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
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.
Last week Eliisa, Jackie, and I spent time in Detroit at the annual conference held jointly by the National Association of Crisis Organization Directors (NASCOD) and CONTACT USA (CUSA).
The conference was held in the Renaissance Center, which is an incredible complex of several buildings right on the Detroit waterfront. The complex contains the Marriott Hotel, a number of restaurants and a food court, business offices, a GM showroom, and more. It’s a bustling center filled with activity and industry and a pretty cool place to visit.
Photo shared from the Marriott website
Attending these conferences serves a couple of purposes for us. It gives members of our team a chance to meet in person to work on projects that we’re otherwise working on virtually together. While working through online meetings is very productive and has its perks, there’s something to be said for changing it up periodically and getting to nail out some stuff together in the same room. I’m happy to say we had a couple great work sessions that are going to result in some pretty awesome stuff for iCarol.
Jackie, Eliisa, Dana (photographer) and Britt (joining us virtually from Germany!) all working together on marketing and business development activities
Of course one of the other reasons we attend these conferences is to meet up with members of the helpline industry, whether it’s getting some facetime with the clients we know and love, or getting the chance to talk to new friends about iCarol. On Wednesday night we went out to dinner with several leaders of both NASCOD and CUSA for a fantastic meal at Andiamo in the Renaissance Center.
Our dinner was delicious but what was really great was the chance to catch up with the members of these groups, hear about what’s going on at their crisis centers, and discuss all the wonderful and difficult things about operating a helpline. Plus it’s so nice getting to know everyone a little better and just relaxing a bit. Oh and the chocolate tuxedo cake. I mean, for real you guys, it was incredible. So life changing I had to tweet about it.
Our first stop was at Common Ground. This organization is located in Pontiac, Michigan and provides numerous services to the community. Just a few services they offer include: Mobile crisis, face-to-face assessment, crisis intervention and stabilization, crisis residential units, shelter and residential counseling to runaways, victim assistance program, mental health first aid training, and 24-hour helpline that responds via phone, chat, and text. And that really just scratches the surface, I encourage you to explore their website to learn all about their wonderful programs.
We got to tour most of this facility and I found it to be such a welcoming, safe space. You could tell that a lot of care is taken to make the center feel warm and comfortable, for instance the residential unit did not feel at all cold or sterile or “hospital-esque.”
A traveling exhibit featuring art by consumers was on display.
One interesting stop we made on the tour was to one of the recreational rooms which also housed a beautiful kitchen. The executive chef was preparing a special birthday dinner for one of the consumers, and noted that in addition to providing nourishing meals there were components to his work that involved teaching their consumers about food prep, healthy eating, and also providing some counseling services.
The meal being prepared smelled very enticing!
A personal highlight of the tour was getting to see Common Ground’s 24 hour call center. We’re honored to have these guys in the iCarol family and it’s always a treat to see the space in which these hardworking crisis professionals are providing their services. Common Ground provides 24 hour phone support, but they also use iCarol to provide chat and texting to their community. In fact, they’re one of several clients who have gone the way of text-enabling their existing helpline number, which means people can text into the same number that they call. We’re glad to hear that this is going great for Common Ground, and other clients are loving it, too. We’ll be bringing you some success stories around text-enabling in another blog at a later date, but for now you can read more details about text enabling here.
Eliisa with the staff of Common Ground’s 24 hour helpline.
Next up was a visit to Neighborhood Services Organization back in Detroit. Housed in former Bell Yellow Pages facility, as soon as you arrive you can tell that this $50 million community investment was a real labor of love for all involved. You can check out photos of the renovation here and a video on the building’s history and renovation here.
A beautiful mural depicting the Bell Building greets visitors and residents at the entrance.
One program of NSO found in the Bell Building is their Emergency Telephone Service and Suicide Prevention Center (ETS/SPC) which has provided free, 24-hour telephone crisis intervention, suicide prevention and information and referral services for over 37 years. According to NSO’s most recent annual report, in 2014 they responded to 65,743
callers including 750 who were experiencing a suicidal crisis.
