Interpersonal and mental health issues were the most common topics of discussion
Visitors are reporting a decrease in distress following their chat
55% of visitors said they wouldn’t contact someone else if they couldn’t reach ONTX
For a full look at the released findings click here, and for future updates be sure to sign up for Distress and Crisis Ontario’s newsletter by emailing your request to .
We thank them for sharing these findings — we are often asked by others looking to add online emotional support to their service what they can expect. Data like this is very helpful as other prepare to make the critical shift of bringing their services online.
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.
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!
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.