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A local insurance company is giving two ambitious students with a knack for customer service a valuable head start in the business world.
Justin Mazuranich, 18, of Albuquerque and Krista Edwards, 20, of Los Alamos, are currently knee deep in policy reviews and insurance claims, simultaneously answering phones and developing marketing strategies – all part of their daily duties as State Farm interns at Lou Santoro’s agency.
“We are still learning, but we can do everything that everybody else can,” said Mazuranich, who graduated this year from El Dorado High School in Albuquerque but is originally from Los Alamos. “We have close to the same responsibilities as everybody else; we can write insurance policies for people and give quotes.”
Lou Santoro provides the students with a unique hands-on learning opportunity by financing their state licensing.
“I wanted them to have a close, personal experience with clients in what I call ‘first contact,’” Santoro said. “This way they can take a more active role.”
Because the interns are licensed by the state to sell automobile and homeowners insurance, they can work closely with office staff to learn the ins and outs of the insurance business, and use their licenses for future employment opportunities in other offices around the state.
“He let us get our hands dirty right away,” Edwards said. “We get to speak with clients first hand, file claims, and work with people if they bring in new cars or homes (to insure). There’s so much to it.”
Santoro approached Edwards, a junior at the University of New Mexico studying psychology, and asked if she would be interested in an internship after he witnessed her “exceptional” customer service skills while dealing with a customer at Ruby K’s – a job she held in high school.
“She was very interested,” Santoro said. “She came highly recommended after asking a couple of different people.”
Edwards said she is grateful for the opportunity to hone her customer-relations skills, and is especially interested in learning about the psychology angle involved in sales.
“The psychology side of business really fascinates me,” she said. “I came into this not really knowing a lot about insurance; all of this is really new to me.”
Mazuranich, who plans to pursue a career in financial planning, said getting to “learn about the financial state” of the company has helped mold the type of work he will pursue after college.
“I’ve learned so much from Lou (Santoro) and the insurance business in general,” he said. “I want to be a certified financial planner later on down the road.”
Santoro, who also interned for an insurance company while in college, said he wanted to give the two students the same experience that inspired him to later get into the business.
“I’m trying to give them as rich an experience as I had,” Santoro said. “I felt personally challenged to learn about insurance. I entered the business in 1977 and never looked back.”
He said that on top of the daily office grind the interns’ experience, they also get to be involved in decision-making processes around the office and develop marketing strategies to target younger customers.
“They’ve given us several solid ideas on how to market to their age group,” he said. “We used several of their ideas at Chamberfest.”
For the last two to three weeks of their internship, the students will get to sit-in on insurance reviews and get a chance to help prepare the books, Santoro said.
“I was only going to hire one but they were both so interested and well-qualified,” he said. “I hope in the future, they will consider working for us again.”