LaNeice Jones, Vice President of Programs for NSO and one of our conference hosts, gives us a tour of the call center.
The building also houses NSO staff offices, and contains 155 furnished, one-bedroom apartments for adults who are working their way beyond their former homelessness. NSO provides a full spectrum of services for the residents, including case management, addictions and mental health treatment, and education on financial literacy and nutrition classes. Having all these services located in a single location and easily accessible to the residents helps address the root causes of homelessness and helps restore lives.
At the Bell Building there is also a health care clinic which serves not just residents, but other members of the community. And the facility also includes amenities like a gym, fitness room with treadmills and other exercise equipment, computer lab, chapel, and recreation areas.
Indoor landscaping beautified one common area.
A gymnasium and rooftop garden were among the many amenities.
If I had to pick one overarching theme or message as I walked through Neighborhood Services Organization it was “Home.” This place is so much more than housing. Yes, it puts a roof over someone’s head, but they are also treating the whole person and addressing the challenges that contribute to homelessness. And all this occurs in a beautiful space that brings dignity to their journey, a place where a true community is formed. So, yes, “Home” is such a fitting word. And ironically as I was writing this blog I found this touching video that perfectly sums up that sentiment.
After our tours we headed back to the hotel, but LaNeice had a surprise in store for us first! We stopped at the original location of Motown Records! It was very cool to see this historical site where some of America’s greatest music hits were born.
Stop in the name of love! Dana, LaNeice, and Eliisa pay tribute to The Supremes.
The rest of the conference itself was filled with compelling and highly educational sessions, and we’re sure all the attendees left feeling energized. If you want to catch up on what it was like to attend, check out the hashtag #CrisisDir15 on Twitter. All of us tweeting throughout the conference included this in our tweets and by searching it you can follow along and feel as if you were right there with us (though I hope this blog also accomplished that, too 🙂 ).
If you want to get in on all the fun for future conferences, we highly recommend NASCOD membership and CONTACT USA accreditation. Both of these organizations offer such great resources to their members and are of extreme value to any helpline.
We’re so thankful to have been a part of this conference! Special thanks goes out to the Board of Directors for both NASCOD and CUSA, as well as our conference hosts LaNeice and Lisa who truly made everyone feel welcome and at home in Detroit.
This year’s conference was held in beautiful Baltimore, Maryland. Since I’m from Maryland and still live there, I was quite excited about attending this conference. It’s always fun when so many people from all over the country or world are visiting, perhaps for the first time, a place with which you’re quite familiar. I had a fun time all week sharing little tidbits about my home state with people from out of town.
And, if you ever travel to Baltimore I highly recommend the hotel where the conference was held, the Baltimore Hilton right across from Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Perfectly centrally located for all sorts of fun activities in the city including baseball or football games, and the world famous Inner Harbor. Plus the conference rooms and all the accommodations for the conference were top notch.
Check out this photo taken from my room as the sun sets over Baltimore.
In the center of the photo is the Baltimore Convention Center, just to the lower right of that is the famous Otterbein Church, and if you look just above the Convention Center you’ll see the Inner Harbor in the distance. Like I said, centrally located!
We were invited to attend and present at the pre-conference Helpline Symposium. This was an exciting opportunity to show many of the NCPG affiliates all around the country how iCarol chat and text works. iCarol is the provider for NCPG’s national text and chat lines, so when a chat comes through that website or a text comes through that national text number, it will be routed to an affiliate center based on routing criteria like availability and location. So, as affiliates choose to come online and be part of that national chat and text network, we’ll be ready and delighted to help get them set up on iCarol. It’s another great example of the networks and collaborations that can be built using iCarol. We hope to bring you more information about this network and how it’s growing as time goes on.
Here’s Donna presenting information about the national chat and text network. Special thanks to Robyn from the Louisiana affiliate and Amy from the National Council on Problem Gambling, who helped us do a live demonstration!
