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Author Archive

New Feature Updates

March has been another month of improvements and enhancements released in iCarol. Here’s a review of what’s new this month.

Follow-ups and Surveys: Now easier

helpline flowWe understand the challenges with conducting Follow-ups and Quality Surveys, and new options on the pages that house those to-dos are meant to help streamline that work.

There, you’ll see new sort options as well as a new text search tool. It’s similar to enhancements we had made recently to the Volunteer and Staff page. We’d love to hear what you think of these improvements.

Categories and Keywords: New name, same feature

You may have noticed that in iCarol we use the terms “keywords” and “categories” throughout the software — those are actually the same thing. We’ve started making that verbiage more consistent, so over time we’ll standardize on the term “category.” That is, any place that says “keyword” will eventually say “category.” There’s no change in function here, just making the wording more consistent. It’ll take us a little while to find all mentions in the software, so please bear with us as we make this move towards naming consistency.

Resources: Search multiple custom categories

CategoriesSpeaking of categories, if you have custom categories for your resources, we have a new, optional, search tool that will let you conduct category searches on up to three categories simultaneously.

Those of you using the taxonomy are already familiar with this feature; what’s new is that this is now an option for those not using the taxonomy.

If you’d like this tool turned on, please create a support case. There’s no added charge.

In Development: Public Resource Directory

We’ve been hard at work in our labs for a while now overhauling our tool that lets you add a resource search page to your website – the Public Resource Directory. Many clients currently use that feature to allow people in their communities to find resources and attract them to their website.

Work is progressing nicely, and I thank all those who have offered suggestions. We’ve heard you loud and clear, and the new capabilities are shaping up nicely. We’ll soon have some early screens to share with anyone who’s interested in providing feedback. If you’re not already on the list of those who’d like to participate, please drop me a line at .

Messaging WorkflowMessaging

Our engineers are also forging ahead with streamlining counselor workflow for instant messaging and text messaging. We’ll be sure and let you know well in advance before we make any changes. If anyone wants to be on the list of those who will test it out — and thereby get a sneak peak and provide input on screens and functionality — please . Thanks to those who have already signed up.

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Speed up Resource Searches

Have you got a whole lot of resources? Looking to save time searching for them? We’ve got a new option for you.

When searching for resources, you may have noticed that every time you change a geographic filter – country, state or province, county, city, etc. — iCarol runs a new resource search automatically, as soon as you make a new geographic selection.

For many of our clients, this is perfect. As you get more and more precise with the geographic location, you narrow down the list of resources. And for clients whose number of resources is not in the many tens of thousands, each search happens near-instantaneously. If this describes your work, no need to read further.

But for clients whose number of resources is more than 50,000 or so, that’s not always the case. With this volume of resources sometimes each search could take a couple seconds. That may not sound like a lot, but those seconds can add up, and add to your average call time.

It’s for these clients that we’ve created a new option – it lets Admins tell iCarol not to automatically search each time a geographic filter is adjusted. Instead, you’d adjust these filters, and then the search is not run until you click the button that says “Search.” In this way, it adds that extra mouse click, but can save you multiple seconds per search.

Admins set this option in the Admin Tools section. In the Resources tab, put a checkmark in the box that says “To optimize resource searching performance, disable automatic resource searching.” You can always test it out on a few searches to see if you like it first.
Disable Automatic Resource Search

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Favorite Things: Eating Pie, Analyzing Data, and Irrational Numbers

Happy Pi Day this coming weekend!

What is Pi Day? Nominally, it’s a celebration of the mathematical concept of pi from high school geometry class (it involves circles), but my kids and I use it as an annual excuse to eat more pie.pi day

Actually, Saturday is technically Pi Day only in countries where the date format is like this: MM/DD. That’s because in those countries March 14 is written as 3/14 – get it? Pi = 3.14.

People in countries that use the date format DD/MM could wait until Pi Approximation Day (yes, that is a real thing), which is July 22. That’s written as 22/7; 22 divided by 7 is 3.14, hence, pi. But who wants to wait months to have an extra serving of pie? I say go for it now. Anyway, who among the pi cognoscenti would throw stones? You can bet I’ll consider myself Australian on that date, for snack purposes.

