Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at iCarol!
Wishing everyone celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday a wonderful day filled with friends, family, and a delicious feast. To those spending time at your helplines on the holiday, thank you for your commitment to what you do and for sacrificing part of your holiday to help others. Surely the people who need your service will be grateful that you’re there to help them.
We’re excited to announce that iCarol obtained Microsoft Silver Competency in Application Development which means we are now a Microsoft Silver Partner. To achieve this we had to meet a number of requirements including passing competency assessments both as a business and individually within our Technical Department, as well as submit a number of client references to support us in this endeavor, among other requirements.
This achievement is significant because:
Our current and prospective clients can feel confident knowing that as an organization that primarily uses Microsoft Development tools and practices, we are staffed with knowledgeable technology experts and are qualified to develop Microsoft solutions and technologies.
Our team will have improved access to technology resources from Microsoft to support us in delivery, such as software support and training materials. And as an organization, every iCarol staff member is now better equipped with an even wider range of Microsoft products to help us do our jobs.
A huge shout out, thanks, and congratulations go out to our Director of Technology, Vinh, for spearheading this effort. We’re also very proud of the members of our technical team for their time, effort, and hard work to achieve this milestone. Way to go!
As November draws to a close and we approach the holiday season and end of 2015, it’s hard not to think about the state of our world especially given this last week’s events. Our hearts go out to everyone affected by the violence in the Middle East, Africa, France, and elsewhere. We also think of the millions who have left their homes in hope that they’ll find safety and stability for their families in foreign lands, facing life-threatening challenges on their journey.
It’d be easy to look at these events and feel disheartened, sad, or fearful for what the future holds.
But, we’re very fortunate to witness the best of what humanity has to offer each and every day. That’s because you and your organizations serve as a constant reminder of just how much love and compassion there is in the world. Everywhere we look we see helpers — people who are eager to open their hearts to total strangers and listen with empathy, provide them with comfort, and guide them toward solutions that may help them form a better future. You are driven by a desire to improve the lives of others, and you often end up not just improving lives but saving them. Through your work we’re reminded that there is so much good in the world, and that we should remember that each time we begin to feel discouraged.
With Canada’s Thanksgiving celebration last month and the US preparing to celebrate its Thanksgiving next week, we’d like to take a moment to express our gratitude to our friends around the world who we have the privilege of working with each day. Thank you for your patronage and the trust you place in us and our solution to help you with your daily tasks. But most of all, thank you for the wonderful work you do. You inspire us each and every day and remind us of the love and compassion humanity has to offer, and that there is so much light to outshine the darkness.
As you reflect on the year and the approaching holidays, what are you most thankful for? We’re eager to have you share your thoughts and feelings with us, please leave us a comment below.
We wish you a happy and safe Thanksgiving and hope that you are able to spend the season ahead with the people who you’re most thankful for.
Earlier this year, iCarol competed among other software solutions to be the Customer Relationship Management Software for the statewide Texas Information and Referral Network, also known as Texas 2-1-1.
We’re excited to share with you that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) has chosen iCarol for its 2-1-1 Texas program. We are, of course, very proud to have won not just the business but the confidence of yet another significant and wide-reaching information and referral provider. Coupled with other large 2-1-1 networks currently using the iCarol solution, we feel this is a strong endorsement of our product and our team.
We work very hard to stay informed and current with the needs of the industry through the various groups, training sessions, conferences, and other networking opportunities available to us. But, we owe a degree of gratitude to our clients as well. Over the years your ideas, feature requests, and custom projects have helped build iCarol into the helpline software solution it is today. It is due in part to your expertise and input that we’ve developed a solution that continues to attract helplines from all over the world. We’re honored to play a small part in the positive impact you make in your communities.
We hope you’ll join us in welcoming the Texas Information and Referral Network to the iCarol family.
The team had a blast in Dallas for this year’s I&R Training and Education Conference organized by the Alliance of Information and Referral Services (AIRS).
The weather was a big topic of conversation at the conference, as torrential rains, storms, and severe flooding wreaked havoc on the region in the days prior to the conference. In fact our developer, Spike, who attended the conference shared this image of the flight path towards the end of their flight into Dallas on Tuesday night. Just as their flight was cleared to land, the airport closed due to the storms and their flight was diverted to Tulsa where many others were also sent. It took several hours before they could get from Tulsa to Dallas. Getting there was an adventure for many conference goers due to the storms, but was ultimately well worth it.
And since disaster response is a component of the work of many 2-1-1 and I&R agencies, many attendees whose centers are located in the region had to split their time between attending their sessions and regularly checking in with staff at their call center. It was a great reminder of the never-ending and important work happening in the industry.
The conference was very centrally located in downtown, within a mile of interesting museums like the Dallas Museum of Art and the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealy Plaza which examines the life, death, and legacy of JFK.