The Helpline Symposium was a great chance to hear from affiliates about their experiences. A number of really interesting topics were discussed, such as marketing challenges facing the industry. Coming up with effective, consistent messaging, and increasing visibility and awareness of problem gambling issues, as well as promoting where people can get help, were all among the topics this engaged and energetic group discussed.
We sure did have a great view from our conference room where the symposium was held, check out the beautiful scene just out the window of Oriole Park at Camden Yards where the Baltimore Orioles play.
Throughout the conference the culture of Maryland was on display in the best of ways. We caught one of Maryland’s famous crabs hanging out with a volunteer during the symposium break!
Of course networking and spending time with friends is a highlight of any conference. We took in a delicious dinner at Dempsey’s located right across the street in the Camden Yards complex. Here’s Donna (center) with industry friends Robyn and Mary posing just outside the ballpark.
Before we knew it, it was time for the welcome reception. What a great event! The baseball theme was tons of fun, everyone was wearing jerseys representing their favorite teams. But it gets better — the food was ballpark themed too! Soft pretzels, popcorn, crackerjacks, a sliders station, and it wouldn’t be an event in Maryland without some crabcakes! We got to visit with so many wonderful people from various parts of the industry, too, since the exhibitor’s hall was all set up, where our booth was located.
The conference kicked off the next day with a great keynote by psychiatrist Dr. David Mee-Lee, who has worked for years as an expert in addiction both substance and non-substance related, as well as co-occurring conditions. It was a really engaging keynote with lots of comic relief via Dr. Mee-Lee’s slideshow.
The breakout sessions were highly informative. I attended sessions on a variety of topics including veteran gambling addiction, gambling addiction as it relates to mental illness such a schizophrenia, and new technologies being used in video gaming units at casinos. I plan to bring you more detail on those interesting topics in the coming months.
Another fun networking event was the Friday evening trip to the American Visionary Art Museum in the Federal Hill area of Baltimore. Fun fact: Just two miles further down the street from the museum is Fort McHenry, where Marylander Francis Scott Key witnessed a battle in the War of 1812 and wrote a poem which would later become the lyrics to the United States’ National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner! See, I told you I enjoyed peppering people with facts about my home state!
While no photos were permitted within the museum, I encourage you to check out their website. It was an extremely unique, thought-provoking place unlike any art museum I’ve been to before!
Next door to the museum was a reception area with more yummy food (four words: crab mac and cheese!) where we took in an exhibit specifically about problem gambling, with pieces of art by students, people in recovery, and family members of problem gamblers.
This was a particularly powerful piece titled “Losing Hand” by artist Jennifer L. Walsh, who experienced the effects of problem gambling through her own mother’s addiction.
The caption reads:
“Losing Hand: Why Gamble When You’ve Already Won” is an image of a losing hand of poker. The player’s hand in the foreground is holding five cards, each with an image of what they have accomplished or gained in their life and what they are actually losing when they gamble.
The Ace of Hearts is the last card in the hand and is slipping out of the thumb’s grip, signifying the loss of family due to the habit.
We had a fantastic time at the conference and enjoyed meeting so many of you in the problem gambling industry. If you didn’t get a chance to chat with us at the conference, please check out our website and contact us for more information on iCarol Helpline Software. Or, feel free to attend one of my regular webinars to get an idea of what we’re all about!
In honor of Pride Month we asked LGBTQI organizations to tell us more about themselves, their work, and what they saw as the highlights in the LGTBQI community and their organization this past year. Check out answers to these questions and more from Ross Jacobs, National Clinical Director of QLife, based in Australia.
Tell us a little about what your organization does, and how specifically you help the LGBTQI community.
QLife is a collaborative project, bringing together five separate agencies to provide telephone and web-based counselling for LGBTI Australians, coast to coast. We operate 365 days a year, with a small team of paid counsellors and workers supporting the efforts of nearly 200 volunteers.
What were your organization’s biggest accomplishments or milestones from the past year? What are you most proud of?
