Raise your hand if this scenario sounds familiar: You, and many of your volunteers and staff, agree that you should add new communication channels like live chat or texting to your not-for-profit’s service offerings. But, there’s one big problem—your CEO, Board of Directors, or funders aren’t yet convinced.
Perhaps they see your current call volume is healthy or growing, and they mistakenly feel this is a sign that communication by voice call is sufficient, just as in demand as ever, and your community doesn’t need or want these new channels. On the surface that takeaway is understandable, but it’s also wrong.
Current call volume is a poor indicator of whether or not people need support through texting/SMS and live chat. Here’s why: If voice calling is the only option to reach you, and you provide needed services over the phone, of course the calls will be there. It’s not about how many people are calling. It’s about who’s not calling.
When you only provide emotional support, information and referral, and crisis intervention over the phone, you’re not serving the members of your community who need your services but won’t—or can’t—use the phone to access them.
We recently asked an iCarol user how she convinced her board to fund her live chat and texting service, and she said, “I just asked them, ‘Have you ever met a teenager?’” Her point being that teens simply don’t call hotlines, at least not in significant numbers. In fact, this is one area where our clients do report declines in call volume. Many of the organizations we serve report that people under age 25 are their smallest represented demographic. Of course, we know youth aren’t free of interpersonal crisis, financial troubles, food insecurity, abuse, suicide ideation, and any number of serious issues. In fact, we know that for many of these issues, youth are desperately in need of outreach and support. According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death during adolescence through young adulthood. Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence—almost triple the national average, according to a study by the US Department of Justice. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, of the 1 in 5 people living with a mental health condition, half developed the condition by age 14 and 75% by age 24.
Taking that first step to ask for help or advice is tough for anyone. But for teens, expecting that first contact to come in the form of a phone call is even harder. People under 25 are digital natives, meaning they grew up with communication technology like live chat, texting, social media, and other chat apps. Use of these mediums comes naturally to them while voice calling may feel more awkward and less convenient, unnatural even. A 2015 study by the Pew Research Center on teens, technology, and friendships found that teens reserve phone calls for their closest friends, while they prefer building new friendships over text messaging. It takes a level of established trust and familiarity for them to talk over the phone with someone. So, think of your helpline as a new friend. It’s less likely that a young person will dial the phone to talk about a problem or sensitive issue with you, but they may be willing to text you or chat with you.
Privacy and Anonymity
Unfortunately, no matter how common and normal someone’s personal struggle may be, they may feel embarrassed or ashamed about it. There is an enormous effort across many different industries—suicide prevention, mental health, intimate partner or sexual violence to name a few—focused on removing the stigma and societal judgment associated with these issues. While those efforts are certainly helping, shame remains a barrier to getting help for many people in need of assistance. They may have a tough time saying aloud what they’re going through. They may be afraid that someone will overhear the conversation. Think of a LGBTQIA teen who is working through their identity and struggling with how or when to come out to friends or family. They may be very averse to making a phone call that could easily be overheard by parents, siblings, or friends. Or, consider a young woman who has recently been raped or sexually assaulted by someone she knew and thought she could trust. She could be feeling shocked, betrayed, and may even be blaming herself. In these and other scenarios, the person is likely feeling scared and vulnerable, and being able to type about it privately, silently, and anonymously with a caring and confidential source may be much more appealing than making a call.
Sometimes the need for silent communication isn’t so much about preference as it is about self-preservation. Voice communication could actually prove dangerous in certain situations. A few years ago there was a very powerful ad shown during the Superbowl by the group NO MORE. The ad featured shots of the interior of a home in disarray, with items knocked over and strewn on the floor. As we see these visuals we hear a recorded 9-1-1 call between a woman and an operator, though oddly the woman is trying to order a pizza. At first confused and taken aback, the 9-1-1 operator realizes that the woman’s “pizza” call is a ploy to foil an abusive partner because she is unable to call out for help but needs an officer to visit the home. You can watch the ad here.
The ad reminds us of the importance of silent communication for the purposes of safety in certain scenarios, and even 9-1-1 and other emergency centers are responding by text-enabling their services. Not all situations are as dire as the one shown in the ad where there is an active, life-threatening attack. While some may need a silent way to request active rescue, others may need to reach out to discretely chat or exchange SMS messages about their abuse to receive emotional support and empowerment without their abuser overhearing, which could escalate the situation and cause harm.
When providing a community service, it’s important to be inclusive and mindful of the needs of different groups and cultures and mitigate potential access barriers. The Deaf community and people with disabilities in particular can become isolated from essential services when their needs aren’t accommodated.
Offering assistance through live chat and texting can ease the path for people who are disabled or deaf. When someone has a disability affecting their speech in some way, verbal communication can not only be less therapeutic, but it can add frustration to their situation. However, they may find written communication a viable alternative. And, while there are interpretation services such as video relay available to the Deaf community, many would prefer to communicate directly with a helpline counselor without a third party present, especially when discussing sensitive or private issues. Written communication directly between the deaf person and an organization’s volunteer or staff member may help them feel more connected with the agency and, by extension, any plans, referrals, or problem-solving strategies they arrived at with the specialist’s help.
