At iCarol we believe that our customers are also some of our best innovators. From the very start, helpline volunteers created iCarol and we’ve continued that tradition of users driving product development as the years go by. Many of the features you use in iCarol every day grew from a “light bulb moment” had by one of your peers. This community development approach drives our future product development. After all, no one knows your business or what type of tool or enhancement could improve your work like you do.
iCarol Usergroup Summit at the AIRS Conference
Our conference appearances throughout the year provide opportunities for iCarol usergroup sessions where iCarol users can discuss our software, provide feedback, and hear about our development plans, often referred to as our “Product Roadmap.” Prior to the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) conference in May we hold an iCarol Usergroup Summit where we offer trainings by AIRS Certified iCarol staff, as well as a traditional usergroup meeting.
This past spring, we asked for the AIRS Usergroup Summit attendees’ help on voting and prioritizing identified enhancements that should be first in line for development. Attendees received a firsthand look at how hard it is for us to decide where to focus our efforts. They took their task seriously, and graciously provided valuable feedback. You’ll be seeing the results of their efforts soon as these new developments start to be released in your iCarol system. As always, watch the iCarol blog and the Dashboard in your iCarol system for details.
Following the Summit one attendee described iCarol as, “Not just a vendor but a partner” in their organization’s mission. This is absolutely our goal as we work with all of our clients as we believe deeply in helping you to affect positive change in your communities. We’re happy to share that 100% of Summit attendees described themselves as Satisfied or Very Satisfied overall with the material presented at AIRS iCarol Usergroup Summit, and 100% of the group found the individual session content relevant to their everyday work. We think it’s a great event that you should attend next year, but you don’t have to take our word for it – 91% of attendees said they are likely to recommend attendance to others. We’ll be announcing future AIRS iCarol Usergroup Summit plans in 2018 so stay tuned!
Advisory Boards and Focus Groups
In an effort to keep client discussions going not just when we see you at conferences but throughout the year, we’ve recently kicked off a new and exciting venture — creating two separate iCarol Advisory boards, one to represent Crisis Centers/Helplines, and one to represent Information and Referral organizations. Each iCarol Advisory Board will ensure representation of industry voices in our development process through virtual meetings year round. Goals include providing iCarol with guidance on their industry’s evolving needs, providing feedback on existing and future software development, and validating that iCarol’s strategy and development plans meet the needs of the industry being served.
In addition to the iCarol Customer Advisory Boards, we are also hosting more focus groups than ever before. Focus groups are made up of individuals to discuss a particular challenge or development approach we are considering. Focus groups give the iCarol Product Development team the opportunity to discuss challenges our clients experience and potential solutions.
Want to get involved in an iCarol Advisory Board or Focus Groups? Participants are identified and invited through their participation on the iCarol Ideas Portal, from the cases they submit, feedback from surveys or ways in which their iCarol systems are configured.
Annual Customer Survey
It’s important to provide organization leaders and management staff across our client pool with the opportunity to share feedback covering all areas of iCarol, from our customer service to the use of the product itself, and to that end we just wrapped our annual Customer Survey a few weeks ago. We’re busy compiling and analyzing those results now so we can internally discuss how this feedback will drive us in the months ahead. We truly value the time you took to complete this survey and we will share results and action plans coming from that survey in the months ahead.
iCarol Ideas Portal
And finally, we just celebrated about 7 months of having the iCarol Ideas Portal available. This has proven to be an effective way of both receiving and prioritizing client ideas, and communicating about these ideas and their progress towards implementation. You may have caught our recent blog sharing some notable stats on the portal’s usage and just how much this method of client involvement has impacted your iCarol system already. If you haven’t, you can check that out here.
We hope, with these various methods through which we receive feedback and ideas, that you feel like a part of our iCarol Community where your voices are heard and opinions are acknowledged. Your role in our product development is an integral part of what we do and we look forward to continuing that tradition in both familiar and new and exciting ways.
The iCarol Ideas Portal was released about 7 months ago, and already it is having a big impact, just as we hoped it would.
