Sydney call centre employees handling calls from hurricane-affected Texans

‘It is emotionally draining’

Published on August 29, 2017

Servicom program manager Cathy Harris stands with director Todd Riley in their Sydney office on Tuesday. The call centre has been open 24 hours a day since Friday, taking calls from people affected by hurricane Harvey in Texas.


SYDNEY, N.S. - In the wake of hurricane Harvey in Texas, a Sydney call centre has been open 24/7 dealing with calls from storm victims.

“I was kind of surprised that we were offering support … I was pretty impressed,” said Chris Shipley, a supervisor who has been at Servicom for two and a half years.

The Sydney call centre, through its Onstar account, has been dealing with GM customers as well as calls to the Red Cross from people affected by the hurricane.

The call centre workers in Sydney are speaking directly to people in Texas.

“There was a woman who called in and she was trapped in her house and only had baby formula for another couple bottles before she would run out and needed someone to rescue her, it’s a lot of rescues,” said Shipley.

“People had a dead body in their house and didn’t know what to do — they’re safe but there’s not a whole lot we can do because they’re not in need at the moment,” he said.

A partnership with Onstar has allowed the Red Cross employees to provide assistance to victims instead of answering phones. Onstar and companies like Servicom have picked up the rollover calls and are providing assistance in a variety of ways, including reuniting families.

Todd Riley, the Servicom director, said extra employees have been in place at the Sydney call centre since Friday.

“We had to take a herculean type of approach and get 70, 80, 100 agents in at the drop of a dime and we were very fortunate,” said Riley. “One thing about Cape Bretoners is that they … want to help people.”

Servicom has received thousands of calls from Texans in need of help.

Program director Cathy Harris said although it’s been hard on the employees that have stepped up to help.

“It is emotionally draining, there are some agents that get off the call and are actually crying and breaking down and when we ask if they want to get off the phone or stop they say ‘no I want to help,’ they just want to keep doing it,” said Harris.

“We have people who go home after their shift and (after) watching the news come back in wanting to volunteer their time.”

Harris said Friday was difficult because they didn’t know what to expect.

“We didn’t know what number of people we were looking for at first, once we got through the first day of that, we understood then how many people we needed to cover each shift,” said Harris.

Servicom will continue to operate 24 hours a day until they are no longer needed to help hurricane victims.

Riley said he is proud and impressed by his employees.

“We’re very fortunate in this call centre to have such great people from the top right down to the bottom. It’s no surprise to me, they have fantastic qualities,” said Riley

“They’ve earned this opportunity to be put in the spotlight and once this is all said and done we’ll have a little party for them because they really (stepped) up and did whatever they could,” he said.

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