One of the many things that makes VINE special is its world-class call center: the CustomerFirst Center, or “CFC.” The CFC is operational 24/7/365 and is staffed by more than 80 professionals who provide support to victims, survivors, and concerned citizens who call from anywhere in the country VINE is used. CFC operators who provide front-line support to any caller are called Victim Service Representatives (VSRs), and they in many ways function as the face and voice of VINE for survivors.
Their jobs are not easy. VSRs must be quick on their feet and able to respond with empathy, professionalism, compassion, and poise when they interact with victims or their families. VSRs interact with individuals in challenging, emotional, and sometimes dangerous circumstances and must detail relevant information quickly while also providing a listening ear.
Two of the CFC’s exceptional VSRs, Laura Greenwell and Nova Mills, spoke with The VINE Blog about their experiences in celebration of Customer Service Week next week. They spoke about the most significant challenges about their role and what they have learned from years of helping victims.
What do you enjoy most about your role as a VSR?
I love the interaction with people, along with the satisfaction when I know I am helping victims and their families. When they call in, every one of them is needing some kind of help. I've worked really hard at just trying to stay calm so that I can best assist them with their needs. The majority of the time, before they get off the phone, I feel that I was able to resolve their issues – or at least I am able to point them in the right direction.
What are the biggest challenges about being a VSR?
I would say the biggest challenge is trying not to let the stories that I hear affect me too much emotionally. I try to stay as professional as possible until the end of the call, when we will ask them if they need additional assistance. And that's when it changes from professional to very personal to help them. I admit that at times I may cry on the phone with the mother whose son was just killed.
Once you get off that kind of call, you just have to take a breath or two and then get right back into the next call. That transition sometimes can be a little bit difficult because you don't want to take that last call with you into your next one. But that’s what you have to do – take a breath, then go to the next person who needs your assistance.
What are victims or their families usually going through when they call?
Victims just need a little bit of peace of mind and know that their offender is still in custody. I don't know, personally, what they've gone through. A lot of them are scared and they may have heard that their offender was released or transferred. And then some of them call in a panic and want to know what happened to their offender. From there, I let them know we are available 24/7, 365 days a year. No matter what time of day it is, they can give us a call.
What is one thing people might not understand about helping victims?
That's one thing I make sure that I do not tell the callers, “I understand what you're feeling” or “I know what you're going through.” The truth is, I don't. Nobody truly knows exactly what these victims are going through. I can’t imagine some of the stuff that these parents, these siblings are going through after losing their loved ones and it is hard for the victims themselves to call.
Some of them are embarrassed to call, but if they know that you are actively listening to them and trying to help them, they are more open for your help. We're not counselors and we're not professional therapists, but they know that they can rely on us. They can count on us to provide them with information. I've had so many customers thank us so much for what we do every day and thanking us for being here, coming to work and being available to them.
What does a “normal” day look like?
I typically start my day with some basic calls. Sometimes you have a simple call where somebody may be checking to see if their friend is in custody. As a VSR, you take the time to find out if that person's in custody, first of all. They appreciate that whether the individual is in custody or not, but when you're able to locate that person and then that request opens up other questions, such as: "Okay, well, how long have they been there?” “What are those charges?” “What can I do to get them out?"
And then from there, you skip to, "Well, would you like to register for notifications on this person, so you'll know whether they're being released?" If you are unable to find that person, then you are able to offer them the number for the state agency so they can check with them.
That's usually your basic day, or what I would consider a typical call. But then you have those calls, those where it transitions to someone who has gone through something traumatic, or something that's unexpected, that you could tell they're dealing with some bit of trauma, or they're trying to piece together what happened. So, you start working with them. You're able to support them by getting them the information that's pertinent to whatever their situation is, as well as listening to what they’re going through.
What is an important skill for a VSR to have?
Sometimes people just need to process whatever is on their mind, so a VSR needs to be flexible and a good listener. As a VSR, sometimes you're almost a therapist. You're not necessarily giving them advice; you're just listening to what they have to say and listening to their story. You have to be an active listener, and that is something they teach us to do well. And there is a big difference between just listening and active listening! Active listening is not just listening in order to give an answer. It is truly, genuinely listening to what a caller is saying. I'm hearing how you say it. I'm hearing the tone in your voice. I can hear the fear in your voice. I can hear the confusion – whatever it is. You tend to hear those things and they help you to craft whatever it is that you need to say back to them. And sometimes that makes all the difference in the world to some people.
What have you learned about victims through this job?
There's a saying that goes, "Always be kind because you never know what the other person is going through." That is so true. I know that people deal with different traumas and different things that they have to face. But to be able to really hear different people's stories, the emotional trauma, for some even the physical trauma, the mental trauma – all of that. It has given me a new perspective on how I view life.
Even just going to the grocery store, there are so many different people that you pass. Some you speak to, but some don't even acknowledge you. There are just so many different, again, personalities of different people, but being in this position, and being able to hear how people go through when they cope with life after whatever the situation is, it changes my perspective, again, on how I view other people.
Everybody has a story. I have a story. My coworker has a story. Things that we've dealt with, or we've been through, and it may not be anything as traumatic as the experiences of some of the callers that we have, but we still all have a story. Through this job, I've learned to see all people differently.