Since its release you have used the portal to:
- Add over 300 enhancement and feature ideas
- Cast 900 votes for your favorite ideas
- Submit about 150 comments to help our team better understand ideas
To date, nine ideas originating on the iCarol Ideas Portal have been released for use. We’ll talk about some of these in more detail on separate upcoming blogs, but here’s a brief summary of a few of those ideas and what they do:
- Receive email notifications and details when an Automated Verification Request has “bounced” and not made it to the recipient
- Receive email notifications that a Resource record has been flagged for review
- Initiate a new Automated Verification Request for a single record while viewing that record
There are currently 14 ideas planned and in progress, some that originated on the Ideas Portal and other ideas that were pre-existing but added to the portal so you could share you comments, feedback, and votes. Some of these planned ideas include:
- Create PDFs that include only certain fields of your Resource records
- Schedule statistics and specialized exports on a reoccurring basis
- Allow the template for sending referrals by SMS to draw fields from Site records
- Flexible date ranges in your statistical Summary Report
- Include Custom Fields in your Resource record PDFs
- Send referrals in the body of an email
- Integration with the 2-1-1 National Text Platform (NTP) including:
- Phone-to-Text referrals using 898211
- 2-way texting using 898211
- Pre-conversation surveys via SMS/Texting
- Updates to the iCarol Help area
- Applying your feedback to our Learning Guides
- Standard Resource Export using the AIRS XML 3.0 Schema
We want to thank you all again for embracing the iCarol Ideas Portal as you have, and contributing so many wonderful ideas to it. By participating on the portal and casting your vote on the ideas that would be most beneficial to you and your organization, you help our Product Management team prioritize what we work on next, and enhance the iCarol experience for everyone. Keep those ideas coming!
Communication is key in any relationship, and of course that includes iCarol’s relationship with our users!
Because iCarol is a web-based software, we roll out updates and enhancements to the platform regularly and seamlessly, without system downtime or the need for users to download and install anything. This is of great benefit to our users, though it presents a challenge to us to make sure our users are aware of these changes so they can understand and take advantage of them.
We communicate system news to people in a variety of ways, and the method will typically depend upon who it effects as well as the type of enhancement and its scope or level of impact. Often each enhancement is communicated using a number of methods and not just one.
When Admin level users sign into iCarol, they’re presented with their own dashboard of information most pertinent to them and their position as leaders at their agency. There are two areas on this dashboard where system changes are communicated.
Release history and plans
A software “release” happens when our Technical Team takes the enhancements or fixes they’ve been working on and apply them to the live iCarol system accessed by users. This step is the culmination of careful process undertaken by our Support, Technical, and sometimes Product Management Teams. Once a certain enhancement is coded by the Technical Team, a member of the Support Team or Product Management Team will thoroughly test the enhancement in a series of simulations in our test system to ensure the enhancement works as designed without undesired impact to existing processes. Once this process is complete, the “deployment” happens and the changes go into affect for everyone who signs into iCarol. The system doesn’t go offline or experience downtime in order for this to happen, so the changes may appear transparent to users unless they notice a new enhancement, or if they read the release notes.
A summary of upcoming release plans can be found on the right side of your Admin Dashboard.
Clicking the link for “See more release history and plans” takes you to the details list of what enhancements are included in an upcoming release to the iCarol web application, and details on past inclusions as well. A drop-down menu allows you to pick which element of iCarol you’d like to view release details on. These are broken down by the iCarol web application (your main iCarol system), Public Resource Directory, Messaging, and API. Each of those elements of iCarol have seperate releases and separate lists of work items to be tested and applied.
In addition to the Admin Dashboard, users of other security levels also have access to these release notes from their own dashboard. For those volunteers and staff members, the release notes are linked at the bottom left of the screen when they first log into iCarol.
Keep in mind that the language in these release notes can be a bit technical, but if you think a particular item may be important to your work and you’re not sure what it does, you are welcome to ask the Support Team for more details.
Announcements, Tips, and Tricks
In the center column of the Admin Dashboard is the “Announcements, Tips, and Tricks” area. In this area we’ll share news and goings on of note to Admins. This is one of the places we’ll typically announce noteworthy new features or enhancements, upcoming events such as when we’ll be at an industry conference or are holding a webinar, and important news like letting you know when a Taxonomy update is coming.
‘Help’ area of your iCarol system
All users signed into iCarol can access the ‘Help’ area at the lower area of left main menu.
The ‘Help’ page includes a number of links to tools including:
Training Webinars and Tutorial Videos
When you first land on the ‘Help’ page you’re brought to our collection of recorded Training Webinars and other tutorial videos or video series on how to use the various features of iCarol. These videos are categorized by the feature area they pertain to.