Crystal noted that the local art scattered throughout the area was impressive, “I loved the art all around the city, the hotel had an interesting mural painted all along one side. Outside a little pizza shop, walking distance from the hotel, there was a really interesting bronze statue of horses, and everywhere you looked there was art beautifying the area. Art was everywhere!”
There was plenty of opportunity for fun while in Dallas. Several iCarol team members and helpline staffers took in a Texas Rangers game one evening which was a lot of fun.
We also found a delicious Mexican restaurant located about a block from the conference. YUM. Here we are again with a variety of folks from both our team and the industry chowing down.
The fun and games were great, but we accomplished a lot professionally as well. The iCarol Usergroup session was well-attended. For those who haven’t attended one of these sessions before, we use this as an opportunity to speak with iCarol users and provide a synopsis of the major enhancements that have been deployed over the last year.
Crystal’s session, “Taxonomy 102: How to make taxonomy customization decisions, and policies to consider” was popular among resource managers and the audience was really engaged! Be sure to keep an eye on the AIRS networker for the presentation if you’d like to check it out. Whether you use iCarol or another software vendor, please check into your Taxonomy capabilities and options for more information on how you can apply what you learned.
For more great photos from the conference, check out the album shared by AIRS. Our team would like to thank everyone who stopped by to say hi, attended a session, or engaged with us in any way while at the conference. We had a terrific time!
Next month members of our team will be in Dallas for the 37th Annual I&R Training and Education Conference, held by the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS).
In case you’re not familiar with AIRS, it is a membership association for Information and Referral agencies and personnel, and it is the driving force behind the standards and quality benchmarks set in the field of I&R. They boast a diverse membership that includes agencies, community organizations, and even governmental departments that all connect people to the services they need. Their members are located all throughout the US and Canada. Many of the 2-1-1’s and other helplines using iCarol hold AIRS accreditations and many of their staff hold certifications offered by AIRS.
Whether a helpline’s resource database needs are limited to a small community with just a few dozen referrals, or they are a large scale 2-1-1 with contact centers all over the state or province, iCarol’s resource database will work for them. That’s because our tools are scalable, flexible, and robust. That’s the message we’ll bring to Dallas next month, and we’re looking forward to talking with everyone there in hopes of telling others about our tools, and welcoming more I&R centers into the iCarol family as we have been doing for years now.
Will you be in Dallas? We hope we can catch up with some of you attending and talk to you a bit about iCarol. If you’re planning to attend, and let’s find a time to chat at the conference.
One key feature of iCarol is the ability to link and share service delivery with other helplines in a variety of ways. Historically a common partnership scenario involves call centers who pass some or all of their calls to other iCarol-using centers either as after-hours contracts, or on an as-needed basis for overflow. iCarol accommodates these partnerships with call report sharing capabilities. Much the same with resources, centers can share resource databases with others who may be taking their calls, or to better service the needs of help-seekers with a wider range of potential services to refer them to, or through setting up provincial and state-wide resource databases to be accessed by a network of helplines who can all take part in maintaining these resources, thus reducing burden to each individual center.
These same principles of sharing volume to benefit centers and clients alike also extends to iCarol Messaging, and in recent month’s we’ve made improvements in this arena.
As an example, one nationwide network using iCarol was using a sort of round-robin approach in how to route chats to the centers who were members of that network. Visitors would arrive to the website and click through to chat, and from there they’d be routed to one of the centers based on the schedule, and the coverage area of the center. Once they were properly routed, they’d arrive at that center’s registration page and after completing registration they’d appear in just that center’s messaging queue.
There are some challenges to this approach, namely:
- The routing system didn’t take counselor availability into account so chats may be routed but the destination center may be overwhelmed with other work and short on counselors to take chats
- The visitor was visible just in the iCarol system to which they were routed
- Registration pages may have a different look and feel, depending on the center to which the visitor was sent
- Lack of control over the data being collected by individual centers
- Statistics could not be run in real-time; they had to be aggregated first
Our developers have been working on a new approach for this network, and they’re currently using it to much success during the pilot period. So, how does the approach work now? The network is using a single shared “portal” made available to the participating centers in their iCarol systems, rather than routing the chats as it did before. This means:
- Standardized registration pages make for a more consistent look and feel, and better branding for the network
- Pre-written messages, reporting forms, and data collection are standardized
- The network system directly hosts and controls their own data, so they get better reporting capabilities
- Chats are visible to any center serving the visitor’s area, meaning better load balancing and shorter wait times for visitors, fewer abandoned chats
- Chats are clearly marked as being from the network, but appear in the same queue as the center’s other local chats for ease of use
We’re excited to say that this pilot period has gone very well and the network is enjoying the benefits of the shared portal technology.
