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
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
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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