Q&A: how do we help people who contact the VSBC?
Above: VSBC Contact Centre team member Cherry-Rose
“Last year alone, the Victorian Small Business Commission had over 9,500 phone enquiries about a wide range of topics. Our Contact Centre colleague Cherry-Rose, who is so much more than a friendly voice at the end of our helpline, shares her insights.” – Commissioner Judy O’Connell
What’s the most common topic people call about?
Definitely maintenance and repair issues and who’s responsible for them. So often, tenants are confused or worried that their landlord or agent might be taking advantage of them. Businesses also call us because they haven’t been paid for services they’ve delivered.
Sometimes a machine or vehicle they’ve bought hasn’t lived up to its promise. Many times, these are bought from interstate suppliers and aren’t cheap. Each day the machine or vehicle sits there unable to be used puts more and more of a strain on the business owner.
A factory owner I spoke with used the term ‘navigational nightmare’ after calling government agency after government agency – he had pretty much lost hope of getting anyone to help. He called us because a friend told him about the VSBC and said he should give them a go. He was so relieved when we could help out!
What’s the quirkiest query you’ve had?
A restaurant owner wanted to lodge a dispute against her landlord because seagulls were annoying her customers while they were using her outdoor dining area.
You speak with people in small business who are dealing with a lot of stress, experiencing anxiety or going through a rough patch. What advice do you give them?
I find the small business owners who are clearly and understandably distressed are open and candid about their situation. Some will tell me about the pressure they’re under, their loved one having just passed away, their child having been diagnosed with an illness or their relationship breaking down. I give them the time and space they need to tell me their story.
Often, I have to bring them back to the reason they called, but I find there’s so much value in giving them a few moments to open up about their situation and be heard. Once I give them that time, they’re in a better space to hear how we can help. They’re also more open to hearing what they can expect from the Victorian Small Business Commission’s (VSBC) dispute resolution services – be it early help over the phone or mediation.
There are tears. There is anger. But I get it. Many people ask if they’ll be successful in getting an outcome in their favour through mediation. I have to remind them the goal is resolution and effort is needed to find options that everyone involved can agree on.
I refer people to the VSBC’s website for tips on creating a mentally healthy small business. When needed, I also encourage them to contact the Beyond Blue Support Service where trained mental health professionals can offer advice and support.
What makes you leave the office feeling like you’ve had an impact?
I ask myself whether I was present in the moment with them, whether I gave them time, whether I left anything out, whether I acted with urgency and care. I always ask “How could I have done that better?” I literally go through my mental checklist because I really do care.
I take my hat off to anyone in small business. It’s a tough gig.
Ninety nine percent of my callers thank me for my help and wish me a good day. For the one percent that I feel I can’t reach, often because they are incredibly frustrated with their situation, I let them know our operating hours, where to find the VSBC’s website resources and to not hesitate calling us back if they have other questions. These callers will call again once they’ve had the breathing space they need.
Find out more about dispute resolution with the VSBC and how we can help you get back to running your business.