My name is Lalla O’Bryan, and I am the Vice President of Victim Services at Appriss Safety. I have had the privilege of serving in this role for the last 11 years of the company’s 25-year history.
Appriss Safety is the developer of VINE, the nation’s first and leading victim notification service. A lot has happened since I started my tenure at Appriss that affects the way my teams and I interact with our VINE clients—technology, regulation, victims’ rights, political administrations, national sentiment—just to name a few. In honor of VINE’s 25th anniversary, I felt inclined to reflect and share some observations from where my teams and I sit, as the liaisons between our VINE users and the company they rely on for truly life-saving information.
A little background: VINE was born out of a tragedy of the very worst kind. John and Pat Byron—Louisville, Kentucky residents—upstanding citizens working and raising two beautiful daughters—lost one of these daughters. Mary, the younger of the two, had been brutally raped and assaulted by a former partner who was subsequently incarcerated for these crimes. Two weeks later, unbeknownst to Mary and her parents, he was able to post bail and was released. He then stalked and murdered Mary as she warmed up her car after work on the evening of her 21st birthday.
Local entrepreneur Mike Davis, father of two young daughters himself, was so profoundly impacted by these horrific events, that he dedicated his life to giving victims immediate access to their offenders’ custody status information. He couldn’t bear to see another parent mourn their child over something so preventable. Mike co-founded VINE and today remains the CEO of Appriss. Launching in a single Kentucky county in 1994, VINE is now in 48 states and covers 3,000 U.S. communities.
Since our humble beginnings, VINE has delivered over 776 million notifications, and climbing every second.
Flash forward to 2008.
Prior to Appriss, I spent nearly 15 years as a sales and marketing executive at a Fortune 100 foodservice corporation in Louisville. I spent my time there building teams, problem solving, marketing, selling, learning, refining, and repeating. One of my former employees found her way to Appriss and raved to me about its mission and culture. Knowing well my skill set, she thought a move to Appriss would be a great fit…and I am happy to say that she was quite right.
Coming from such a large, national operation, Appriss’ culture was much more familial, relaxing, and refreshing in its business approach. I attributed that to its size, hometown beginnings, and clearly, its mission being born from heart-felt actions. I hadn’t known the Byron Family personally (something that has thankfully changed over the last 11 years), though my sister was their neighbor while the two girls were growing up. I connected with this family’s heartache, and I was drawn to Appriss. I was going to be able to do what I did best, and in turn, play a small part in the good that this company was doing to prevent tragedies like Mary’s and so many others. I jumped in with two feet and my mind, heart, and soul are forever changed.
It’s such a generic term: Client Relations. Most every organization has this in some form or another— referred to in a number of different ways and terms. Typically, they are the individuals that facilitate, often, a replacement, a refund, a “fix,” and are answerable and accountable to the clients for the product or service provided. While there are obvious exceptions, the topic of conversation in such instances usually does not have to do with the immediate personal safety of the user and his or her loved ones. The conversations my teams and I have with our customers, and the issues that we work to resolve, do. That’s a responsibility we DO NOT and CANNOT carry lightly.
Appriss’ Client Relations Team is made up of 7 Client Relationship Managers (“CRMs”) and their Account Specialists who assist them in the management of each customer account. With each VINE contract, there is a VINE Program Manager (“PM”) that is designated by the contracting organization. This individual represents the victims, survivors, and concerned citizens of that state or county. PMs oversee their VINE program, and communicate to Appriss their needs, wants, suggestions, and issues with the goal of facilitating the service’s success in that particular region. In each corner of our country, the advocates and service providers with whom we have established relationships are some of the wisest, most fiercely passionate contributors to society I have ever had the pleasure to work alongside.
Our VINE contracts are split up between the Appriss CRMs. Each CRM is the subject matter expert in their assigned states. Beyond the intimate knowledge of day-to-day VINE operations in their respective regions, this team knows and understands the political considerations, funding hurdles, available grant opportunities, statutes and regulations relating to victims’ rights—because all of this impacts how the VINE program is managed in a state. Appriss CRMs, VINE PMs, and many other state agency contacts work together with great regularity to ensure that VINE is serving its purpose to as many people in need as possible. This translates directly into victims protected and lives saved.
And no, nothing is perfect, especially with the extremely sensitive subject matter at hand. Our VINE users’ perceptions are as varied as any microcosm of society. But, what I’ve learned from having customers my entire business life, is that their perceptions must be addressed fully, with integrity and without undue emotion (passion permitted!). I have learned to approach each day with an open mind regarding the issues and/or opportunities that may present themselves. Being fully present to hear or observe what’s being conveyed, understanding quickly, and calling on every bit of leadership training and natural instincts to help create positive outcomes for all parties concerned…This is what I have found to be the most genuine and effective way to connect with our stakeholders. This approach allows us to more easily move forward as a united force—working for the victims who put their lives in our hands. That is where we meet. That is where all of our hearts lie.
What is really exciting about the evolution of Appriss is the talent housed in our ever-expanding Product Development Team. Their individual and collective focus on the user experience is quite deliberate, disciplined, and tested in the areas of survivor safety, collective concerns, and ease of use. The Product Team, in conjunction with our CRM Team, has increasingly focused their efforts on survivor outreach, where appropriate. This invaluable, straight-from-the-source intelligence informs our engineers on what exactly survivors need to connect with the vast number of resources available to them. Taking time to understand the actual (versus perceived) impact is what takes VINE to the next level. When we are honored to listen to a survivor’s story, or one that is shared by a family member, it’s mind- and heart-expanding. It allows us to tailor our technologies to meet survivors where they are, and help connect them where they need to go for assistance. We also have many team members who identify as survivors—drawn to Appriss’ mission and values. That is a treasure to have work beside you in so many ways.
As we approach our 25th anniversary, I reflect on all the dedication and hard work I have seen on my teams, throughout Appriss, and in the field with our Program Managers and their colleagues. I know that we are, together, making such a difference in the lives of millions of survivors and their loved ones. I am honored and humbled to be a part of such a movement.
My hope for the future of VINE is that we will always be a champion for the survivors of crime, and that the nation’s stakeholders will continue to partner with us to help make services and accurate, critical information more readily available to those in crisis. I hope that our partners continue to work with us on defining and upholding the gold standards of service, as they bring so much knowledge and value to the table.
And I hope that we always believe in the power of knowledge for good, and jointly roll up our sleeves to continue to make this mission reality.