State Farm annoys me slightly less now

Our auto and home insurance is through State Farm, but not through lack of looking elsewhere. Twice now they have canceled my insurance due to a computer glitch–I’ve made every payment in full and on time for the better part of 8 years, and twice is two too many times to be almost without insurance when that is the case. The last time it happened was right after we bought our house, and I wrote a rather angry and pointed letter to both my agent and to the regional office. I received no reply.

But State Farm is cheap with better coverage than everywhere else I called, so I couldn’t justify switching. And when they called me three weeks ago to ask if I’d come in “to chat” and have an “evaluation” done to make sure they were “meeting my needs,” I went along with it. I was angry about it–the office is inconveniently located and it’s hard for me to make time during a week day–but I viewed it as a requirement rather than a nicety. I figured this was their nice way of telling me that my insurance rate was going to go up.

My insurance agent once again didn’t recognize or remember me, but they’ve apparently hired a young, pretty girl to be their front-person. She’s the one who did most of the talking and the actual evaluation, which was prompted by changes in state laws across the country that have modified auto liabilities. I guess if you’re under a certain threshold and get into a car accident, up to 25% of your wages can be garnished–if you are above the threshold, no problem. To get my car insurance above that threshold was only another $20 per 6 months, so I figured it’s worth it even if they are bullshitting me (which since Missouri hasn’t passed any such law, they kind of were, though they were kind enough to tell me this). An extra $3.33 a month is pretty good for an extra $200k in coverage.

They asked if I had any other questions at the end of the evaluation, and I’d been thinking about it for a while so I went ahead and asked.

“You may not remember me, but we’ve met several times in the past. Do you recall the letter I wrote you two years ago?”

He did not.

I recounted how computer glitches had canceled my insurance twice, and that I only found out the second time through the final cancellation notice–earlier notices weren’t sent out. When I called his office, they told me to call the regional billing office, but all that office could say was, “Huh, you’re right, we did cancel your insurance. And we didn’t notify you. Not really sure why we did that.”

So I wrote him a letter. The way I see it, if everything’s automated by a computer and that computer has so little oversight that it can just cancel my insurance without warning or notification, what am I paying him for? That’s when I began looking for another insurance company, but I couldn’t find any cheap enough to switch to.

He didn’t really know what to say. According to him, he never saw the letter, and he apologized and said they do whatever they can to make things work well. They’re not perfect, but they always call when people cancel their insurance or miss a payment. (Note that they didn’t call me, or reply to my letter.)

Anyways, it ended with more apologies and him leaving the office, at which time the new girl thanked me for coming in and apologized again.

“We’ve had a lot of turnover in the last two years,” she said with a glint in her eye. “I can assure you that you won’t have any problems with us again.”

I foresee a bright and successful future for her.

Appraisal and Development Plan (ADP) – 2008

Last year, a new evaluation system was instituted at the University to help both managers and employees with the evaluation process. Some of the goals included:

  1. Creating a system that was more objective.
  2. Creating a system that rewarded people based on the work they did and its quality.
  3. Creating a system that helped both workers and managers agree on clearly defined objectives.

Now in its second year, the ADP is becoming a bit more refined, and thankfully we didn’t have to do a full self-evaluation like we did last year. We do, however, need to provide supporting documentation for our ADP. The goal of this is to let our evaluators know what we did this year; they might have a general idea, but they might also have forgotten some things. We all want to avoid a situation where our evaluation score is low and we are told that, “If only you had done X, you would have gotten a higher score!” This might happen in a situation where you didn’t know you needed to do X, but it might also be that you actually did do X, only your evaluator didn’t know… and now it’s too late to change the evaluation because it has moved up through the great bureaucracy and been dutifully stamped and filed.

So, we file supporting documentation regarding what we have done this year. Not everything we have done, by any means, but the notable high points that we want remembered and considered in our evaluation.

When I describe what I do for a living, I first have to say that I work in the Computer Services Help Desk at Missouri State University. Within the context of IT, a Help Desk is generally just a call center, or a repair shop: help people with software, answer questions, replace broken computers, etc. That’s certainly a part of what we do, but my job rarely involves that kind of work. My second statement is always something along the lines of:

I don’t do much of the repair work anymore. Instead, I spend a lot of time researching and writing, trying to find new solutions to help people work more efficiently (specializing in open source solutions) and I also do a lot of web development. I maintain our unit’s web servers, our wiki, and I do a lot of speaking at conferences or just sessions at our University about different topics.

Since I put the time in to outline my year’s activities, I thought I’d post them here to further clarify on this. It’s nothing special, and most of it probably won’t make sense to someone who doesn’t work here, but if you’ve ever wondered what I do, this is it. It’s over-simplified and doesn’t go into any detail, so a project that consumed more than three months of this year is condensed into “Experts wiki went live in June,” but you get the idea.

Our three objectives for Centralized User Support Specialist this year are:

  1. Participate and contribute to the successful implementation of the ERP system.
  2. Maintain competency and currency through professional development. (PDF)
  3. Provide accurate and appropriate training and documentation. (PDF)

At this time last year, I thought that 2008 was going to be a breeze. I’d had a really busy year, and I was looking forward to a nice, easy coast downhill to 2009. Instead, I ended up doing about twice the amount of work I did last year, and I did it more efficiently in less time.

Looking forward, I can’t begin to imagine what next year will hold. The training labs have been built and in use for some time. The wiki is up and stable. The Luminis portal went live last Wednesday. There’s obviously still work to do, but it’s maintenance, not new projects. What can they throw at me next year that could top this year’s challenges?

And yet, I was wrong before. I have a feeling that 2009 is going to be very interesting indeed.