We’d welcome the opportunity to talk to you about your network whether it’s provincial/statewide, or national, to see how this functionality could improve and streamline your messaging services and benefit all your participating centers and visitors alike. Current iCarol users, please open a case with us, or if you’re not using iCarol yet please contact us to learn more!
Kids Help Phone has a 25 year legacy of providing phone and online emotional support for Canadian children and teens. An authority on a variety of topics, their professional helpline counsellors are available 24/7/365 to talk to kids about any issue. They are a nonjudgmental source of trustworthy information on mental health, bullying, sexual health, peer and family issues, addictions, and more. Tens of thousands of kids reach out to their services each week via phone, online chat, and written correspondence on the Kids Help Phone website. They play a large role in the continuum of mental health care for Canadian youth.
Kids Help Phone recently launched the “Always There” app and “Resources Around Me” public database. “Always There” was developed with the help of kids submitting their input and voting on features. It allows kids to keep a private log of their feelings and experiences. App users can contribute to stress buster activities that offer helpful tips, inspirational quotes, and jokes.
“Resources Around Me” provides Canadian youth with greater access than ever to the resources available in their communities. By simply starting with their location and then the types of resources needed, teens can easily find what they’re looking for and then connect directly with those resources.
The iCarol team is proud to have been a part of this project through our support of the resource database and the API. How can your organization make use of these same tools? How about adding on the Public Resource Directory to your iCarol system so you can share resources with the public via a resource search on your own website? iCarol’s Resource API gives your software developers the data they need to work on a variety of new and exciting projects. If you’re interested in pursuing a project like this, send an email to
Snowy and icy conditions can spell trouble for seamless shift coverage. How do you keep your hotline operating in spite of dangerous travel conditions for your volunteers and staff?
Depending on the severity of the storm, you may have no special plan at all except to tell workers they are expected to be there for their shift or find a substitute to cover for them. In many snow storms, travel is possible so long as precautions are taken, such as driving at slower speeds and being extra vigilant. Call centers in urban settings may also benefit from having volunteers living within walking distance or taking public transportation.
But sometimes travel conditions can become extremely hazardous or even impossible. What then? Here are some methods we’ve commonly seen:
- The show must go on – Shifts go on as scheduled no matter what. Workers who realize they can’t make it in must give ample notice and find substitutes who are able to travel. If all else fails, the task falls to an essential staff of supervisors or managers to keep things running.
- Transfer your calls – In some instances there may be a partner agency, satellite office of your program, or a back-up center in an area unaffected or less affected by the weather, and they can take the calls for a period of time.
- Work from home – Technology has made it easier than ever to turn any setting into a call center, even your worker’s home. Calls could get forwarded to that worker’s personal phone or a phone loaned to them from the office. Using iCarol, chats or texts can be taken from virtually anywhere as well. Special tip for iCarol users who might employ this method: You must either turn off ‘Restriction’ (the feature that makes it so your workers can’t see call reports from a personal computer outside the office) or give your worker permissions to install the iCarol Certification Tool on their computer.
- Camping out – Marshmallows optional. When the forecast calls for dangerous weather and snow accumulations that might make travel impossible, make a decision ahead of time to suspend the usual schedule, and instead have a crew arrive prior to hazardous road conditions developing. This crew will stay for a period of time until travel is safe again and shifts can resume. You’ll need sufficient kitchen and bathroom facilities, and workers should bring food. If this goes on for longer than the typical shift length, your crew can set up their own internal shifts of who works and who gets a break. By following the weather and traffic reports, the Director can decide when it’s time for normal shifts to resume.
Do you handle scheduling in wintry weather some other way? We’d love to hear about it! Leave us a comment!
If you’re like most helplines, you have several repeat callers who use your services regularly, often more than once per day. Having access to empathetic listeners brings comfort to those with chronic and persistent mental illnesses or developmental disabilities. They access your hotline as a part of their repertoire of daily activities and coping skills that keep them feeling supported and grounded.
They’re an important part of the work you do and they need your services, but have you stopped to think about how their calls affect your statistics?
Data collection on all calls, including those from your repeat callers, is very important. But one individual calling multiple times can skew your numbers on things like gender, age, race, and issues.
One thing we suggest is that you add a question on your Call Report that simply asks your phone worker whether or not the call being logged is from a repeat caller, with ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ options for the answer. This question could also be included on the ‘background’ tab of repeat caller profiles so it can automatically be collected when that profile is used.
If there comes a time where you need to exclude repeat calls from your data, now you have the option to do so. When it comes time to run a statistical report, add that question as a Call Content Filter. Select ‘No’ as the filter if you’d like to exclude all of your repeat callers from that report. A filter with the answer ‘Yes’ will show you just your repeat callers’ information. Applying no call content filter at all will show data from all your callers, repeat and non-repeat.