There is a library of solutions, step-by-step instructions, and answers to common questions that can be read in the Help Articles area of the ‘Help’ page. These articles can be browsed, or you may search using keywords or phrases the find the topic you wish to read up on.
iCarol Ideas Portal
Earlier this year we introduced the iCarol Ideas Portal. In this area of iCarol you can view the feature enhancement ideas submitted by your peers, vote for the ones you like most, submit your own ideas for consideration, and subscribe to ideas that interest you. When you subscribe to an idea we supply ongoing email communication to you about its progress toward potential implementation. Not only do we discuss this new area extensively on the blog, but we also covered it in a recent webinar as well.
Though not yet available to all of our users, for some time now new iCarol systems in trial have included in-system guides to help users learn how to use iCarol. These smart guides present themselves to a user when they enter a certain feature area to encourage them to take a brief tour or learn more about how to use a certain element of iCarol, and then walks them through the process. These guides are tailored for users based on their security level, ensuring that everyone gets a walk-through that is appropriate for their role. We’ve discussed these guides in past Enhancement Review Webinars and will be sending our users more information about them, as well as posting blogs and offering other communication, when we are nearing the wide release of these guides to all of our users.
Submit a Case
If you can’t find the answer to your question by searching in the Help area or elsewhere, or if you need to report an issue, then we welcome you to contact our Support Team for additional assistance. This is done by opening a case in the Case Management area. You can read our full instructions and tips for the best way to do this here.
Website and Blog
The iCarol website can be a great source of information about software features, including new feature released. Our primary features and sub-functions of those features typically have web pages describing their purpose and use, and visitors to our website can easily explore what iCarol has to offer.
On the iCarol blog we will post about new features and notable enhancements as they are added. Often our blogs will highlight how this new enhancement works, the solutions it aims to present to our users, how to enable it, instructions on use, and ideas for how you might use a feature at your organization. If you are signed up to receive our Weekly Blog Digest, you’ll receive a single email per week delivering links to all the blogs from the previous week.
We realize that your email inbox can get really full really fast, and so we try to be mindful of that by carefully deciding when to directly send you feature news via email. When a new feature or enhancement is particularly impactful or presents major opportunities for our users, then we may choose send direct emails. You can manage your communications with us, though keep in mind that as an iCarol user you may get necessary and important system emails from us, or shift reminders and other system notifications, even if you have unsubscribed from “marketing” emails.
We recognize that sometimes it’s nice to hear from us live and “in person” and so we occasionally offer webinars to discuss new features or enhancements to features. Once every few months we’ll hold our “Quarterly Enhancement/New Feature Review” webinars. These webinars are a chance for us to look at the most noteworthy system enhancements of the last few months and present them to you, consolidated, in the webinar. We’ll discuss the purpose behind the feature and the problems it aims to solve, talk about how it could potentially be used by you, and the benefits it delivers to your organization. Note that these enhancement review webinars are not trainings or walk-throughs of the features, but rather a chance for us to provide you with an overview of its use and purpose, as well as give you an opportunity to ask us questions about these enhancements. In addition to the regular enhancement review webinars, when a new feature is released that has a far-reaching impact, or presents a major change in functionality, we’ll also hold webinars about that particular feature, to provide an overview or also to train users on how to use it.
Annual Customer Survey
While we send out various communications to our users, it’s also important that we invite you to communicate with us and give us feedback. Each year we send out a survey to our Admin and Supervisor users asking for your input on a variety of topics pertaining to iCarol and your use of the platform. If you’re an Admin or Supervisor you’ll be receiving this email very soon, and we hope you’ll take a few moments to respond and let us know how we’re doing.
As a web-based and ever-evolving software solution, we recognize how imperative it is that we communicate effectively with our users so that they can make the most of using their iCarol systems. If you have any questions or feedback about how we communicate with our users, you can feel free to . And as always, if you have a specific question about how to use iCarol that isn’t covered or the answer can’t be found in one of the various places described above, please reach out to our Support Team for assistance.
It’s important to us that our customers know about feature enhancements and learn about them in various ways to accommodate their varying learning and communications preferences. That’s why we regularly hold webinars to provide a summary of the major enhancements applied to iCarol in recent months, and explain to attendees how the enhancements help you at your organization.
For those who couldn’t join us live during out recent installment of our iCarol Enhancement Review Webinar, that recording is now available online for you to watch at your convenience.
With our latest release we’ve improved the flow of your Messaging (Live Chat and SMS/Texting) settings page, while also exposing new settings to our users. We think you’ll enjoy the ease of navigation and access to some settings and tools previously only available to the iCarol team.
These settings are still found in the same location, by first clicking on ‘Messaging’ in the main iCarol menu. Next, you’ll click on “Instant Messaging and SMS Settings’ in the upper right of that screen. Previously these were two separate links that would take you to two separate settings pages. Now this is a single link taking you to a single page where you can navigate through both Live Chat and SMS Settings.
