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Posts Tagged ‘iCarol Features’

Join Our Summit in St. Louis

Right now the information and referral industry is in the midst of transformation. In a time where there are varying challenges facing our communities, help-seekers need the expertise and hands-on guidance of information and referral specialists now more than ever. And, in an ever-evolving mobile and connected world, consumers are hanging up their phones in favor of the convenience of communication via texting, live chat, and simply finding the right resources on their own via the web. Meanwhile, stakeholders desire access to data about the needs of the clients served by helplines, the efficacy of the services, and the gaps between human needs and the availability of services to meet them. These changes, and the need to adapt to them in order to stay relevant, can understandably overwhelm members of the industry, from visionaries and leaders to helpline staff.

AIRS Summit quote for blog

Coming from helpline backgrounds ourselves, we’ve always been passionate about creating tools that make helping people even easier. We want to share our insights with you, and that’s why this year we’re holding a special day long intensive training summit just before the AIRS conference in St. Louis. Whether you’re a long-term customer or are considering iCarol for use in your I&R center, please join us to focus on best practices using iCarol, led by our staff of Certified Resource Specialists. Focused on 2-1-1 Directors, Call Center Directors and Resource Managers, you’ll learn about:

  • Strategies for getting the most out of the software
  • Cases studies from our clients using iCarol for innovative solutions
  • Serving clients by phone, web, chat and text in one integrated system
  • Applying the AIRS Standards and using the taxonomy well
  • Advanced training on existing iCarol features and a peek at features coming soon

This day long event will be conveniently located at the same hotel as the AIRS conference, and lunch will be provided.

Learn more and Register

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3(.14) ways to use pie charts

Happy Pi Day! What’s that exactly? Remember geometry and learning about finding the area and perimeter (aka circumference) of circles? To get your calculation correct, you need Pi in your equation. You might also see pi as the Greek letter “π”. It’s the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter — which is always approximately 3.14159… (it’s actually been calculated to over one trillion digits beyond the decimal point!).

In the US and some other countries we write our dates in a MM/DD/YY format so today, March 14th, is 3/14. If you round Pi to it’s ten thousandth decimal place you get 3.1416 which means this year today is the ultimate Pi Day! And even though most other countries write their dates in a DD/MM format, today is generally accepted as Pi Day worldwide since we only have 12 months. If you’re nerdy like me, you can read more about Pi Day here. Yes, it’s a real thing. Yes, it has its own website.

In honor of Pi Day, here are 3 interesting uses of pie charts in iCarol.

1. A Bird’s Eye View

Use Pie Charts to give you a sort of broad overview of how the numbers or percentages are shaping up for a certain sub-category of your call form. Or, use it as an overview of your location breakdowns.

In the Analysis tab of Statistics, when selecting Chart Type, you have two Pie Charts to choose from, either Caller Issues and Demographics (which will start by showing you all the Categories on your call form) or Caller Location.

pie chart

The resulting charts are below. If you selected the Caller Issues and Demographics chart you get this broad overview of your call form Categories.

categories pie chart

And if you selected the Location pie chart you’ll see a high level look at the geographic location entries.

location pie chart

2. Drill down to get more detail

Once you’ve got that high level pie chart available, you can click on pieces of the pie to drill into the data below. Drilling into a Category will then show you the sub-categories that are available. These sub-categories are the Groups or questions asked within each category on your call form. On a location chart, drilling into the State or Province piece of the pie will show you the county level information.

If we take our Caller Issues and Demographics chart above and drill into the mauve colored “Issues” category, we’ll see the Issue choices of sub-categories.

Issues pie chart

If we click on the “Mental Health/Counseling” piece of the pie, we’ll drill down to the lowest available level, which are the field choices or answer options within that sub-category. These are the items you may find in the drop-down or list of check box choices on the call form.

mental health field choices

As mentioned, if you drill further down into the location pie chart, you’d get the counties breakdown. So if I click on Nevada, I’ll see the Nevada counties chosen.

Nevada counties

Clicking on Eureka county shows me how the city numbers shape up for that county.

Eureka cities

3. Percentage vs. Count

Remember if percentages aren’t really your thing and you’d like to see a count instead, just click the “Total Count” option for any of the pie charts shown.

