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When Wintry Weather Wreaks Havoc on your Helpline

blizzard

With a blizzard moving up the north east coast today and tomorrow, many helplines in its path are brainstorming ways to keep their services up and running. 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. Our Call Report form sharing functionality makes it easy for you to pass your calls on to other centers, while they use your preferred call report form to log the calls they’re taking on your behalf.

  • 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. You can read more about this here.

  • 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!

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Our Most Popular Statistical Reports explained

There are a plethora of reports available in the Statistics section of iCarol that can be used to illustrate many different facets of your service. Please see below for further information on some of the most commonly used reports.

One of the most basic reports is the call volume report. It shows how many call reports were submitted during the time frame specified.

iCarol Statistics Call Volume Chart

This report, and any report found in the “Chart Type” menu on the Analysis tab, can be filtered in a number of different ways. The filters available are:

Location – If you enter a specific location or list of locations, the resulting call volume chart will just show the calls from callers located in those locations. If you have a geography based funder who is interested in how many calls you received from a specific area, this filter can assist you in creating a report for the funder.

Time frame – You can enter a very specific time frame for your reports to cover, and you can also change the interval to such options as daily, monthly, hour of the day, day of the week, etc. You can also limit the report to specific days or the week or hours of the day. In this way, you could build a report that showed your call volume during business hours (9am-5pm Monday to Friday), and compare it to the call volume during non-business hours (5pm-9am Monday to Friday plus weekends).

Call Reports and Phone Workers – The Phone Workers drop-down menu will list all the users in your iCarol system. In this way, you could see how many calls each user is submitting. If you use several different call reports in iCarol, you can also user this filter to run call volume reports on just one of your call reports, or any combination of them you wish.

The final filter available is the Call Content Filter. This filter enables you the filter the call volume chart by any piece of data you collect in any of the custom fields on your call reports. You can add up to 5 call content filters. In the chart below, I have filtered to show calls on the topic of Gambling where the caller appreciated the service they received.

iCarol Statistics call content filters

Many clients have managers, board members or funders who are interested to see how many calls are being received in regards to a specific demographic or topic. A pie chart is a great way to illustrate this. When you first select the pie chart from the Chart Type menu on the Analysis tab of Statistics, the pieces of the pie will represent the categories on your call report. You will want to “drill down” into one of the categories to get to the more specific data by clicking on a piece of the pie. The pie chart will then show the groups in the category selected. You will want to “drill down” once more to get to the field level of your call report, where the most specific data is stored.

Here is an example. This pie chart shows the categories in the call report:

iCarol Demographics Pie Chart

I clicked on the “Caller Issues” piece of the pie. This chart shows all the groups in the “Caller Issues” category:

iCarol Statistics Demographics pie chart sub category

Finally, I clicked on the “Addiction” piece of the pie. The chart below shows the specific addiction issues the callers spoke about:

iCarol Statistics Demographics Pie Chart fields

Many iCarol clients track the needs of their callers via the AIRS taxonomy. With the “Needs by Taxonomy” report, these clients can see the most common needs of their callers. This information can be used to ensure call takers are trained appropriately, that appropriate resources to fill these needs are available in the resource database, and even to inform funders and policy makers about the needs of the community.

iCarol Statistics 211 Taxonomy AIRS Needs

The “Count of referrals to resources” chart shows which resources have been referred to the most often. This chart is another way to illustrate the needs of the community and could even be used to illustrate the need for expanded programs and increased funding.

iCarol Statistics Top Resources with most referrals

This is only a small number of the reports available in the Statistics section of iCarol. We encourage you to explore all the reports available and view the tutorial videos on Statistics to learn more. If you have any questions about Statistics in iCarol, please feel free to contact the Support Team at any time.

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Introducing iCarol Folksonomy

When people in the public are searching your public website for a resource that can help them, it can sometimes lead to frustration that they are getting no results. When you look closer at how they are searching, it becomes clear that they aren’t familiar with the way that resources are named or categorized. In other words, they are expressing a need, like “I am hungry” but the resources in your database are represented as services, like “Food pantries”.

In fact in commonly used categorization schemes, such as the AIRS Taxonomy or a custom categorization scheme built directly by your helpline, you won’t find the word “hungry” in any of the categories, terms or definitions. Multiply this by all the possible needs people have, and you can quickly see how a great deal of the population won’t get connected to valuable services. Other example searches are “I need a ride to work”, “My family needs a place to stay” and “I lost my job yesterday”.

So how can these help seekers, who are expressing a need, be connected with the services that can assist them? Clearly, we need to build a bridge between the two approaches. The solution we’re employing in iCarol’s Public Resource Directory is called the Folksonomy (an intentional mashup of the word Folk, as in “colloquial”, and Taxonomy).

In a nutshell, it helps find results if the search did not match an Agency or Program name, a taxonomy term or the officially defined synonyms for taxonomy terms (called “use references”). It does this by picking up colloquial words or phrases in a search and corresponds them to taxonomy terms, and then performs the search for resources assigned to those taxonomy terms.

A perfect example would be if someone typed “I am really hungry” into the search box. The Folksonomy fills the gap that normally would be mediated by a helpline’s phone worker on a call by connecting the expressed need to one or more taxonomy terms, like Food Pantries and Ongoing Emergency Food Assistance.

We have been testing this approach with clients and it is yielding exceedingly good results. Those clients also have an administrative interface to find recent searches yielding no results, and then to make Folksonomy entries so that future such searches will instead yield the right results.

Here is a scenario where the word “ride” is a Folksonomy entry corresponding to several taxonomy terms. If you had performed this search before we implemented the Folksonomy you would have gotten zero results. Instead you now get a number of transportation-related resources:

Folksonomy

By building that bridge between the layman’s terms used by your web visitors and the detailed categorization of the 211 Taxonomy, iCarol’s Folksonomy will greatly improve the ability for your Public Resource Directory searchers to find what they are looking for and ultimately get the services they need.

We’ll have more information to share about implementing iCarol’s Folksonomy in the coming weeks. Want to learn more about managing your Resources with iCarol? Join us for our Resource Management Webinar on May 20th at 2pm EST.

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