This year, QLife continued to grow, having only existed as a nation-wide collaborative project since mid-2013. (Previously, each partner service provided counselling to only their home state.) Webchat has been a significant part of this service growth, both offering clients a different way to interact, and reaching young clients for whom web chat is a far more comfortable platform than telephone contact.
What were some of the biggest or most impactful stories or moments you saw as they related to the LGBTQI community this past year? They could be happy, sad, momentous, regional, national, or international. What did you observe that really moved you?
One of the most rewarding pieces of work that QLife engaged in this year (beyond our counselling service of course!) was making ‘QLives’, a series of 16 short films featuring the lived experience of LGBTI people in all of our varied shapes and sizes. The QLives films featured heavily on the QLife Facebook page, and can be accessed at any time through our YouTube channel. It seemed to be really effective way to draw in people who may not have known about QLife to the service. We hope that watching stories from the lives of people who have similar life experiences can help people start to think about talking to someone and how this may be able to help them.
When you look to the year ahead, on what topics or issues are you hopeful/anxious/or watching closely to see how they develop?
As is the case in the US, Australia is still going through a process of dragging our political leaders across the marriage equality line that it feels like the public became comfortable with long ago. Beyond this, the mental health of our individual communities, including suicide prevention measures and access to appropriate and suitable medical care, remains an ongoing struggle.
What do you see as some of the biggest challenges still facing the LGBTQI community as a whole, or certain populations within the community?
The way LGBTIQ people are regarded, whether part of the fabric of a wider society or quite separate from it is at the heart of many of our challenges. But happily, the growing awareness, particularly in younger generations, that the individual lives of LGBTIQ people matter and are to be valued is relentlessly increasing. The way we think of ourselves as LGBTIQ people seems to be evolving too. It feels like traditional ideas of a single LGBTIQ community are being challenged, with an understanding that we are actually made up of many different communities that have different needs and interests, even among single identities – there are many distinct ‘types’ of gay men and how people choose to express this, for instance.
Thanks so much to Ross for telling us more about QLife and sharing these thoughts for Pride Month! iCarol is very pleased to be working with QLife as they provide these awesome services to Australia’s LGBTI community. QLife is always happy to talk to others doing similar work across the world, and they’d love to hear from you, via social media (they are on Twitter or Facebook) or by direct email to ! We also encourage our clients to reach out to one another to network or share information via our iCarol User Community found on your Admin Dashboard in iCarol.
Want to have your input and organization highlighted on the blog for Pride Month? Send your answers to the above questions to me !
As the Chat and Text provider for the National Council on Problem Gambling, we’re looking forward to meeting representatives from various state affiliates, as well as the other service providers who’ll be attending the conference. We’re especially excited to be kicking off the pre-conference Helpline Symposium with our own presentation and demonstration of iCarol.
If you’re planning to attend the conference we’d sure love to hear from you so we can schedule some time to connect while in Baltimore. Please plan to stop by our booth or we’d love it if you would to us ahead of time so we can schedule some time to chat with you!
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!
When it’s time to pick a Live Chat or Texting platform for your helpline, you’ve got a lot to consider. Your crisis intervention service needs tools that will help you meet grant requirements, comply with accreditations and certifications, and report on the data collected during client interactions. But most important of all, you need to be a source of online emotional support for your visitors and provide excellent service to them.
You provide a vital service to your community, and a generic, out-of-the-box solution just won’t cut it. Here are 15 functions of iCarol Messaging that will actually help improve your suicide prevention or crisis intervention service.
Total control of availability – With iCarol messaging you have complete control over when your text or chat service is online and available, using the integrated Shift Scheduling tool right within iCarol. If using Live Chat, visitors to your website will only see you as Online if you have an active shift set up with workers assigned. Similar with texting, if a shift is not set up or no one is assigned to that shift, a visitor who texts in will get a friendly message letting them know your service is currently offline, and it can advise them of when you’re next available.
Bonus – Experiencing a surge of phone calls due to a local event, crisis, or other emergent situation, and need your workers to turn their attention to those calls? Or perhaps your queue of online help-seekers is full and your specialists need time to catch up before inviting more visitors in. You can take your service offline temporarily with the click of a button so your workers can address those messages. You can quickly turn your messaging services back on when you’re ready to open up the queue again.
