When you’re a kid and someone asks you what you want to be when you grow up, the answer’s usually a princess, an astronaut or, in my case, a bin man. A few years down the line, things get a little more realistic: you get nurses, hairdressers and lawyers.
No one grows up dreaming of a career in debt collection. I certainly didn’t. Like most people, I wanted a job where I could positively impact others and debt collection seemed like the last place I would be able to do that.
Before I submitted my job application to Ophelos, I researched the company meticulously to make sure that this would be the right fit. I was reassured by what I saw when I read through the website and interviews with the founders but nothing prepared me for the impact I would make when I took the leap and accepted the job offer.
Prior to working at Ophelos, I worked in the third sector providing advice and support to people seeking consumer law advice. I specialised in providing energy advice when energy firms were going bust left, right and centre, understandably leaving customers feeling anxious about significant price increases and wondering whether their credit would be returned.
Working for a charity can be an incredibly rewarding experience. I was able to make a positive impact on the clients I spoke to and support a cause that mattered to me. That said, it can also be a challenging job, often with limited resources and unpredictable funding. It was with this in mind that I decided to look for a new path.
I applied for the Customer Operations Specialist role knowing that I would be able to use some of the skills I had learnt in the third sector. I knew how to help customers who were struggling with energy and my knowledge of that industry meant I felt confident in guiding people towards the right solution, but I knew nothing about debt.
Charity work and debt collection may seem like worlds apart, but I found that so many of my skills were highly transferable. Working in the third sector often requires strong communication and interpersonal skills, as well as the ability to handle difficult situations with empathy and tact. These skills are also highly valuable in debt collection, where effective communication with customers is critical to achieving successful outcomes for everyone involved.
My knowledge of dispute resolution is also very useful; sometimes companies make mistakes and being able to discuss these mistakes with a customer and reassure them that you’re doing everything in your power to get their problem fixed goes a long way to repairing any trust that has been broken.
The work culture at Ophelos is vastly different from anything I’ve experienced previously. It was a bit of a shock going from a hierarchical system where you didn’t associate with anyone outside of your team to being an integral part of a collaborative unit.
Throughout my first week, I had one-to-ones booked in with everyone in the company; this would have been a nerve-wracking experience in any other company but instead, it felt like getting a cuppa with old friends. Now, when I take part in these meetings with new starters, I always find myself saying the same thing: “I’ve never worked anywhere like this before, where everyone is so kind, engaged and ready to provide support. I can’t wait for you to get started.”
Something that’s particularly great about working here is that I feel truly listened to. Before the end of my first week, I had developed a signposting list to show our customers where they could find support with their energy debt (we still use it now!). In my first six months, I wrote our code of conduct. I’ve been involved in projects to broaden our knowledge base and work collaboratively with other teams. I’ve helped transform our processes, and I know that when I raise a concern my voice will be listened to.
The positive impact I can have on a customer is one of the best parts of my job. People get in touch with us for many reasons; they may need help setting up a payment plan, they may dispute that they owe the balance, or they may be going through a really tough time. Every contact with a customer is an opportunity for me to help, leaving them in a better position than when they came into the conversation.
Everyone is different, so the care that we give to customers is tailored to their needs. If someone is confident, they may just need to be pointed in the right direction. If they’re in the middle of a complex dispute they may need someone to listen to their frustrations, apologise for the stress that has been caused and help them get it fixed. If they’re in a vulnerable situation, they may need extra support (perhaps a call to discuss their situation or concerns, before working together to find path forwards) or it might be that they need a bit of space to deal with things on their own.
My job is never to pressure someone into paying a debt, to make threats or frighten people. My job is to really listen, provide support and explain how we can resolve problems.
As a customer operations team, we deal with hundreds of queries every day but from our conversations with customers, we often find that we’re the only debt collection agency that they have spoken to. Because the debt collection industry has developed such a negative reputation, people don’t expect us to care about what they have been through.
At its core, debt collection should be about working with people who are in financial distress and helping them find a way to repay their debts and reach financial stability. This can be a stressful and emotional time for customers, and empathy can make all the difference in helping them navigate this difficult time.
Whatever a customer is struggling with, be it illness, bereavement, the cost of living crisis or anything else, they’ll always be treated with the same care, understanding and kindness. It’s never Ophelos vs. the customer, it's the customer & Ophelos vs. the problem.
Overall, moving to debt collection from the third sector has provided me with more opportunities to make a meaningful impact on customers than I ever could have imagined. I’ve developed the skills I already had to new levels and learn something new every day. This might not have been the career path I dreamed of when I was a child but I’m so glad I took the leap.