Once you arrive on the settings page, you’ll find a tabbed layout to access various settings. Before changing any settings, you’ll first need to select the Portal to which your selections should apply. Your organization may only have a single Live Chat or SMS service with iCarol, but if you’ve added on additional services then you will find these portals listed in the drop down menu.
On the ‘General Settings’ tab, shown above, you can decide what terminology is used to reference your Chat Specialist within the chat conversation, and also decide what security levels can monitor chats, see all active conversations, and who can disable Messaging or a particular portal.
The final set of settings in the top section of the page allow you to:
- Decide whether or not visitors can chat anonymously
- Choose whether or not to enforce geographic restriction so that only visitors in certain locations can chat with you
- Prevent visitors from typing until the counselor joins
- Hide a visitor’s IP address
- Disable geographic fields
- Disable the ability for users to create logins for repeated use
The lower part of the ‘IM Settings’ tab includes a feature where you can upload custom Online or Offline images to replace the default images offered by iCarol. This means your organization can design your own Online/Offline images that fit with your branding or make use of your logo or other images easily identifiable with your agency. Lastly, decide which fields should be available and/or required at registration, and also set specific coverage areas to be allowed access to the chat, should you choose to enforce geographic restriction.
On the ‘SMS Settings’ tab you’ll find mostly familiar settings that were accessible under the previous layout. Here you can determine all the auto responses for the selected Portal, including the important responses that will describe the Opt-in and Opt-out procedures to your visitor. Here you’ll also enter any mobile numbers you plan to use to test your SMS service, and finally you’ll find new settings to enable geographic restriction and hide a visitor’s full mobile phone number. On this page you can also enter coverage areas should you choose to enforce geographic restriction.
Finally on the last tab, Standard Messages, you will set all the pre-written greetings that should be available for use by your Chat Specialists. These standard messages can be set by Portal, and for Live Chat, SMS, or both. Once entered these messages can also be edited or deleted as needed.
We hope you’ll find this new layout even more user friendly and easy to navigate than before. Additionally, access to new tools and settings offer even more control over how your Messaging service works and grants immediate access to make important changes that once had to be submitted to our Support Team. We believe this expanded access will further strengthen your service as you offer these new and important communication channels to your community.
Should you have questions or need assistance understanding or using these settings, don’t hesitate to contact our Support Team for assistance.
With each of our regular releases to iCarol we include enhancements, new tools, or new features. Our next release, tentatively scheduled to occur later today, includes many items, a few of which we’d like to highlight for you.
Search your Chatboard
The Chatboard is an included feature with any iCarol system and it’s a great way to improve communication at your helpline. Managers and staff can create and moderate forums for discussion, and volunteers and other members can add their thoughts and take part in the conversation. Decide upcoming training dates, debate hot topics, coordinate on-call coverage, and more. The chatboard promotes an ongoing, living dialogue as opposed to circulating printed memos that offer only one-sided information sharing. It also reduces email clutter, taking the place of mass emails and numerous reply all responses landing in your inbox. And all of this communication is enjoyed within the security and protections of iCarol, so sensitive or confidential conversations are limited to only those with access to your system.
Email did have a leg up on the Chatboard in that emails could be searched and filtered in a way our Chatboard didn’t support — until now. With this week’s release you can opt to turn on search functions within your Chatboard that will enable users to search and find posts more quickly — perfect for those of you who use your Chatboard regularly and may have logged dozens or hundreds or posts over time.
Admins can decide whether or not they wish to allow this search function. To turn it on you’ll simply navigate to Admin Tools on your left menu, click the Tools tab, and then take a look under the ‘Communication Features’ heading. There you turn on the Chatboard search function by checking the ‘Enable Chatboard Search’ box. Don’t forget to click the ‘Save all settings’ button found at the top of the page.
And with that, the feature is turned on. When you next navigate to your Chatboard you’ll see a search bar above your list of forums.
Clicking ‘Advanced search’ will pop open more options. Here you can select a time frame to search within, filter by certain forum or by a particular user.
Data Export Queue
Users with an Admin security level, or others granted special permissions, can export data from their iCarol system. This includes, among other things, Shift information, Volunteer and Staff user profiles, Call Report Form data, and Resource data. The export files are in .csv format and can be imported into a number of programs for viewing or analysis, Microsoft Access or Excel, for example. Columns of data can easily be sorted or filtered using the tools of these programs, and users with a more advanced grasp of these programs can further manipulate data via pivot tables or write queries to analyze the data that’s been logged.