Collect info up front – Registration and Pre-chat surveys let you collect the necessary data at the start of the chat, and straight from the visitor themselves. You can keep it simple, like asking for basic demographic information, or ask questions like, “What’s your main concern today?” or “How upset are you?” with a list of available options. These questions are highly customizable, so you can collect whatever information you need. This data will be presented to your counselors, helping prepare them for the conversation and giving them valuable insight on how to best serve the help seeker.
Furthermore, the answers to these pre-chat survey questions can have values applied to them, unbeknownst to the visitor, that can flag a visitor as being potentially high risk, based on how they answer certain questions or as a calculation of the entirety of their answers. This risk level will be displayed as the visitor enters your queue, helping your volunteers and staff do necessary triage, assign higher risk chats to more experienced counselors, or provide with quality assurance.
Bonus – Need to limit your interactions to visitors in a certain geographic area? We’ve got you covered. If you ask visitors their zip code or postal code during Registration and a Pre-chat survey, iCarol will automatically screen for geographic area, allowing only those in your defined area to participate. Visitors from outside the area will get a friendly list of alternate sources of help.
Support for Volunteers and Staff – Your Chat Specialists could face some challenging chats. iCarol offers tools that ensure your workers can rely on peers and supervisors for support when needed. Right from within the conversation window a counselor can ask for help from their direct supervisor. Workers can also send an email or text message to any colleague or supervisor, without ever leaving iCarol. Finally, our Internal Chat tool is a way for people signed in to iCarol to type quick messages to one another. Chat Specialists could ask a colleague for advice on appropriate referrals or tips on how to help a visitor. As a Helpline Director you and other supervisors could be available for consultation while you’re in the call center, or you could sign in from your home computer to check in with workers on shifts occurring after you’ve already left the office for the day.
Resource and Referral – It’s common during conversations, whether they’re over the phone or through live chat or text, that a help seeker may need services beyond what your helpline offers. Food pantries, shelter, financial assistance, or professional counseling are just a few examples. Every iCarol system includes a resource database that you can populate with all the information about your own local community resources. You can search this database of services while chatting with a visitor and deliver those referrals right within their messaging window, so they can get any further help they may need. Of course, the system retains the statistics about these referrals for reporting later on.
Silent Monitoring – Supervisors can also navigate to the chat queue and review the active messages going on between their counselors and the visitors. Further, they can look in on those individual conversations to provide help or quality assurance.
Assess Risk – With access to suicide risk assessment tools (developed by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) your specialists have tools to help guide them through any necessary suicide risk assessment. This includes suggestions for talking points or questions to pose to the visitor or work into the conversation, with possible answers for your chat specialist to mark. As those areas are answered, a measurement is provided that helps guide the counselor as to the level of risk. Nothing replaces the experience and gut instinct of your trained specialists, but this tool provides a quantitative measurement to help guide them.
Tools for rescue – One of the biggest points of apprehension that we hear about concerning Online Emotional Support concerns the ability to send emergency personnel to help-seekers in imminent danger. The anonymity that has so many flocking to this mode of support brings with it some challenges when it comes to imminent danger situations. Statistically speaking, rescue is probably a rare occurrence at most centers when you think about just how many calls about suicide your center answers. We all know that what your callers tend to need most when they’re considering suicide is empathetic, non-judgmental listening. Most people just need to express their feelings to someone who won’t become uncomfortable or shut down the conversation. Having a safe place to talk about their feelings is hugely helpful.
But there are those instances where someone may be in danger and in need of intervention. If you’ve determined a visitor is in need of emergency assistance, best practices suggest that it’s best to engage the help-seeker and try to get them to participate in their own rescue by providing that critical location information. But if they will not, iCarol will make available to your worker the Internet Service Provider (ISP) and IP Address which can be turned over to law enforcement. This information can typically be used by the authorities who will work with that ISP to determine where the user of that IP Address is physically located. With clients who are texting you, at your option you can access their full phone number for use in an emergency.