Adding new communication channels to your service offerings requires a culture shift and open mind among leadership, program managers, and frontline staff alike. While there are some who need convincing, we hope by now the evidence is clear: Use of communication channels like chat or SMS/texting is not a passing fad. They have become widely adopted, permanent fixtures in our society. Offering these service alternatives is not just smart business practice needed to remain relevant, but a vital form of outreach to populations that find themselves cut off from needed services only offered on traditional channels.
“Net neutrality” is a term you’ve likely heard in recent months, but did you know that the repeal of these regulations could directly and negatively effect crisis services, suicide prevention, and other aspects of this industry’s online presence and serving consumers on those channels?
Beau Pinkham, Director of Crisis Intervention Services at the Crisis Center of Johnson County, recently penned an article on this topic on his organization’s blog. If you attended our recent webinar you know that Beau is well-versed in providing services online, and the technological hurdles crisis centers must navigate in delivering these services. He writes, in part:
Volunteers at The Crisis Center answer about 30,000 crisis contacts each year. About half of those are calls to the 24-hour hotline and half are chats. Soon, chat will surpass phone calls as the primary mode by which people in crisis get help. Demand is at an all-time high but nationally, only 9 percent of chats are answered.
At IowaCrisisChat.org, we are just beginning to find new, innovative ways to close the gap; but the FCC changed the rules and we are losing control.
What we built over the last decade is under threat. This entire system, like much of the web, was built with the assumption of open, equitable Internet in which everyone can participate. The FCC tearing net neutrality apart literally puts lives at stake.
To read his full article, click here.
Adding on new communications channels people can use to reach your helpline is a critical element of providing effective service to your community in the 21st century. But, while the addition of such contact methods is important, it brings with it a unique set of challenges that crisis centers must be ready to address. Online emotional support, particularly Live Chat, can be extremely anonymous. In fact, that’s part of the appeal for users — the ability to confide in someone without revealing one’s face, voice, and identity sets exactly the stage that many people prefer or need in order to truly open up and reach out for help. In instances where emergency rescue might be needed for a person in imminent danger, the same exciting technology that allows so many in need to access help in the way they prefer can create anxiety and headaches for crisis workers who want to help.
Join us for our next webinar where we’ll delve into the topic of active intervention in the online space, and how this aspect of crisis intervention continues to evolve.
When: Thursday, January 25, 2018
Time: 2:00pm Eastern
Director of Crisis Intervention Services
The Crisis Center of Johnson County
Beau has been part of the crisis intervention/suicide prevention field since 2002, when he started volunteering at his local crisis line. Subsequent experience being a flood recovery outreach counselor after the devastation of 2008 and working with the homeless population after that led him to a staff position with The Crisis Center of Johnson County, where he currently directs crisis intervention and suicide prevention services. He is a current board member for Contact USA, an accrediting body for crisis centers across the United States, and is part of the American Association of Suicidology’s Strategic Media Response Task Force. He has been involved in panel discussions on the intersection of video games and suicide at SXSW and other conferences, and has presented on how tech trends have affected and will continue to affect crisis intervention services.
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In response to the increased use of alternate communication channels for help seekers, many iCarol clients are adding Messaging to their iCarol systems. Using Messaging, you can communicate with your help seekers via chat or text. As with other areas of iCarol, sometimes issues can arise that require making a report to the iCarol Support Team. The preferred method to communicate with the iCarol Support Team is to submit a case via the Online Case Management Tool. Please click here for more information on how to submit a case. When the issue is in regards to iCarol Messaging however, there is another tool that we encourage you to use to report issues with this area of iCarol.
This tool is called the Report Incident Tool and is found at the bottom of the counselor’s screen when addressing a Messaging conversation.
Any user can us this tool to report an issue. When one clicks Report Incident, a small form will appear in a pop-up window. Please enter a concise Subject that describes the issue, and then use the Description text box to further describe the issue in as much detail as possible.
Once the security code is entered, and the “Report Incident” button clicked, a case will be created and sent to the iCarol Support Team. This case will also appear in the Online Case Management tool. All cases created in this manner are named “Messaging Incident #xxxx: Subject”. For example, the name of the incident shown in the screenshot above might be “Messaging Incident #2650: Strange symbols appearing in chat conversation”. The case will be appropriately attributed to your agency. The first available member of the iCarol Support team will respond to the case and begin the investigation of the issue.
The benefit of submitting Messaging cases in this manner is that this tool conveys additional details about the specific Messaging conversation the user was addressing that helps the iCarol Support and Technical teams immensely when investigating issues. Some of the details conveyed include browsers being used, platforms being used, and whether the visitor was using a mobile device. The details can be extremely helpful in investigating and ultimately resolving an issue.
This quick and easy to use tool can be a benefit to you by conveying details “in the moment” so they are not forgotten. It can cut down or eliminate conversations or emails between the user who experienced the issue and an Admin user who wants to report the issue to iCarol Support. It can also mean that issues are reported faster, which could lead to faster investigation and resolution of the issue.