I was thinking this could also be also a good chance to extol the virtues of all the great pie charts in iCarol. Head over to the Statistics area, and you’ll see lots of ways you could use pie charts to display your data. My favorite part is when you make a pie chart, you can click on the slices to drill down into the data even further.dnc-d8v0puku

But really, that’s torturing the homonym a bit too far, with no satisfying gustatory payoff.

So instead I’ll end with a handy way to remember the first few digits of pi. I can’t say that I run into too much need to calculate the area of a circle with such precision, or, frankly, with any precision at all. But it has helped me annoy — er I mean impress — friends at parties. Where, of course, I parlay this knowledge into getting extra pie. It all comes full circle (pardon the pun).

Here’s the memory trick — the words in the following sentence each have the same number of letters as the first few digits of pi:

“How I wish I could calculate pi easily” (that is, “how” = 3 letters, “I” = 1, “wish” = 4, etc., so the sentence helps me remember the first digits of pi: 3.1415926).

I hope this earns you as many desserts as it has for me. And if you have the stomach for further party-scoring-knowledge, here’s another: Pi is considered, in mathematical terms, an irrational number. That means the digits go on forever.

Somehow it gives me great comfort to know that some numbers truly, technically, are irrational.

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Search on up to three categories simultaneously

We’ve got a new optional tool for searching for resources using custom categories. This tool lets you conduct category searches on up to three categories (sometimes also referred to as “keywords”) simultaneously.

Those using the taxonomy are familiar with this already; what’s new is the ability for everyone with custom categories to use this.

multiple category searching

So how can this be helpful to your searches?

You could use this new tool to search for resources tagged with both “rent help” and “utility help” (if you had those categories set up, for example). That could be helpful if your caller had transportation issues, and needed a single place to go for both. The search results would only include resources tagged with both of those custom categories.

As another example, you could also use the tool to search for “rent help” OR “utility help.” That could be helpful if the caller had general financial issues, and you wanted to find any resource that might be able to help. In that case, the search results would return resources tagged with at least one of the categories you indicated. You’d get more search results with this method than you would for the first example.

If you’d like this tool enabled in your system, there’s no added charge. Please submit a support case, and our team will take care of that for you.

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New Tools for Finding Follow-ups and Surveys Due

We understand how important the follow-up process is at your helpline. There are many different reasons to follow-up with a help seeker after your initial conversation has ended. Safety planning and ongoing contact with support systems are extremely important for people who are having thoughts of suicide. Or perhaps you’d like to see if the referrals a caller was given were able to help them. Many centers also use a follow-up call as an opportunity to conduct a satisfaction or quality assurance survey.

helpline flowWhatever reason you are following up with a client, our follow-up activity within a call report form makes it easy to schedule these follow-ups. You can collect the important information you’ll need to conduct the follow-up call, not just the person’s name and phone number but important information to preserve confidentiality, like knowing whether or not it’s okay to leave a voicemail, or to say where you’re calling from if a third party answers the phone. Your volunteers can even sign up for an email notification to tell them a follow-up call has been scheduled and assigned to them. There’s also a handy “inbox” on the main calls page where they can quickly navigate to the list of follow-ups that are scheduled.

With our next release we’ll be launching improvements to the pages that list Follow-ups and Surveys due. Those pages, as always, are accessed from the Calls menu. Here are highlights of the changes, which you’ll see soon:

  • New arrows on the top bar let you change the sort order of each column: call report form number, due date, client name, phone worker, assigned to, and subject.
  • To make the date column sortable, that’s now in YYYY/MM/DD format.
  • A new search box lets you more quickly find the call reports you need by typing in a search term.
  • You can still reassign followups, but it looks a little different — the pulldown is gone. Instead, please just click on the “assigned to” name, and then you’ll see the list of names from which you can choose.

We hope this enhancement helps save time in your daily work; making it so you can quickly and efficiently find the information you need when conducting follow-up interactions.

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A Verified Timesaver

With February nearly over, are you finding you and your team are still working on items from your January to-do list? So much to do, so little time.