As your center plans to add Online Emotional Support to your services, it’s a good idea to contact local law enforcement and start to explore how they might help your center if these situations arise. And if your center does not have a need for this information or if having access to an ISP or IP Address or full phone number of a visitor stands in contention with your policies about confidentiality and privacy, we’ll be happy to remove these tools from your messaging system.
Data Input – Once an interaction ends, counselors fill out a call report form to capture important data. Many things on this form are already filled out automatically: Start and end time of interaction, any information entered by the visitor before and after the interaction, the full, time-stamped transcript, and the referrals you’ve made. There’s ample opportunity for further data collection as well, such as issues discussed, risk assessment information, and more. In short, the call report form contains all information you have about the interaction in one convenient place. All of this can be reported on in the Statistics area of iCarol and/or via Call Report Exports to be analyzed in an external program like Microsoft Access or Excel.
Visitor Feedback – Remember the pre-chat survey? You can add on a post-chat counterpart, and use it to collect your visitor’s feedback and feelings about the service you provided, self-assessment following the chat, or anything else you’d like them to share with you.
Feedback and Quality Assurance – One aspect of your chat reporting form will be the chat transcript. That’s right, whether the interaction was via text message or live chat, the full time-stamped transcript of that interaction will become a part of your report form. This comes in extra handy when it comes time for supervisors to review interactions and give feedback. You can give very specific guidance to your workers using these transcripts, pointing out specific moments in the conversation where they really connected with what the visitor was saying, or perhaps where an opportunity was missed. Further, these transcripts can make for excellent training tools for new volunteers who are learning how to provide Online Emotional Support.
Follow-up – There are many reasons you may be re-engaging with a client once the initial interaction has ended. Safety planning and ongoing contact with support systems are extremely important for people who are having thoughts of suicide. You may also want to see if the referrals a caller was given were able to help them, or use a follow-up call or text as an opportunity to conduct a satisfaction or quality assurance survey. If a person reaches your service via Text message, they may want to receive their “call back” this way as well. With our Follow-up activity you can follow-up via phone call or text message. Our handy character counter will even help you keep that message under the limit so that your content can be sent in one single text message.
Reports for your CEO or funders – We offer a robust set of statistical tools offering many charts and graphs at your disposal, along with more advanced exporting if you’d like to import your data into external programs for further analysis. Reports on the number of interactions your center is handling, pie charts showing the location, demographic, or issues/needs data, are just a few examples of the types of reports you could run. And practically anything you collect on the call reporting form can also be turned into a Call Content Filter. So run that chart showing the number of messaging interactions that were logged in your system last month, and using the filters you can determine how many of those came from Males between the ages of 40 and 60 who messaged you about an Addiction, if you collect that data. What you can report on is limited only in what you choose to collect on your highly customizable call reporting form.
Load balancing and collaboration – Say you want to provide your chat service 24 hours a day, but only have the staff to provide this service for some of that time. Or, maybe your center is part of a network of centers within a state or region that would like to come together to offer Online Emotional Support, and want to share responsibility for offering that service. There are several options where, using iCarol, you can partner, contract, and have chats routed according to the partnerships you’ve formed. If you haven’t found a partner, we can help connect you with centers who you may be able to build that relationship with.
What’s Private Stays Private – Text and Instant Message conversations often deal with sensitive subjects. Data stored in iCarol, including messaging data, is encrypted at a level used by financial institutions, so rest assured your data is secure. Our exclusive focus working with non-profit help centers, crisis centers, and information centers assures our understanding of your needs in this area. Be aware, however, that text messages travel over telephony provider networks, and that part of the interaction is out of any text service provider’s control, including iCarol.
Grow and Expand your service – Perhaps you want to set up a new text or chat service aimed specifically at teens. Using “Portals” iCarol can separate these new programs from the rest of your messaging platform. This program might have its own hours of operation, and you need to collect different data for that program than you would for your base chat/text service, all of which is possible now that you’ve separated this service out via Portals.
