor at the Pratteln principal agency

Nina shows up for the interview wearing a light blue suit, sneakers and a radiant smile. Today she has a large bag with her because afterwards she'll go to a yoga class, as she does almost every day. Nina is also training as a yoga teacher on a part-time basis.

She has been working at Helvetia as a customer advisor for over a year. With a commercial apprenticeship and a wealth of experience from positions at SBB Cargo and Orion Rechtsschutz, most recently as Head of the Claims Centre, she found out about working as a customer advisor through her circle of friends. The opportunity of direct customer contact and a new challenge in particular prompted Nina to risk a career change in the male-dominated sector. She told herself it was "now or never". "I was aware that there are many more men than women in this profession. But why shouldn't a woman be just as good at this job? Since I get along well with both men and women, this doesn’t bother me personally. I saw it as an opportunity." Nina thinks that women often don’t dare to work as an advisor as they are more modest. Men are naturally more performance-driven and competitive, while women score better in terms of sensitivity and empathy. Nevertheless, Nina is certain that the skills for success as a customer advisor are not gender-specific. The most important thing is to enjoy dealing with people. At first, it certainly takes patience and confidence before achieving a first success. In addition, a positive disposition, coupled with perseverance and diligence, is essential to deal with the pressure of numbers and any failures. "I have a healthy level of self-confidence, but I also had to find my feet. The number pressure is there, but I try not to dwell on it and just do a good job", Nina says.

Nina sees lateral entry into this sector as absolutely feasible. "I have great new colleagues at Helvetia who are extremely helpful and motivating. There is also intensive basic training with week-long modules, which is extremely helpful. And once you've learned the ropes, you can easily organize your own daily routine." These mainly include customer meetings and administrative tasks, but also team meetings, conferences and networking events. Laughing, Nina comments: "You practically never stop working because you can bump into customers everywhere." However, she puts things into perspective: "At first I thought that I would often work in the evening, but then I saw that the option of working from home has given working people much more flexibility. So I can well imagine that that this job would also be well suited to working parents. But organizational skills are absolutely essential."

What Nina particularly likes about her new job are the many interesting encounters and the great variety of people of different ages, professions and backgrounds. "This gives me the greatest satisfaction and I really enjoy having so much variety at work. And of course, I’m always learning something new." Hence Nina’s appeal to all women: "Trust yourself, just give it a go and believe in yourself!"

"I don't feel any pressure. It’s important to enjoy dealing with people and to be diligent. Success will then come about on its own."
Heidi Merkli, Customer Advisor at the Baden General Agency

When Heidi talks about her 13 years as a customer advisor at Helvetia, her eyes light up and she gets quite animated. Her enthusiasm for her profession is contagious, and it’s immediately clear that she is dedicated to looking after her customers. Heidi shows the same drive in her private life: three times a week, she spends two hours at the gym early in the morning.

As a qualified commercial assistant, Heidi worked in various industries. From construction and IT to a hi-fi company where she engaged with international customers at the reception desk. After having her first child, she took the plunge and became self-employed. But after a decade, she returned to a permanent position as head of the perfumer department at one of the largest department stores in Switzerland. "That's when I discovered that I'm not a saleswoman. I want to advise customers." A friend who was a customer advisor in the insurance industry encouraged her to gain a foothold in the sales force. After seeing a job ad for Nationale Suisse Insurance 21 years ago, Heidi decided to switch. During a brief stint in the management team of a logistics company, she realized that she missed the insurance industry, and that led her to Helvetia.

"I never thought about the high proportion of men, because I was always supported and encouraged by my line managers and my good friend who had drawn my attention to the profession." Nevertheless, as a woman surrounded by men, she feels it's important to remain true to oneself. A successful woman attracts particular attention. A successful man can disappear in the crowd, but a woman stands out because of her gender. "I am and have always been very self-confident, so I have less of a problem with that". In addition to self-confidence and quick-wittedness, what's needed is perseverance, a positive attitude and a lot of motivation. "In this profession, you have to be open to change. There are always new products, system changes and training. I’m not 20 anymore, but it’s not a problem for me because I’m open to it," explains Heidi.

For many people, the intense pressure is a reason not to become a customer advisor. Heidi's daughter, who also works in the insurance industry, says much the same. "I don't feel any pressure. It’s important to enjoy dealing with people and to be diligent. Then success is sure to follow", says Heidi. And she emphasizes once again that she is an advisor and not a salesperson. For Heidi, the greatest advantage of this job is its flexibility. "As a person who loves freedom, a flexible working day is the most important thing for me." She also mentions that it is quite possible to maintain a healthy balance between work and family life. When she started out, Heidi was a single parent with two children. However, she had support from her mother and adds: "When my children were very young, juggling work and family wouldn't have been possible for me, but once they're in kindergarten or school, it works very well." Working as a customer advisor is a great job but you still need a good outlet. For Heidi that means doing sports, meeting friends and especially spending time with the family.

Would you also like to become a customer advisor? Then apply now.