Perhaps it’s time to consider shifting to new timesaving workflows. One of the best ones: Automated Resource Verification (ARV). It’s particularly helpful if you have more than a couple hundred resources, and/or your certifications require regular updates.

Benefits copyThis handy tool – a well-integrated add-on to your iCarol system – makes short work of keeping your resource information up to date. Say goodbye to the headaches and time-eaters of the old way of verifying resource information: Endless games of telephone tag, bloated email inboxes, and hours cross-checking resource records to see if they include the latest information.

Check out the time-saving workflow you’d use with this tool:

  • In just a few clicks, create a list of resources that need to be verified, right from your iCarol resource search page. Verification-specific filters, such as “date last verified” can be combined with standard resource search filters to find just the resources you need.

  • Use radio buttons and pull-downs to select options, such as the email address the request will originate from, how to handle parent/child records, which email address to try first in the record, etc. The “visibility settings” area of iCarol lets you designate exactly which resource fields verifiers will and will not see.

  • With one click, have iCarol send verification requests for all resource records in your list. Each email will automatically include your custom message, plus iCarol will drop in a custom link that leads the recipient to information about just their resources.

  • Recipients click that link to view online the resource information you have in your database. They suggest changes to individual fields.

  • In your iCarol system – not in your email inbox, hooray! – you’ll get a prompt when responses have arrived, and you can review them. The fields with suggested changes are highlighted, making it fast and easy to focus on the changes. Feel free to make edits to the suggested information as needed, then click “Save.”

  • Your resource has now been updated and the changes are live in your database.

Clients who use ARV tell us the manpower savings, improved response rate, and greater precision over the process more than makes up for the add-on subscription cost.

If you’d like to find out more about this tool, add it to your subscription, or would like a free trial, please open a support case if you’re a current iCarol client, or if you’re not yet using iCarol. And if you’ve looked at Automated Resource Verification in the past, I invite you to take another look – we’ve added lots of enhancements in the past year.

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Key Differences and Similarities between Instant Messaging and Texting with iCarol

Are you thinking about letting visitors contact you via messaging, but are not sure of the differences between Instant Messaging and Text Messaging? iCarol offers both – here’s a quick review of how each differs in access, convenience, variable cost, and privacy.

Access

Laptop in useInstant Messaging lets visitors click on an iCarol-provided “chat now” button on your website to initiate a session with one of your specialists. Both the visitor and the specialist converse from computer screens, typing messages back and forth to each other.

With Text Messaging, counselors also converse from iCarol computer screens – actually the very same screens they’d use for Instant Messaging – yet visitors participate from their own cell phones, not from a computer screen.

Convenience

We all know that the easier it is to get information or help, the more likely it is a person will ask.

Many of our Instant Messaging clients love having a “Chat Now” button on their website. Not only does it encourage visitors to return repeatedly to their website – who doesn’t want a popular website? – it also offers visitors a handy way of communicating when and where a visitor really needs it.

For example, you could paste the button right next to the screen where visitors search your resource database (another iCarol feature). If the visitor is having trouble finding what they need, help is just a click away.

So Instant Messaging is great for organizations that either have a popular website, or don’t, and appreciate a boost in web traffic while at the same time better serving your community.

Smart Phone  with two thumbs

Text Messaging, on the other hand, offers a convenient way to ask for help when a visitor is not near a computer. Often clients tell us that visitors who text them would not reach out to anyone if a texting service were not available.

For example, maybe a man’s on the bus on the way to work and he’s stressed about paying his utility bill. Or a mom sitting at a park rocking her sleeping toddler needs help finding an after-school program for her first grader. Perhaps a middle-school student plops down on the family couch next to her siblings after a tough day at school fending off bullies. All of these people might reach out for help via texing.

Text Messaging makes help available right from the convenience of a person’s own cell phone. It’s a kind of access that people tend to expect more and more in a world where texting friends, family, companies, banks, etc. is ubiquitous.

Variable Cost

Where the two forms of messaging differ from a variable cost standpoint is in text usage fees. Text Messaging has them, Instant Messaging does not. When you have Text Messaging service, you’ll be billed for usage based on how many thousands of texts you use per month.

