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Know a visitor’s risk level before you begin chatting

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There’s a degree of mystery to helpline work. When the phone rings, you never quite know what’s waiting for you on the other end. It might be a person who just needs to talk about a problem — something that’s troubling them yet not life-threatening. It may be someone who has a fairly straightforward request for information and referrals. Or it may be someone with an intense, complex situation that has become a crisis.

Anything can happen once you answer that call, and you don’t find out what you’re in for until you’re already actively engaged.

And of course, nowadays it’s not just about the phone calls — more helplines than ever are adding means of getting in touch online. With live chat, if you employ a registration aspect to your service and ask pertinent questions in a pre-chat survey like age, gender, and what concerns brought them to the chat today, a picture will start to emerge. When your volunteer assumes the chat, this information will be displayed so they’re a bit prepared for what the visitor has to discuss. Still though, this information is visible only once you start the chat.

We’ve devised a new way to help provide your counselors with helpful information before they’re actively involved in a conversation, specifically about the level of risk for suicide, via the custom questions in your pre-chat survey.

This risk level will appear alongside the visitor’s name as they wait in the queue.


And at the top of the conversation window.


You’ll also see it with the chat transcript in the call report form.


This feature is available at no additional cost, it’s a part of the suite of features that you automatically have access to when you use Live Chat in iCarol.

Knowing the risk level of your visitors can help in a number of ways, for example:

  • Triage conversations from your queue
  • Distribute conversations appropriately among your staff, i.e. more experienced staff will take the higher risk chats
  • Supervisors can easily see higher risk chats in the event they wish to silent monitor for quality assurance or training purposes

How does this all work? The risk level is determined using a question or series of questions in your pre-chat survey. Each potential answer in the drop-down list for those questions will have hidden “severity values.” Once registration is complete iCarol will calculate all those values and determine the risk level, according to a scale that you have devised with risk levels that you’ve outlined.

We recommend that you plan and identify the registration questions, answers, severity values and risk Levels to use on call report forms outside of iCarol first to allow for faster setup.

First, think about what required questions you would like to ask visitors to evaluate risk, and if these questions should be asked of the visitor each time they create a new conversation. You can ask any number of questions, but they all must be single choice answers, i.e. answers provided in a drop-down list so the visitor must select only one answer. Some examples of such questions would be “How are you feeling today?”, “Have you ever attempted suicide?”, “Are you in a safe place to talk?”, etc.)

Next you’ll need to consider what answers you will make available for your questions. So potential answers to “How are you feeling today” might be: “Great”, “Okay”, “Bad”, “Terrible.”

Think about the the risk levels you want to calculate and show for the visitors, e.g. “Imminent Risk”, “High Risk”, “Moderate Risk”,” Low Risk”, etc. You can choose to use one risk level or many, depending on the needs of your service. These are the risk levels that will appear in your queue, conversation window, and chat transcript.

Finally, you’ll assign each of the answers to your questions a numerical severity value that will be used by iCarol to automatically calculate the visitor’s total risk level. For example, here are two questions added to a call report with the following answers and severity values:

    Question: “How are you feeling today?”

    “Great” (severity value 0)
    “Okay” (severity value 2)
    “Bad” (severity value 4)
    “Terrible” (severity value 6)
    Question: “Have you ever attempted suicide?”

    “Never attempted suicide” (severity value 0)
    “Yes, more than 2 years ago” (severity value 2)
    “Yes, in the last 1 to 2 years” (severity value 5)
    “Yes, in the past 2 months” (severity value 8)
    “Yes, in last 48 hours” (severity value 10)

There are two risk Levels with the following ranges for this call report form:

    Low Risk means the visitor will self-identity as feeling “Bad” or better, and as attempting suicide more than 1 to 2 years ago. The Low Risk range would be 0 to 9.

    High Risk the visitor will self-identify as feeling “Bad” or worse, and as attempting more recently than a year ago. The High Risk range would be 10 to 16.

When a visitor initiates a new conversation, they will choose from drop down lists the answer they best identify with, and iCarol will automatically calculate the risk level based on the answers they provide.

To try and walk through how this might work, take a look at two example scenarios

    Scenario 1:
    Visitor Jane answers “Okay” (severity value 2) to how they are feeling, and “Yes, more than 2 years ago” (severity value 2) to the attempted suicide question. The severity calculation would be 4 and this would put her in the “Low” risk level.

    Scenario 2:
    Visitor John answers “Terrible” (severity value 6) to how they are feeling, and “Yes, in the past 2 months” (severity value 8) to the attempted suicide question. The severity calculation would be 14 and this places John in the “High” risk level according to the levels determined in this example.

We have detailed set up instructions available now by asking our support team, and those same instructions will be available as Help Articles in your iCarol system in the coming days. Please contact us if you have any questions or want to get started with set up once you determine your questions, answers, severity levels, risk levels, etc.

We hope you’ll find this new feature very helpful as your volunteers and staff field chats from members of your community with a little more information about the needs of the visitor.


Dana joined the iCarol team in 2013 after 12 years of direct service and administrative duties in the Helpline Industry. You'll find her presenting Webinars, Tweeting, Blogging, Facebooking, and producing other materials to help others learn more about iCarol.

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