At iCarol we pride ourselves on being a choice solution for non-profit helplines, due in part to our vast experience and intimate knowledge of the helpline industry, and our Messaging capabilities follow those same principles. To learn more about using iCarol to provide Online Emotional Support, current iCarol users can check out the tutorial videos found in the “Help” section of your iCarol system, and open a case to ask questions or start a trial. Everyone is welcome to join us for a webinar on Messaging to learn more, too!
Are you thinking about letting visitors contact you via messaging, but are not sure of the differences between Instant Messaging and Text Messaging? iCarol offers both – here’s a quick review of how each differs in access, convenience, variable cost, and privacy.
Instant Messaging lets visitors click on an iCarol-provided “chat now” button on your website to initiate a session with one of your specialists. Both the visitor and the specialist converse from computer screens, typing messages back and forth to each other.
With Text Messaging, counselors also converse from iCarol computer screens – actually the very same screens they’d use for Instant Messaging – yet visitors participate from their own cell phones, not from a computer screen.
We all know that the easier it is to get information or help, the more likely it is a person will ask.
Many of our Instant Messaging clients love having a “Chat Now” button on their website. Not only does it encourage visitors to return repeatedly to their website – who doesn’t want a popular website? – it also offers visitors a handy way of communicating when and where a visitor really needs it.
For example, you could paste the button right next to the screen where visitors search your resource database (another iCarol feature). If the visitor is having trouble finding what they need, help is just a click away.
So Instant Messaging is great for organizations that either have a popular website, or don’t, and appreciate a boost in web traffic while at the same time better serving your community.
Text Messaging, on the other hand, offers a convenient way to ask for help when a visitor is not near a computer. Often clients tell us that visitors who text them would not reach out to anyone if a texting service were not available.
For example, maybe a man’s on the bus on the way to work and he’s stressed about paying his utility bill. Or a mom sitting at a park rocking her sleeping toddler needs help finding an after-school program for her first grader. Perhaps a middle-school student plops down on the family couch next to her siblings after a tough day at school fending off bullies. All of these people might reach out for help via texing.
Text Messaging makes help available right from the convenience of a person’s own cell phone. It’s a kind of access that people tend to expect more and more in a world where texting friends, family, companies, banks, etc. is ubiquitous.
Where the two forms of messaging differ from a variable cost standpoint is in text usage fees. Text Messaging has them, Instant Messaging does not. When you have Text Messaging service, you’ll be billed for usage based on how many thousands of texts you use per month.
In your iCarol system, you’ll always have a running count of texts so you can see your usage level. We won’t cut you off when you reach your billed-for limit; we’ll just make it up on the next bill. As you use more texts, volume discounts kick in. Plus an increased volume helps funders see how popular your service has become.
Your visitors will of course never be charged by iCarol for text usage, but may be charged by their own cell phone provider, depending on their texting plan. There’s a spot in the workflow to add a note to visitors reminding them, and typically our clients like to add such a note as well to wherever they publicize the texting number.
Both Text Messaging and Instant Messaging offer a kind of privacy that a voice phone call does not. That is, nobody can overhear a conversation asking for help conducted via either kind of messaging, because it’s all nonverbal.
That’s helpful for a large segment of the population who might not otherwise reach out for help.
It’s an important factor, of course, for those with hearing or speaking issues, and for those who would rather not speak out loud.
Consider the person experiencing domestic violence, or a troubled student who has a hard time getting out of earshot of siblings or dorm-mates. Clients who work with transgender individuals say their visitors are thankful they don’t have to explain why their voice may not match their gender identity. And some people just are naturally more comfortable typing their innermost concerns than voicing them aloud. The privacy that non-verbal communication affords is a hallmark of both Instant Messaging and Text Messaging.
Text Messaging and Instant Messaging differ in other aspects of privacy, though.