In your iCarol system, you’ll always have a running count of texts so you can see your usage level. We won’t cut you off when you reach your billed-for limit; we’ll just make it up on the next bill. As you use more texts, volume discounts kick in. Plus an increased volume helps funders see how popular your service has become.

Your visitors will of course never be charged by iCarol for text usage, but may be charged by their own cell phone provider, depending on their texting plan. There’s a spot in the workflow to add a note to visitors reminding them, and typically our clients like to add such a note as well to wherever they publicize the texting number.

Privacy

Both Text Messaging and Instant Messaging offer a kind of privacy that a voice phone call does not. That is, nobody can overhear a conversation asking for help conducted via either kind of messaging, because it’s all nonverbal.

That’s helpful for a large segment of the population who might not otherwise reach out for help.

It’s an important factor, of course, for those with hearing or speaking issues, and for those who would rather not speak out loud.

Consider the person experiencing domestic violence, or a troubled student who has a hard time getting out of earshot of siblings or dorm-mates. Clients who work with transgender individuals say their visitors are thankful they don’t have to explain why their voice may not match their gender identity. And some people just are naturally more comfortable typing their innermost concerns than voicing them aloud. The privacy that non-verbal communication affords is a hallmark of both Instant Messaging and Text Messaging.

Text Messaging and Instant Messaging differ in other aspects of privacy, though.

Keyboard and screen in useWith Instant Messaging, all the communication is handled within iCarol –the ChatNow button connects directly to your iCarol system. Because it’s a closed system, iCarol can control the traffic entirely, and encrypts messages from the time they leave the keyboard of both the visitor and the specialist. Data saved in your iCarol system is encrypted, too – with the same strict encryption used by financial services institutions.

Data saved in the system for Text Messaging is also encrypted, but unlike with Instant Messaging, text messages aren’t controlled end-to-end by iCarol. Instead, while the messages are in transit over the phone lines, it’s the phone carriers that control the security of that traffic. That is true for any vendor’s text messaging offering. These days, phone carriers of course handle traffic for financial transactions, medical information, plane reservations, billing, etc. so you can determine your own comfort level.

Text Messaging and Instant Messaging can be used Concurrently

Because of the distinct features of each type of messaging, many of iCarol’s clients actually use both.

Call Report Editing copy

That’s easy to do because the specialist workflow is exactly the same — if you learn one type of messaging, you already know the other. Also, both forms of messaging are integrated nicely into your iCarol system – so much so that specialists can, and do, handle both Text Messaging and Instant Messaging sessions concurrently.

If you’d like to learn more about messaging, please join us for a webinar on Messaging, or contact us for more information.

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Even more iCarol enhancements coming soon

2015 is already off to a great start. We've already launched one new feature, made some enhancements to the Volunteers and Staff page, and that’s just the start of what we have planned for this year.

Internal Chat – Newly Available

Internal Chat copy

Have you had a chance to try out our new Internal Chat feature? It’ll let you exchange short, typed messages with colleagues right from within your secure iCarol screen.

We’re pretty excited about this one, and have gotten great feedback already. Some of us — not naming names — might have even blushed a little at the kind compliments you’ve sent our way. Folks have told us it’s sure helped them improve internal communications in their centers.

If you’re an administrator, you can turn this feature on whenever you’re ready. For quick instructions, please click on the Help button on the bottom left of your iCarol screen to find short videos. Help Articles are also coming soon – look under the Volunteers & Staff category.

Thank you to those of you who participated in focus groups and pre-release testing. We value your thoughtful feedback, which helps us build useful features.

This feature is available now in all iCarol systems, at no extra charge. It’s part of our ongoing effort to help you help others.

Volunteer – Staff Page Enhancements — Newly Available

Conference copy

Search & Sorting: Ever need to quickly see who would be able to cover a Tuesday afternoon shift? Who prefers text messaging shifts? Or who started in 2010? Maybe you want to quickly locate a particular person’s profile? Check out our new search facility on the main Volunteer and Staff page. It’s on the right-hand side, just above the list of personnel. Also you can now sort the columns on that page using the arrows next to the column names.

