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.
There’s a website that gives you the up-to-the-minute status of the various major iCarol systems, so you see what we see! Just go to Status.iCarol.com to get an instant look at our uptime as well as instructions for troubleshooting your internet connection if you have limited connectivity.
On November 20, 2013 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, Child Helpline International presented their statistical findings after 10 years of receiving calls, emails, texts, and chats from children around the world. We were honored to have Shelley of the iCarol team on site to witness the momentous occasion.
Some highlights from their presentation that we thought you would find interesting:
- Over 4 million children and young people reported a form of abuse or violence
- Immediate or extended family commit 58% of the physical abuse reported
- 60% of abuse and violence were reported by girls
- Over 25% of school-related problems are due to bullying
- Most bullying takes place at school
- Over 30,000 contacts about cyber-bullying since 2011
- Over 60,000 contacts from children who were abandoned
- 220,000 children made contact because they needed food, resources, or financial aid
- 140,000 contacts from children having trouble accessing health services
- 40,000 contacts from children expressing an inability to access education
Want to see the full report? You can download it here.
Congratulations to Child Helpline International for 10 years of incredible service helping children all around the world.
Feedback is critical to your phone workers’ professional growth and skill enhancement. Without it, call takers might feel left in the dark and unsure of whether they are doing a fantastic job or totally missing the mark.
Do you regularly take time to give written feedback to your call specialists? Devoting even a half hour of your day to reading call reports and giving written feedback can remind your call takers that you are taking quality assurance seriously and that someone reviews their call documentation. Something as simple as a “Nice work!” or “Good job with this one!” can encourage a phone worker after a difficult call.
If the call report leaves you asking questions or wishing they had done more, then the feedback area of the call report can be a great place to ask some questions or give suggestions on how to handle similar situations in the future. If you choose to make the feedback viewable to your other workers, it can serve as a training tool to them, though sometimes private feedback is best. And though written feedback is likely the quickest and least time-consuming method, consider those times when a phone call or in-person processing of the call may what your phone worker really needs.
Want some tips on how to incorporate call reports and/or feedback into your management plan?
- Use the ‘Highlight’ feature – Does your call center have the ability to ‘highlight’ a call enabled? This feature allows certain calls to appear highlighted in yellow on the main calls page. Many clients use this to draw attention to calls or callers of which they want their phone workers to be aware. You could just as easily use this feature to highlight the ‘Call of the Day’ or draw attention to a call that deserves special recognition or serves as a great example of good phone work or superb documentation.
- Review Call Reports at meetings – Do you have regular all-staff meetings? Choose a call report to review with your staff at your next gathering. It’s a great opportunity for your workers and volunteers to process a call together, praise the good work of the call taker, or talk about other ways they may have handled the challenges of that call.
- Print Caller Feedback – Many clients choose to have the ‘Caller Feedback’ text box appear in their call reports. Once a month, extract your call report data from the Admin Tools section of iCarol and review the entries in the Caller Feedback field. Print the positive feedback your workers received from callers and post it somewhere in your call center. Reminders that callers appreciate their work and value the time spent on the phone can be a great morale booster for your volunteers.
Got tips of your own? Leave us a comment!
On Veterans Day, HBO began airing the original documentary “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1.” The documentary highlights the work of the call center in Canadaigua, NY that answers the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s phone line operated specifically for veterans at risk of suicide. The documentary features harrowing footage of crisis responders working to find anonymous callers in imminent danger, and the quiet and touching moments between the empathetic workers who listen without judgment and the veterans reaching out for help. Check your local listings, this documentary is not to be missed. Visit the HBO website for more information and to check the airtimes.
With Hurricane Sandy approaching the Northeastern United States today, we’d like to remind folks of various ways to use iCarol before, during, and after a disaster:
- Quickly add more staff and volunteers into your iCarol system using the import template and tool, found on the Admin Tools – Setup tab.
- Use the shift calendar to help manage people’s duties during the disaster, even for non-phone based tasks and responsibilities.
- Modify the security settings of those people so they can only access the information they need to. Do this by going into each person’s profile, Admin tab, then Advanced Security Settings. (Once you’ve set up settings for one person, you can save them so it is easier to apply the same settings to another person’s profile.)
- Keep your highlighted resources (both inside iCarol and on your public-facing website) current and relevant.
- Inside iCarol, you can also add “news items” to your main Resources page for your users, and have those updates push simultaneously to a public Twitter feed. This helps your workers stay updated on information and resources more quickly.
- Import resources en masse into your iCarol system by using our standard, Excel-based template. (For example, schools may become temporary emergency shelters.)
- Create special categories in your Resources for disaster-related preparedness and then assign resources to them accordingly, making it easier for them to be found.
- If your policies allow it, prepare for some or all of your workers to access all iCarol features from locations other than your offices, like their homes, so they can continue to provide phone-based services even if they cannot get to your offices (and they still have power and internet access).
- For past disasters (like Hurricane Isaac hitting Louisiana this summer) we have also rapidly granted special requests on a short term basis, like sharing resource databases amongst numerous partner centers. Feel free to ask us for such special capabilities so we can help you help your communities.
- Our Specialized Resource Exports tool creates a Word or Excel document containing part or all of your Resource database, and can be used in case you want your users to have it on hand in case you lose connection to the internet. Contact us if you’d like to begin using this option add-on feature.
If you have any thoughts or ideas please post them to the iCarol User Community. We want to do our best to help you get through this challenging weather condition.