Being a ReachOut Pathfinder

ReachOut Pathfinders have a real passion for helping. They are a group of committed, empathetic individuals who are specially trained to navigate those difficult conversations with customers who’ve fallen behind on their bills and don’t know where to get the help they need.

Creating a safe environment for sensitive disclosures means our Pathfinders can explore the reasons why customers have fallen behind on their bills and understand the wider challenges they’re facing. It’s through approaching customers with empathy and understanding that we can help them truly find the right path forward.

In this Q&A we asked Lauren what it’s like to be a Pathfinder.

Hi Lauren! Can you tell us a bit about your previous roles and why you wanted to become a Pathfinder at Sigma Connected?

Lauren:  I used to run my own hair salon and so I’ve always worked with customers. I fancied jumping into customers services, and that’s how I started my time at Sigma Connected before joining the ReachOut team. I saw the opening at ReachOut and it felt like a great fit! I’ve never been happier.

 What do you enjoy the most about being a Pathfinder? What do you find the most rewarding?

Lauren: Genuinely helping people. People think they’ve hit the end of the road, that they’re going to have debt collectors on the door. They’re going to lose their home, they’re going to lose everything because of the debt that they’ve got. But the thing I enjoy the most is getting the phone calls that begin with “Who are you? What do you want? I can’t give you any money.” And then 10 minutes later, “oh this has happened, that has happened. I’m struggling with this…” It’s a complete 180-degree flip. To get that person to open up is one of the best things because only then can you get the best support to them.

We’ll speak to people who are just sobbing. When you get people to open up, they can give you a number of problems that are going on in their life that they potentially wouldn’t even try and speak to their best friend about. But there’s no judgement from our side. We try to get the right help across to them. And at the end of the day, they’re so supportive of what we do and why we’ve called.

On the flip side, what’s the hardest part of being a Pathfinder?

Switching off sometimes. Once I’d spoken with a lady who was suicidal and I couldn’t get her out of my mind. I wanted to call her back and if she’d not answered I would have been devastated. I find it hard to just put the phone down some times because I think I’m just too empathetic.

I’ve got a fiancé and I’ve got a lovely family and support network, but a lot of people haven’t got that. A lot of people are by themselves, and they’re having to deal with their emotions and their suicidal thoughts by themselves. And they’ve got no support. And I find it really difficult. A lot of the people I speak to I just want to give them a hug because that’s all people need at the end of the day. So many people haven’t got that and they’re just dealing with life by themselves. And I think it’s really sad.

So how do you look after yourself when you’re taking difficult calls like that all day?

Lauren: I’ve got great support. John’s always there (Lauren’s manager), and the team are always there. After a difficult call, John called me up immediately and checked that I was okay. He’s one of the most supportive managers that I’ve ever had, so that really helps. The team are great as well, we’re all having the same conversations and supporting each other as we go.

How do you encourage customers to share what they’re going through? How do you build rapport with people?

Lauren: One of the first things we’ll do is put them at ease. Customers are so used to get calls from the organisations they owe money to, expecting some sort of payment, so within the first few moments of the conversation we’ll explain how we’re not after a payment, we can’t take a payment even if they wanted to. That helps people to drop their guard and open up, and that’s how we can get to the heart of what’s happened and what sort of help is needed. It takes a lot of courage to make the call, so we always thank them for calling in as well.

What’s the end goal of the conversations you’re having through ReachOut?

Lauren: It’s great if we can transfer the customer back to our client, but it’s not the be all and end all.

A lot of the people we speak to, when they’re in debt, they kind of bury their heads in the sand. They get the letters through, they get formal demands for payment, and they don’t know what to do. And in a few weeks or months the debt’s gotten higher and it’s spiralling out of control.

People are just not aware of the support that they can access and the different organisations that they can use to help themselves. A lot of people think, “well, that’s my debt. I’ve got to deal with it by myself. I don’t get a lot of money, I can’t afford anything, let alone this bill” and they don’t know where to turn to.

That’s what we’re there for, to show them that it’s not the end of the road. There will be a solution, just let us help you. That’s what I find so rewarding. If we can encourage the customer to speak to our client directly as well, then all the better!

Can you share with us a story that’s really stuck in your memory?

Lauren: I spoke recently with a lady who’d had a stroke. She really struggled to speak and struggling to communicate with the client (her creditor), so we just took as long as she needed. It’s great to make sure people know they’re our priority, there’s no timer on our conversation.

There was a guy who’d lost his son in a car crash and was just broken. The bill wasn’t a priority for him at that time. So talking him through the support available to him, having had this massive loss in his life, was another difficult but rewarding situation.

What sort of trends are you noticing from your calls?

Lauren: The ‘Cost of living Crisis’ is just massive, it’s hit everyone we speak to. People will say, “my gas and electric was £50 a month a few years ago, and now it’s £300” and their wages might have gone up, but nowhere near enough to match the cost of living. Everyone’s feeling the pinch, they’re living pay check to pay check. A lot of people I’ve spoken to have been made redundant too and finding it really hard to find work.

And finally, how do you identify which organisations will be the most appropriate to signpost customers to?

Lauren: It’s so specific to their personal circumstances. It’s our job to listen and to then highlight which services would best support them from our understanding of their situation, what they’ve just told us. Then we make sure they understand how each service works, and what they can expect to happen when they engage with those services, so they’re invested, they’ve not just been given a number to call for service they don’t know much about.

There’s great support available from our clients directly as well, and I often find that customers just aren’t aware of it. Sometimes they’re scared of speaking with their creditor as they feel like the last conversation they had with them didn’t go well, or they feel like they weren’t listened to. We’ll encourage them to speak with them because a lot of time they can do quite a lot to help, with different tariffs or help towards their arrears, and it’s always helpful for them to understand what sort of income the customer is getting, and about the wider issues they’re struggling with. We want to give the customer the confidence they need to speak with their creditor.


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