Tag Skills & Achievements for Multiple People at Once: Say you’ve done a CPR training, attended by 30 of your colleagues, and you’d like to document their participation in the Skills & Achievements area. Gone are the days when you’d have to go into each individual profile to do that. Instead, put a checkmark next to the names you’d like to tag, then scroll down to the bottom of the list and click on the new link that lets you tag all people at once.

Check out our blog from earlier this week that shows some screenshots of these enhancements.

Messaging with Visitors – Enhancements in the works

Smart Phone  with two thumbs

We’re busy in our labs these days building ways to streamline your messaging workflow. Those of you who use both Text Messaging and Instant Messaging know the screens are pretty much twins, so there will be improvements in both workflows.

The biggest change is that the messaging session will be conducted right in the report form – no longer will conversation occur in a separate pop-up. The whole process is more intuitive; we expect it ought to expedite training.

The improvements not only cut down on the number of “clicks” in your workflow – freeing up more time to spend with your visitors – but will also let you more quickly find resources using the full search filters you’ve come to know and love. And those of you using the taxonomy will be able to tag referrals in messaging the same way you do for referrals on calls.

Rest assured, we pledge to keep you up-to-date on expected availability dates and will provide a variety of materials to help with a transition to this improved workflow.

Please if you’re interested in testing out the improved workflow while it’s still in development. We’d love to get your feedback and hear your suggestions as we put the finishing touches on this over the next few weeks. I’d give you logins to our test system – the tests won’t impact your production system.

Public Resource Directory – Enhancements in the works

Resources

Our Public Resource Directory feature offers you a turn-key way to let visitors to your website search your carefully-curated resource database. Built-in, real-time reports let you keep on top of searches popular in your community. Now we’re actively working to make that feature even better: Easier searches, more precise results, more intuitive screens, and some great new capabilities.

Stay tuned for more news. If you’d like to be part of the focus groups and testing for these enhancements, please . Thanks to all who have volunteered already.

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New tools to organize and sort your Volunteers and Staff

On the heels of Internal Chat we’re introducing yet another Volunteer and Staff feature. We’ve recently enhanced the ability to search and sort on the Volunteer and Staff page. You can use the new “Search” function on the right, just above the list of users, to search for specific names, aliases, preferred shift types and times, and more.

Helpline volunteer staff main page search

A companion feature lets Admins create checkboxes for shift preferences. Those shift preferences can then be selected in each person’s profile. In this way, you could note, for example, who likes chat shifts, who is available filling in at the last minute, or who likes to work Tuesday afternoons. Admins set up those checkboxes in the Shifts tab in Admin Tools.

Last but not least, you can now assign Skills and Achievements to multiple people concurrently. For example, if 30 people in your organization completed CPR training together, you could now mark that as complete for all of them with just a few clicks. To do so, put a checkmark in front of the names on the main Volunteer and Staff page, then scroll to the bottom of the screen and click “Assign Skills & Achievements.”

Helpline Volunteer and staff skills and achievements

We sure hope you enjoy these new enhancements and that they increase the efficiency with which you complete volunteer and staff related administrative tasks. Whether it’s more easily finding the volunteer profile you need to access, quickly adding a new skill or achievement to a group of folks who attended the same training, or speedily locating all the volunteers who can potentially help fill a morning shift, we think you’ll make great use out of these enhancements and that they will save you some extra time and clicks as you navigate through iCarol.

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Chat with colleagues from within iCarol — Internal Chat available today!

New Features copyStarting today, you can now exchange typed messages instantly with colleagues, right from within iCarol.

Use it however you’d like to improve communication in your center:

  • Call-takers can ask a colleague for help finding a resource, without needing to put the caller on hold
  • A counselor on a difficult messaging session can ask for assistance from any online colleague, not just their supervisor
  • A new resource editor could quickly check with a colleague about style points when editing a new resource
  • A call center manager could ask a call-taker to stay an extra 15 minutes, to cover for a colleague stuck in traffic

Videos located here provide detailed instructions on how it works, show how Admins can turn it on for your organization, and how to enable/disable it on a person-by-person basis. You can also access Help Articles on the help page. Or, if you prefer to join us for a webinar, we’ll be announcing those dates and times here shortly.

There is no extra charge for this feature — it’s part of our continuing effort to make iCarol better, to help you help others.

Internal Chat Message

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