In our latest Leading the Way blog we hear from Lynette Gredzinski, Specialist Collections Officer, who is celebrating 14 years as an employee of Bristow & Sutor this month.
Over to Lynette …
I first joined Bristow & Sutor in April 2007 as a Collections Officer. These members of staff are tasked with answering calls, emails, webchats, SMS messages (inbound/outbound) and making direct contact with debtors to take payment, discuss longer term payment arrangements and provide advice. I had never worked in the enforcement industry before but little did I know, many of my skills were highly transferable. I had previously been working in administration positions which included experience at a solicitor’s firm, this gave me an understanding of managing resources, the importance of legalities and communicating key information clearly and concisely.
Fast forward to last year and I was promoted to Specialist Collections Officer, together with a handful of colleagues we share the responsibility of answering questions and queries posed by the entire Bristow & Sutor Collections Officer team. We act as an escalation point and also provide efficiency and optimisation advice, managing and reviewing staff activity to try and find ways to improve and ensure the highest level of performance and standards at all times.
A long-term learning curve
Much of what I have learned at Bristow & Sutor has taken place gradually over time as the business has an ongoing commitment to learning and development. I am glad this has been the case as trying to learn all I know now when I first walked through the door would have been difficult! This is especially true after changes to the way enforcement firms operated came into effect some years ago and of course, the adaptions we have all had to make since the coronavirus pandemic.
When I began training in enforcement this was all very much about 121 shadowing and by the second day, I was already on the phones taking calls. In some ways, this was very useful as I quickly established how to think on my feet, but unquestionably, the implementation of a learning and development team has revolutionised this process for new employees. Our onboarding and continued growth strategy now features classroom-based training regularly to support 121 sessions with trainers, which gives Collection Officers a solid foundation of knowledge to build upon when they conduct calls and messaging with customers.
This is especially important when it comes to signposting vulnerable people towards welfare teams. Quite often Enforcement Agents (EAs) out in the field identify vulnerability or safeguarding needs, but Collections Officers are also trained to understand and lookout for signs that point to this in the language, tone and behaviour of people they speak to. It is of course more difficult over the phone or behind text to establish these needs, but we take this seriously and ensure any case where these needs are identified get referred to our specialist welfare team immediately.
Unexpected and expected changes
Bristow & Sutor embraces change and so being flexible and making adaptions is something that most of us are already well used to. This is generally embraced as the changes made are often necessary and make jobs easier, plus additional support is always on hand when needed. For example, our acquisition of a contract supporting Transport For London (TFL) meant learning a new way of working that suited the clients requirements and needs, which we have managed to do very successfully. We also recently begun employing Digital Collections Officers, who are specifically tasked with managing our contact with debtors through digitial social and app-based platforms. All members of the team are trained across these areas in case of cover or during busy periods, but having specialist members of the team to focus on set areas ensures the best level of response and service possible.
Working from home has felt very different and strange compared to our vibrant and busy office, but in many ways, it has been business as normal. The transition to remote environments last year was made smooth by the hard work and dedication of the entire Bristow & Sutor team. It was ensured that call-centre staff has the headsets and equipment they needed right away so there was very little impact on activities and service. There has been massive positive changes since we implemented RingCentral last May and now our employees can see what is going on with a specific case quicker and clearer than ever, making all the required information a lot more accessible.
Interestingly, I have found that the conversations staff are having with customers throughout this time have been much the same as they always have. It is right that we are considering the circumstances of people facing vulnerable situations more than ever at this time, but it is also reassuring that the majority of cases and questions I am being referred are what we would normally expect to face, even without the existence of COVID-19.
Some of our staff have now been able to return to the office but the majority of Collections Officers are currently still working from home. Those who have returned to the office have often done so because this suits their personnel circumstances and was something that could be offered as opposed to being required. We have been very successful working remotely and so there has been no need to rush back into the office, which means this can happen steadily and safely.
Never being afraid to challenge
If there is one thing I have learned above all else, it is to challenge yourself and others to succeed. Good communication does not always mean telling people what they want to hear., in fact, the opposite is sometimes exactly what people need from time to time to help them improve their situation. Honesty and integrity will always help resolve cases and reach positive outcomes.
The role is a fine balance of managing quality with quantity. Negotiation skills are of paramount importance and this will continue to be one of the key things we look for as our teams continue to expand, restructure and change in the months and years to come.
I have immensely enjoyed seeing the company grow during my 14 years here so far and I look forward to seeing how this continues in the years ahead.