With Instant Messaging, all the communication is handled within iCarol –the ChatNow button connects directly to your iCarol system. Because it’s a closed system, iCarol can control the traffic entirely, and encrypts messages from the time they leave the keyboard of both the visitor and the specialist. Data saved in your iCarol system is encrypted, too – with the same strict encryption used by financial services institutions.
Data saved in the system for Text Messaging is also encrypted, but unlike with Instant Messaging, text messages aren’t controlled end-to-end by iCarol. Instead, while the messages are in transit over the phone lines, it’s the phone carriers that control the security of that traffic. That is true for any vendor’s text messaging offering. These days, phone carriers of course handle traffic for financial transactions, medical information, plane reservations, billing, etc. so you can determine your own comfort level.
Text Messaging and Instant Messaging can be used Concurrently
Because of the distinct features of each type of messaging, many of iCarol’s clients actually use both.
That’s easy to do because the specialist workflow is exactly the same — if you learn one type of messaging, you already know the other. Also, both forms of messaging are integrated nicely into your iCarol system – so much so that specialists can, and do, handle both Text Messaging and Instant Messaging sessions concurrently.
If you’d like to learn more about messaging, please join us for a webinar on Messaging, or contact us for more information.
The famous pro-football championship game that aired last night (honestly, it’s unclear whether we’re allowed to use the trademarked name in our blog, so let’s err on the side of caution, shall we? 🙂 ) is arguably watched for its commercials just as much as it is for the game itself. As usual, this year’s game produced a number of ads that are generating lots of conversation, both good and bad. It was a great year for ads that focused on social awareness. For instance the “Make it Happy” ads by Coca Cola advocate for positivity in response to bullying on the internet and social media. The “Like a Girl” ad reminds society to stop using that phrase as an insult. And after a year of controversy surrounding the NFL’s handling of domestic violence, there were ads tackling that topic as well.
Last week the organization NOMORE.org released a very powerful ad, which was also shown during the game. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out below.
This is easily one of the most compelling, important tv spots I’ve seen in a long time. When I first watched it I felt sad, scared, and anxious as I listened to the exchange between the woman and the 9-1-1 operator. It’s one thing to understand what domestic violence is, but it’s quite another thing to hear the call for help.*
There are several messages I took away from the commercial. How isolating domestic violence is, for instance. Or how resourceful and resilient survivors of domestic violence are. But for me the most resounding message came at the end of the ad with the text on the screen: “When it’s hard to talk, it’s up to us to listen.”
Finding the strength to speak up can be difficult. Finding someone who can listen, who can read between the lines if necessary in order to help — that’s even harder. And we know that helpline workers use their expert skills to do this with clients every day, not just when it comes to domestic violence, but in identifying child abuse, or thoughts of suicide. You’re able to weed through their words, to pick up on the slightest hint of what’s below the surface, and uncover the deeper issue.
But there are lots of times when a verbal conversation just isn’t possible at all. The woman portrayed in the ad was able to make an excuse to use the phone, and cleverly found a way to call for help without her abuser realizing it. There’s a reason why efforts are underway to enable texting to 9-1-1. Local law enforcement and emergency services are recognizing that in some situations, a phone call is dangerous or impossible.
More and more, help seekers reach out via chat or text instead of a phone call, too. Sometimes because of personal preference, and sometimes because silence is necessary. The instance shown in the ad is just one example; certainly chat or text has been used by those affected by domestic violence to reach out for online emotional support, or even receive emergency rescue during a violent incident. But there are other scenarios where this might be needed, and they may not all be as dire as the call in the commercial.
Think of the teen who wants to discreetly discuss his sexuality without risking a parent or sibling listening in on the conversation. Or the young woman at a party who is feeling anxious and upset, but can’t verbalize that to the friends she’s with and doesn’t want others to overhear. A child may have just been bullied in the hallway at school, and they find it much easier to hop on a library computer for a chat session than it is to make a phone call.
There are plenty of instances where someone needs to talk, but they can’t say the words outloud. It’s important that we be there to listen through the channels the help seekers want to use.
* While the call in the commercial feels very real, it is actually a re-enactment of a real call to 9-1-1