Count vs Percentage

Now that I’ve told you a bit more about pie charts in iCarol, I suggest you go celebrate Pi Day in the truly best way possible — enjoy a piece of real, edible pie.

923px-Cherry-Pie-Slice

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Coming soon: Powerful upgrades to our infrastructure

While we are proud of the fact that our total uptime in 2015 of 99.955% exceeded our goal of 99.95%, we understand that any downtime, no matter how brief or infrequent, impacts you and ultimately the people you serve. On February 28th we’ll complete a transition to new, even more powerful infrastructure to support our users. This change will affect our NA0 data center in Toronto upon which most of our clients are hosted, and will occur without impact or downtime to our users.

Once the transition has finished, you’ll enjoy enhanced system response that will improve your workflow. The redundancies included in this upgrade will drastically reduce already infrequent downtimes. This technology investment will also create an even more scalable system; as you build your partnerships and as we continue welcoming new helplines into the iCarol family, you can rest assured iCarol will continue to grow and will be able to more than accommodate your needs for added activity and data storage.

We look forward to continuing to serve you by aggressively investing in the best systems to support your life-saving work. If you have any questions about the upcoming upgrades or reliability, we invite you to open a case with our support team, and we’ll be delighted to assist you.

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How many of your taxonomy terms are being used in searches?

As often is the case, an interesting topic was recently posed on the AIRS networker, to which many of the Information and Referral industry professionals added their own thoughts and experiences.

The original question was one many can identify with: What database search method works best for your specialists? With a number of options available, such as your own home-built hierarchy of categories and keywords, or the taxonomy as another example, which do you prefer and use?

This prompted another related question: With the many thousands of potential taxonomy terms available for assignment and searching, how many terms account for the majority of your searches? Could your top 20 or even top 10 terms searched actually account for a very large number of your overall searches? Meaning that many of the terms assigned to your resource records are rarely if ever being keyed into searches.

Neil took a look at the data available to us to shed some light on this. Here are Neil’s findings as posted in the AIRS networker thread:

Looking at all iCarol clients in North America, which represent a substantial portion of 2-1-1’s and I&R’s, yields some interesting results.

In addition to tracking the actual Needs using the taxonomy, we also track what was searched as a possible Need (whether it was marked as a Need or not) by the I&R Specialist.

In Q4’2015, here are the percentage of Needs searched out of all searches for phone, chat and text interactions by an I&R Specialist (but for now, not public website searches):

  • Top 10 Needs searched = 45%
  • Top 20 Needs searched = 57%

This echoes what others have posted here. Granted, due to the season, there was a bit of a skew toward holiday-related Needs, but I wanted to work with a relatively recent date range. Rolling up to Level 3 of the taxonomy, to filter out the (significant) variation at lower levels:

  • Top 10 Needs searched = 55%
  • Top 20 Needs searched = 71%

…which not surprisingly shows even more consolidation.

So on a wider scale, this confirms what you’re seeing locally.

It does make me wonder what the cause and effect may be. Are these truly the majority of caller Needs needing consideration during a call/chat/text? Or do we have a bias towards searching for Needs with which we are more familiar? The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but I’d be keen to hear ideas about changes we could make in training, in our software, and possibly in the taxonomy that could help I&R Specialists familiarize themselves with less-used Needs, as [name omitted] is pointing out in this thread using the medical and dental examples.

For this and more great discussion, as always we suggest you look at AIRS membership for networker participation.

We welcome your thoughts and input on Neil’s findings above, please leave us a comment below to continue the discussion.

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Improve your follow-up participation

The success of your follow-up program hinges in part on how many contacts you can make and how much outcome data you can collect. And that is very dependent upon how many help-seekers will agree to take part in your program.

Asking a client to agree to a follow-up can be intimidating, and it takes skill and experience to ensure their participation. Here are some tips guaranteed to turn more of your inbound contacts into follow-up opportunities.

Build rapport – The success or failure of getting a caller to agree to a follow-up contact actually begins from the first moments of the call. Building rapport and trust between the specialist and help-seeker is a key component to the success of the call itself, but also impacts the chances of future contacts. If your specialist struggles to make a connection, or the client doesn’t feel heard or helped, they’re unlikely to welcome a call back. But, if your help-seeker feels connected to the call specialist and feels a sense of trust, they’re much more likely to agree to hear from your service again.