Depending upon the amount of data being exported, some extracts are available on demand, while others have to compile in the background and the user will be notified when they’re ready for download. We’re very mindful of the importance of these exports, and balance that knowledge with the need to reduce the performance impact on our web servers and provide a top notch user experience for everyone. Our latest move to do just that is to adjust the queuing process for Resource exports. With this release, databases with 1,000 or more resource records will now be queued and processed systematically rather than being available for immediate download.
For a full list of the enhancements coming with our next release, or to review items included in past releases, check out the ‘Release history and plans’ section of your Admin Dashboard. When reading the information keep in mind that descriptions can sometimes be technical in nature, and some items may not be applicable to your particular iCarol system. If you have questions or concerns, please contact our Support Team.
It’s that time again! Our next Quarterly Enhancement Review Webinar will be happening soon: Thursday April 21st at 1pm EDT.
In this webinar we’ll review some of the features released to iCarol in recent months including:
- New ways to engage with your community
- Flexibility in resource record management
- Greater control over user capabilities
We’ll also discuss how each of these new features can be used in your day-to-day work, and how they can improve and expand your service offerings.
The webinar is typically most beneficial and interesting to current iCarol clients who are Program Managers or Directors and use iCarol at an Admin security level, or those who are considering subscribing to iCarol. That said, all are welcome to attend.
This is part of our commitment to providing excellent communication about iCarol capabilities, updates, and enhancements on a regular basis. We hope you’ll join us!
Click here to Register
Interested, but can’t make it on the 21st? No worries, we’ll have the recording available on our website shortly after the live broadcast.
Available space is filling up fast! If you haven’t already, please be sure to register for our Quarterly Enhancement Review scheduled for next Wednesday January 6th at 12pm EDT.
Because iCarol is a web-based program, our software is updated and new features deployed via regular releases. In this webinar we plan to review some of our best and most useful features from recent months, and give you a few exclusive sneak peeks at features being released very soon. Just some of the advantages of these new tools? You can:
- Improve your chat and text service delivery
- Increase productivity and efficiency when providing resource and referral services
- Enhance communication within your networks
- Meet your follow-up mandates with less impact on your staff
- Gather data from the public, your clients, potential volunteers and others via new channels
- And more!
We hope you can join us next week and hear in person about all the latest tools that help your daily workflow. Please click the link below to register. Can’t join us on the 6th? The webinar recording will be up on our site shortly after the webinar ends.
Click here to Register
You may have noticed some new tabs and tools recently added to your Repeat Caller Profiles. Here’s a look at what they can do.
The Referrals tab shows the most recent referrals from your resource database that were attached to Call Report forms filled out for this caller. They’re listed with the most recent referrals at the top, and older referrals further down the list. Clicking on the Date will take you directly to the finished Call Report where this referral was attached. Clicking on the name of the referral will take you directly to that resource record.
This is a quick way to see what referrals have recently been suggested to your caller, so you can ask them if those referrals have been helpful, or prompt discussions about progress in their situation or treatment plans.
The Follow-ups tab shows approximately 50 of the most recent Follow-up Activities scheduled on Call Reports filled out for the caller. The view here shows the Date on which the Follow-up is due, Status, and Subject line for a quick summary. Like the Referrals tab, each Date is a clickable link that will take you directly to the Call Report form where this Follow-up Activity was assigned.
This can be useful in a number of ways, because even repeat callers can benefit from follow-up calls. Some experts have suggested that receiving a call directly from the helpline during times of high stress or crisis can help repetitive users of the service better respect boundaries or comply with call limits. This list provides a quick way to see how many activities are set up for this caller, the frequency at which they’re being scheduled, and whether they’ve been completed or not.
Public Resource Directory Activity
Each caller profile has a field where an Email can be entered.
We can also enable the capability for visitors to your Public Resource Directory (PRD) to create accounts and save lists. (Contact our Support Team if you’d like to have this enabled for your PRD)
If this client were to create an account on your Public Resource Directory using the same email indicated in their profile, information about when their PRD account was created, when they last logged in to your PRD, and their saved Resource records is shared on the Website tab of the profile.
If you’d like to track this information for any PRD user, our Support Team can set up a process where each new PRD account created will automatically create a Caller Profile in your system. Just ask us to enable this capability for you.
We hope you’ll enjoy using these new features of the Caller Profile. If you encounter any questions, please reach out to the Support Team for help.
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!