EOW Reflections 03/11/2023

I’m shocked that I’m even considering this but, to safeguard my team’s wellbeing, I’m contemplating shutting down our phone lines and dealing with enquiries and complaints by email only.

What the team members hate most is not being able to help small business owners who phone in asking for help. It is utterly frustrating, demoralising and demotivating to have to say ‘we can’t help’. Caseworkers are born helpers. We hate not being able to give people the answers they’re looking for. Yet often we have no choice but to say ‘your query/complaint is outside our remit’ or, even worse, ‘there is no source of help/no organisation that can help’.

It’s not about us. It’s about the callers. People call because they need help. We want them to have it. We get big wins for people. We’re often told that because of the support and information we’ve given people they’ve had positive results and their problem has been solved. We get people paid hundreds of thousands of pounds they’re owed. We can give out information to help people run their businesses and point them in the direction of places to find further help and support.

Where there are no rules and regulations however, and where issues aren’t covered by any legislation there is no protection and no one can help, apart from perhaps the courts. Not every scenario that crops up between businesses has been encountered before and it’s impossible to legislate for all eventualities. Hence, we have to say, several times a day, ‘we can’t help’.

What also worries me though, is that increasingly my team members are being verbally abused for not being able to help. Shouting at us and abusing us isn’t going to make us able to help. I suspect shouting doesn’t make our callers feel any better about themselves or their situation either.

We understand this is down to increasing desperation. In the current economic climate where insolvencies are on the rise and more businesses are in financial distress than at any time since 2009 business owners are more stressed. Not getting your invoices paid on time, or having customers tell you they will be paying you in 60 days in future instead of 30, will cause just about anyone sleepless nights going over and over the cashflow versus commitments conundrum. We understand that the geopolitical situation threatening to expunge any signs of recovery while the ongoing skills shortages, persistent high inflation and interest rates all add up to falling margins, sales and incomes. It’s no wonder people need someone to let off steam at.

Offices like ours are set up with strict remits and we don’t have the training, knowledge or resources to step outside that remit. We can’t apply rules and protections that don’t exist. If there are no rules to cover your situation and give you the answer you want, we simply can’t help.

We understand but we are humans who get stressed and ill too. If that happens there won’t be anyone to answer your call. My first duty is to keep my people well and safe, and to protect them I’m reflecting on the possibility of dealing with people by email only. Please, don’t make me make that choice.