Don’t ask – One strategy that will help you get a “Yes” is to not ask them the question at all. Asking someone, “Can I call you back tomorrow?” gives them a choice of saying “Yes” or “No.” What if you make the assumption that they want to hear back from you? Instead of asking permission, try telling them you’re going to reach out to them again, and put them in position of having to refuse. Sound uncomfortable? It’s all about the delivery and can take some skill to pull off. Some example phrasing:

  • “I’m so glad you reached out to us today. Hey, I’m going to call you back tomorrow just to see how things are going, what time is good for you?”

  • “I want to check in and see how you’re feeling tomorrow, what’s the best number to reach you at?”

  • “Just to be sure you got everything you needed, I’m going to call you back to make sure those referrals could help you. How’s Thursday afternoon?”

  • “When we get back in touch to check in, what works better for you, should I text you or call you?”

  • “We want to help you through this, I’ll check in again tomorrow to see how you’re feeling.”
If done correctly, your client won’t feel pushed or pressured, they’ll feel cared for.

Pick your moment – There’s no rule saying that you have to schedule the follow-up contact at the end of the interaction. If there’s a moment earlier in the call that feels right, take the opportunity then. Maybe it’s when you’re giving referral information, or at a moment when the person needs to be reassured that you truly care. If you find that moment at some point earlier in the conversation, schedule the follow-up then, or at a minimum, plant the seed, and continue your conversation. Then come back to the topic at the end of the call to remind them you’ll be following up and firm up the details.

Avoid the “S” Word – Surveys and feedback are important, no doubt, and there’s a great likelihood you’ll need to collect data from the client when you follow-up. But, there’s usually no reason the help-seeker needs to know this when scheduling the follow-up. The word “survey” can be a turn off to many people, so knowing this is expected of them may discourage the very thought of being called back. If you must give them notice of this, then the word “feedback” may be safer (e.g. We’d like to call you back and get your feedback”). If possible, don’t mention either when you’re scheduling the follow-up contact. Instead…

Make it about them – The client should feel like you’re following up because you care, because you want to know they’re okay, because you want to continue helping. This shouldn’t be hard, because of course you DO care and you DO want to keep helping! The more you make them feel like there’s nothing in it for you, and that it’s all about being there for them, the better your chances that they’ll want to hear from you again. And the more successfully you do this, the more eager they’ll be to give back to you by answering your survey questions when the time comes.

Continue helping – Speaking of what’s in it for them, don’t forget to let your callers know that they have something to gain from hearing from you again. Having the chance to talk about their situation again may be an attractive prospect. Maybe you can offer them additional referrals, or brainstorm more options with them dependent upon what’s transpired since you last spoke. If they feel like you’re an ally on this journey with them, they’ll welcome continued contact.

Give them options – Give your help-seekers options for how they can hear back from you, and consider how they reached you as a guide for how they may wish to be contacted again. Phone callers may wish to be called back, but make sure they know you can text them or email them, too, if those provisions are in place. Research conducted by Varolii Corporation in 2013 found that text messaging was quickly becoming the preferred channel of communication for most American consumers, and one in five consumers were equally likely to prefer a text message as they are receiving a voice call. Consider your client’s age as well – 36% of 18 to 24 year olds said a text message was their preferred form of communication with businesses. For help-seekers whose initial interaction happened via live chat or text, there’s a good chance they’ll reject a follow-up by phone. Convenience may be key for some clients; your ability to reach back out by alternative channels could improve the chances they’ll agree to future contacts from your service.

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9-1-1 texting continues to gain ground

We’ve talked before about how sometimes the need for silence will influence people to use texting instead of a voice call. Sometimes silence isn’t preferred, but necessary, such as in this recent instance of a deaf woman who texted 9-1-1 after she noticed some children left unattended at a shopping mall. Luckily texting to 9-1-1 was enabled in her area.

Texting to 9-1-1 is continuing its expansion throughout the United States and Canada. The Canadian Wireless Telecommunication Association has set up an extensive and detailed website giving overview of the Text-to-911 process in Canada.

