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 callers 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, gave insight on their experiences in celebration of Customer Service Week. They spoke about their role’s most significant challenges and what they have learned from years of helping victims.
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 staying 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.
Trying not to let the accounts that I hear affect me too much emotionally. I try to stay as professional as possible until the end of the call, when we ask them if they need additional assistance. That's when the call shifts from professional to personal. 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 have to take a breath or two and then get right back into the next call. That transition sometimes can be a bit difficult. You don't want to take that last call with you into the next one, but that’s what you have to do: Take a breath, then go to the next person who needs your help.
Victims just need a little bit of peace of mind to know that their offender is still in custody. A lot of them are scared and they may have heard that their offender was released or transferred. 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. I don't know, personally, what they've gone through, but no matter what time of day it is, they can give us a call.
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 or siblings are going through after losing their loved ones, and it is hard for the victims 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 to 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 for what we do every day and thank us for being here, coming to work and being available to them.
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 is in custody. They appreciate knowing whether the individual is in custody or not. When you're able to locate that person, that request opens up to other questions, such as: "Okay, well, how long have they been there?” “What are the charges?” “What can I do to get them out?"
From there, you skip to, "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 offer them the number for the state agency, so they can check directly with them.
That's usually a basic day, or what I would consider typical calls. But then you have other calls where it transitions to someone who has gone through something traumatic or unexpected, and you can tell they're dealing with some trauma, or they're trying to piece together what happened. So, you start working with them. You're able to offer support by getting them the information that's pertinent to whatever their situation is, as well as listening to what they’re going through.
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, listening to their story. You have to be an active listener, and that is something we are taught to do well. There is a big difference between just listening and active listening! Active listening is not just listening 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. That can make all the difference in the world to someone.
There's a saying that goes, "Always be kind, because you never know what someone is going through." That is so true. I know that people deal with different traumas and have to face different things. But to be able to really hear 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.
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 so many different personalities, and being in this position, being able to hear how people cope with life after whatever the situation is, it changes my perspective on how I view 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, but we still all have a story. Through this job, I've learned to see people differently.
Thanks to Laura and Nova for spending some time discussing what it means to be a VSR, and thank you to all the VSRs for acting as the face and voice of VINE!
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