In the United States, it seems like each month more and more jurisdictions are adding on texting capabilities. A quick scan of recent news articles about texting 9-1-1 in the US produces alerts about the greater Kansas City area, Minnesota, areas in Texas, and northern California. Note that each of those articles was published this week. It all points to rapid expansion of that technology.

Just another sign of the times as we continue to see just how convenient, efficient, and often necessary texting can be when reaching out for help. We hope helplines will take note as this capability expands and explore texting for the helpline service to follow suit. If you want to learn how Texting works in iCarol, please join me for a Messaging webinar sometime!

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How to Read Call Report Exports

Call report exports in iCarol contain a lot of data, and it can be challenging to understand what is being shown or where to find the particular data you are looking for. This article will review how to request a call report export, the different files one receives when they complete a call report export, and what data is shown in these files.

Requesting a Call Report Export

To request a call report export, users with Admin security will click Admin Tools, in the left hand menu, then the Tools tab, then the link “Extract all of your data” in the Data Export section.

request_an_export

On the data export page, the right hand column will be used to request a call report export.

Data export details

The first drop-down menu, which shows “7 days ago” in the screenshot above, is a quick suggestion list you can use to denote what time frame you want to use for the resource export. If you would like to indicate a specific time frame for the export, use the two date field to denote a start and end date. Next, there are 3 check boxes to indicate what kind of export you would like to request; place a check mark next to “Call Reports”.

Under the title “Call Report export options”, you will see some information that says “Custom field columns will be ordered alphabetically. If you prefer a specific form’s fields to be first, please choose it below”. This is referring to the custom categories, groups and field that are in your call report. In the call report export, there will be one column for every custom group in your call report form, and these will be identified in this format: Category Name – Group Name. For example, Demographics – Gender. These columns will be arranged alphabetically by Category name. If your export will contain data from several different call reports, all categories from all call reports will be listed alphabetically. To say this another way, the columns, representing Categories, will not be in the order you see in the call reports, and categories from different call reports will follow each other, instead of all Categories from one call report first, then followed by the second call report, and so on. By choosing a particular call report with this option however, you can have all the categories from that call report come first, in alphabetical order, then followed by all the rest of the categories from all the rest of the call reports.

In the next section, you will choose which call reports you would like to export. By default, all call reports in your system are checked. If you would only like to export certain call reports, you will uncheck those you do not want to export. For those clients that only have one call report in their system, you will not see a list of call reports.

Finally, to run the call report export, you will click the “Start creating” button, found under the list of call reports.

Start Creating

As indicated in the note above the “Start creating” button, you will get an email when the export is ready. At that time, you will return to this page and you will find a link, on the right hand side of the screen, which you will click to download the export files. Usually, exports will be ready in an hour or two, but sometimes will take longer. Exports that contain a lot of data and cover a large period of time will take longer to generate, and if you request an export at a time when many other clients are requesting exports (for example, at the beginning of the month), your export will take longer to generate.

Call Report Export Files Received

When you return to the exports page after receiving the email that your export is ready, the export will be found on the right hand side of the screen as below.

Exports ready

Click on the download you would like to open. When it opens, you will see you have received several different files, as shown below.

Export file list

Call Report Export Files Explained

CallReports

This is the most often referred to call report export file, as it contains all the data collected for every call report submitted in the time frame indicated for the call report export. This file has a column for every field in the call report, both “standard” iCarol fields, and custom categories, groups and fields. Some highlights of this export are outlined below.

call reports file detail
Click on the image above to see a larger version

Column C, LinkedToCallReportNum, will only have data in it if you are using embedded call reports. Embedded call reports are call reports that are related to each other. Many clients embed separate risk assessments to call reports, and other clients embed follow-up forms, for example. If there is an embedded call report linked to the call report shown in the row in the export, the call report number of the linked call report will be noted in this column.

Column G, CallerNum, will only show something different than -1 if a caller profile was chosen for the call report. iCarol gives a number to all caller profiles which will be noted in this column.

Column K, PhoneWorkerNum, will show the number iCarol assigned to each of your users.

call reports file detail 2
Click on the image above to see a larger version

Columns M through R refer to an old way of tracking non-transactional calls that we are not using for newer clients. Older clients may still be using this tool, which places a horizontal list of checkboxes just below the Contact Information section at the top of the call report, as shown below.

Call Report Contact Information

If you are not using this tool, you will always see Yes in column M, and No in columns N-R. If you are using this tool, No will be shown in Column M if Yes is shown in in one of the columns N through R, indicating that the call was a hangup, obscene, prank, wrong number, or silent call.

Columns U-AA indicate the caller’s location as noted in the location fields in the Contact Information section (shown in the screenshot above). Each iCarol client can determine which of these location fields appear; some clients choose to turn some or all of these location fields off. Even if these fields are turned off in all your call reports, these columns will still appear in the export, they will just be blank.

call reports file detail 3
Click on the image above to see a larger version

Columns AF-AP all refer to fields in the Contact Information section of the call report. Again, some clients choose to turn some or all of these fields off. Even if they are turned off, they will still appear in the export, but will be blank.

call reports file detail 4
Click on the image above to see a larger version

Column AQ is first default text field on the Content Tab of the call report. By default, this field is called “Call Description”, though this name can be changed.

Column AR is the “Worker’s Comments” text field on the Content tab. This field can be turned off; even if it is turned off, this column will still show on the export, but will be blank.

Column AS is the “Feedback from supervisors and staff” text field on the Content tab. This field, and therefore, the feedback function, can be turned off but again, the column will still appear in the call report export.

Column AT is the “Caller’s Feedback” text field on the Content tab. This field can be turned off but again, the column will still appear in the call report export.

Columns AU-BC are additional text fields that can be added to the Content tab. These additional text fields are added via the “Overall settings for this call report form” page when editing call reports using the call report editor. Again, even if these additional fields are not used, they will appear in the call report export.

call reports file detail 5
Click on the image above to see a larger version

Column BD will contain a number other than -1 if the worker who entered the call report is not a deleted user. iCarol assigns a Worker Number to all users in your system.

Column BH refers to the “reviewed for accuracy” function that clients can turn on via the Calls tab in Admin Tools.

Columns BI-BK refers to the feedback function in iCarol. If feedback is being given on call reports, there will be data in these columns.

Column BL will show all the referrals given to the caller, both those found in the resource database and linked to the call report, and out of database referrals, if that functionality is turned on. Please note that if more than one referral was given, the referrals will be separated by semi-colons in this column of the export.

Column BM refers specifically to instant messaging call reports where the IP address of the visitor is recorded in the call report.

call reports file detail 6
Click on the image above to see a larger version

The custom categories and groups added to the call report begin at column BN. All columns before this point were “standard” iCarol fields, some of which can be turned off in the call report. All custom categories and groups, as stated earlier, are arranged alphabetically by Category name, then Group name. In the example call report export shown in the screenshot above, you can see the first 5 custom groups in the call report listed by their Category name, then Group name. The data you find in each row for these columns will indicate what Field was selected in the Group if it is a drop-down or checkbox Group, or what text was entered if the Group is formatted as a text Group.

CallReportCustomFields

Call Report Custom Fields

This report shows the selections made in custom categories, groups and fields for all call reports submitted in the time frame of your export. Each block of color in the screenshot above represents one call report, as indicated by the call report number in column A. Please note that column F is labeled “SubCategoryName” which is also known as the Group, and column G is labeled “Answer”, also known as the Field. If a Group is formatted as text, the text entered into that group will be shown in column I.

CallReportFollowups

Call Report Follow Ups

This file will show follow-up activities created or edited during the time frame of the call report export. Please note, a follow-up activity created outside of the time frame indicated will not be included in this file, but if that same activity was edited in the time frame, it will be shown in this file. The columns in this file refer to the fields found in the “Schedule a Follow-up activity section” on the Finish tab of call reports. Each client can control which fields appear in this section via the Calls tab of Admin Tools. However, all of the columns will appear in the export even if you have turned off a specific field, they will just be blank.

Please note columns J-L. These fields will be populated if the client has turned on, via the Calls tab in Admin Tools, the function to note follow-ups with a purpose (assistance, advocacy or survey). If this function is turned on, the follow-up purpose will be selected from a drop-down menu that will appear at the top of the “Schedule a Follow-up activity” section.

CallReportNeedsMetAndUnmet

Call Report Needs Met And Unmet
Click on the image above to see a larger version
Call Report Needs Met And Unmet 2
Click on the image above to see a larger version
Call Report Needs Met And Unmet 3
Click on the image above to see a larger version
Call Report Needs Met And Unmet 4

This export only applies to those clients using the Needs by Taxonomy function, where each call report notes a need, and any referrals made are noted as meeting the need or not. This file includes:

  • the referral made (columns D and E)
  • the Need noted (columns F and G)
  • the caller’s location and phone number (columns H-N)
  • if the Need was unmet, and if so, the reason (columns O-P)
  • the breakdown of the taxonomy term chosen as the need (columns Q-Z)
  • the AIRS Need Category the need falls into (column AD)
  • the parent agency the referral belongs to (columns AF and AG)

CallReportsLinkedTogether

Call Reports Linked Together

This very small export (only 2 columns of data) only applies to those clients using embedded call reports. As noted earlier, embedded call reports are a way to link two different call reports together. Two common ways this is being used is for separate risk assessment call reports, and follow-up call reports. This report will show the call report numbers of those call reports that are linked together, or related.

CallReportsOutofDatabaseReferrals

Call Reports Out of Database Referrals

For those clients using the Out of Database Referrals functionality, this file will contain the details of the out of database referrals made during the time frame of the export. Any details of the resource that the call taker included (Agency name, Program name, phone number, address, website, etc.) will be shown in this file.

Analysis of Export Files

The files are exported in .csv format, which can be displayed by Microsoft Excel. It is highly recommended that one have some knowledge of how to use Excel and its various functions to aid in analysing the data in the export files. There are many books, websites and courses that can teach one to use Excel.

One particularly helpful function is filtering. Using filtering, one can find very specific call reports. For example, you could use filtering to find all call reports from male callers (assuming, of course, that the gender of the caller is recorded in the call report). You can add an unlimited amount of filters to find increasingly specific call reports, such as male callers over the age of 60 who lives in Beverly Hills and discussed physical health concerns during their call.

In some cases, the particular data you might like to analyse will be contained in separate export files. For example, details on follow-ups are not contained in the same file as selections made in custom Groups. In this case, learning how to create pivot tables in Excel is very useful. In this way, you can link two files together to get a full picture of the call itself and the follow-up.

One last note – if you would like to save an export file to your hard drive, ensure you save it as an Excel file extension (.xlsx or .xls for example).

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4 staffing strategies to help you weather the storm

blizzard snow storm

Ample staffing at your non-profit helpline is always a top challenge, but bad weather brings with it a whole new set of staffing hurdles. Snowy and icy conditions* can especially spell trouble for seamless shift coverage. Particularly powerful storms not only disrupt travel for days, but they have the potential to impact essential infrastructure like electricity and running water. These weather events take strategy and pre-planning to work through them successfully.

Depending on the severity of the storm, you may have no special plan at all except to tell your specialists that 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 can’t make it in must give ample notice and find substitutes who are able to travel. iCarol’s shift scheduling tools support you and your staff throughout this process; automatic substitute request emails greatly improve the visibility of your needs and the chances of pick-ups from others.
    • Pros: Little to no prior planning or change to your normal operations.

      Cons: The absence of any back up plan can spell trouble, so you should have some alternative options in mind just in case. Your volunteers may have the best intentions of making it in, but the reality is that Mother Nature can easily stop us in our tracks and there’s only so much a person can realistically do when faced with heavy accumulations and impassable roads. You won’t want to be faced with the scenario where the previous shift is stuck with no relief. Take a moment to also consider the consequences of a potential road accident and injury to your volunteer when traveling in dangerous conditions, and the emotional and potentially litigious repercussions of demanding that volunteers travel in unsafe conditions. Further, when a State of Emergency is declared, it often requires that road travelers have their vehicle outfitted with special equipment, and drivers disobeying the order may even be fined.
  • 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 lead on operations for a period of time. Our Call Report form sharing functionality makes it easy for you to pass your service delivery on to other centers, while they use your preferred form(s) to log the interactions they’re taking on your behalf. This also ensures your data collection and the resulting reporting can be seamless regardless of who is actually providing the service.
    • Pros: Less direct impact on you, your volunteers, and staff during the event. Being able to simply forward your service to someone else is very convenient.

      Cons: This does come with a few sacrifices. First, your service delivery is being entrusted to others for a period of time. Necessary MOU’s and other contracts should be in place well in advance to ensure that same or acceptable level of service will be provided by the back up center. Consider any financial compensation that must be paid out as well. And you’ll want to have understandings about proper data collection, call handling policies, and more.
  • Work from home – Technology has made it easier than ever to turn any setting into a call center, even your workers’ homes. Calls could get forwarded to that worker’s personal phone or a phone loaned to them from the office. 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 staff and volunteers permissions to install the iCarol Certification Tool on their computer. You can read more about this here.
    • Pros: You’re unlikely to get much push back from your volunteers or staff about this plan; the idea of staying warm, cozy, and off the roads will send many a helpline worker to their happy place. Plus, you won’t have to worry about people physically making it in to the call center for their shift. Worried about productivity? The term is referred to as “shirking from home” — the concern that your employees won’t actually get anything done and left to their own devices will shirk their responsibilities. The good news is, numerous studies have discovered that this is a generally unfounded fear. A Stanford University study of call center workers found home work resulted in a 13% performance increase, people took fewer breaks and sick days, and 4% more calls per minute handled thanks in part to a quieter and more convenient working environment. Home workers also reported improved work satisfaction, and their attrition rate was cut in half. These days there are plenty of communication methods available making it so that remote workers won’t feel disconnected. Keep in mind that with iCarol your supervisors can remotely silent monitor chat and text conversations, leave feedback on logged interactions, put out News alerts, send instant messages to your workers via Internal Chat, send emails and SMS messages, and more. Technology has made us more connected with one another than ever before, even if we’re physically separated by many miles.

      Cons: Most modern phone systems have many remote controls that allow you to sign in remotely and forward calls as needed, but some might require you to be on-site to activate the call transfers. If there are no remote capabilities for controlling where the calls are landing, then that means someone has to make it into the office to flip the switches, possibly rendering the work-from-home scenario moot. You’ll also want to consider home office digital security, and whether or not having employees work off-site violates the terms of any of your contracts. There’s also the matter of assuring your volunteers and staff have a suitable work environment free from distraction or disruptive noise or potential confidentiality violations. They also won’t be able to take advantage of some of the infrastructure that may be available at your center, like battery backups or generators in case of a power outage.
  • 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.
    • Pros: Again, you’ll be free from having to worry about workers traveling or one shift getting stuck because relief didn’t arrive. The whole idea here is that they know they’ll be stuck for awhile, and they’re (hopefully) okay with that. This is a policy you could develop long before winter weather strikes, so that you aren’t faced with a chaotic scramble for a solution just before a blizzard hits. You may even cultivate your list of willing participants ahead of time as well. Being able to make these decisions in advance without the storm bearing down on you is certainly a benefit, simply activate the plan when needed.

      Cons: Directors, Managers, and other decision-makers will want to stay in close contact and clearly communicate expectations, especially concerning staff arrival time and decisions about when normal operations should resume. Volunteer or staff health and well-being is a concern. Does your call center have adequate facilities to keep them comfortable for an extended stay of 24 hours or more? Think about bathrooms, bathing and personal hygiene, and food access and preparation. Mentally and emotionally, how will your staff deal with being at the office for a long period of time? They’ll need to have regular breaks and take time for uninterrupted sleep, which means this plan usually requires at least two participants. You’ll also want to review labor laws in your area to be sure your policy doesn’t violate ordinances relating to a worker’s right to ample breaks, and whether or not additional financial compensation is required.

    How do you keep your helpline operating in spite of dangerous travel conditions for your volunteers and staff?Do you employ one of the strategies above, or do you handle winter storm scheduling some other way? We’d love to hear about it! Leave us a comment!

    * While this article refers specifically to blizzards and other winter weather conditions, these strategies could be employed during any disaster scenario, natural or man-made.

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    Our next Quarterly Enhancement Webinar is next week!

    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

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