As always, if you have any questions about the Report Incident tool, or anything else, please do not hesitate to contact the iCarol Support team!
More than a decade ago when iCarol was first created by two helpline volunteers, Neil and Jackie McKechnie, helpline work was very much based in serving people via the phone. And the phone remains a method of communication to this day for helplines all over the world.
Over the years though, as new technologies grew in popularity and availability, people increasingly turn to channels like chatting, texting, or connecting with services through websites. And helplines need to embrace these new channels to stay relevant and reach more people. The flexibility in iCarol enables helplines to capture important information regardless of the type of contact — our Call Report Forms are used to collect data on interactions, whether they happen over the phone, online, via text, or even at in-person visits from mobile crisis teams or walk-in clinics. But some of the verbiage inside iCarol still centers around calls as a primary service, like the main Calls page, Call reports, and Caller Profiles.
We know that many helplines have expanded services beyond the phone, and that iCarol plays an important role in your documentation of all channels. For that reason, we are considering a name change for the “Calls” section of iCarol to better describe what you do and how you use these features. Please take 2 minutes to give your input about this by taking a brief survey.
Ontario Online and Text Crisis Services program (ONTX) recently marked a year of service to their communities, and shared data with constituents in their latest newsletter. In the report they describe response to the program as “overwhelmingly positive” while allowing contact with many individuals who otherwise would not have reached out for help.
Some key findings:
- Total chats and texts: 8,921
- 75% of visitors were under 24 years old, while that same demographic makes up a very small portion of their phone callers
- Over 200 specialists trained to take chats and texts
- They receive an average of 5 suicide-related contacts each time the service is open
- More than half of visitors said that in the absence of an online emotional support service like ONTX, they would not have spoken to anyone about their problem
For a full look at the released findings click here, or read a summary here. Want future updates from ONTX and other services of DC Ontario? Be sure to sign up for Distress and Crisis Ontario’s newsletter by emailing your request to .
We’re thrilled by the success of our friends at ONTX, though it comes as no surprise to us that they’ve had this response. The caring people at the Distress and Crisis Ontario have been providing listening support and crisis intervention to Ontario for nearly 50 years. Their latest step to make their services available in a way that works for everyone in need demonstrates their commitment to helping people and saving lives.
With our latest release we’ve improved the flow of your Messaging (Live Chat and SMS/Texting) settings page, while also exposing new settings to our users. We think you’ll enjoy the ease of navigation and access to some settings and tools previously only available to the iCarol team.
These settings are still found in the same location, by first clicking on ‘Messaging’ in the main iCarol menu. Next, you’ll click on “Instant Messaging and SMS Settings’ in the upper right of that screen. Previously these were two separate links that would take you to two separate settings pages. Now this is a single link taking you to a single page where you can navigate through both Live Chat and SMS Settings.
Once you arrive on the settings page, you’ll find a tabbed layout to access various settings. Before changing any settings, you’ll first need to select the Portal to which your selections should apply. Your organization may only have a single Live Chat or SMS service with iCarol, but if you’ve added on additional services then you will find these portals listed in the drop down menu.
On the ‘General Settings’ tab, shown above, you can decide what terminology is used to reference your Chat Specialist within the chat conversation, and also decide what security levels can monitor chats, see all active conversations, and who can disable Messaging or a particular portal.
The final set of settings in the top section of the page allow you to:
- Decide whether or not visitors can chat anonymously
- Choose whether or not to enforce geographic restriction so that only visitors in certain locations can chat with you
- Prevent visitors from typing until the counselor joins
- Hide a visitor’s IP address
- Disable geographic fields
- Disable the ability for users to create logins for repeated use
The lower part of the ‘IM Settings’ tab includes a feature where you can upload custom Online or Offline images to replace the default images offered by iCarol. This means your organization can design your own Online/Offline images that fit with your branding or make use of your logo or other images easily identifiable with your agency. Lastly, decide which fields should be available and/or required at registration, and also set specific coverage areas to be allowed access to the chat, should you choose to enforce geographic restriction.
On the ‘SMS Settings’ tab you’ll find mostly familiar settings that were accessible under the previous layout. Here you can determine all the auto responses for the selected Portal, including the important responses that will describe the Opt-in and Opt-out procedures to your visitor. Here you’ll also enter any mobile numbers you plan to use to test your SMS service, and finally you’ll find new settings to enable geographic restriction and hide a visitor’s full mobile phone number. On this page you can also enter coverage areas should you choose to enforce geographic restriction.
Finally on the last tab, Standard Messages, you will set all the pre-written greetings that should be available for use by your Chat Specialists. These standard messages can be set by Portal, and for Live Chat, SMS, or both. Once entered these messages can also be edited or deleted as needed.
We hope you’ll find this new layout even more user friendly and easy to navigate than before. Additionally, access to new tools and settings offer even more control over how your Messaging service works and grants immediate access to make important changes that once had to be submitted to our Support Team. We believe this expanded access will further strengthen your service as you offer these new and important communication channels to your community.
Should you have questions or need assistance understanding or using these settings, don’t hesitate to contact our Support Team for assistance.
Another texting success story, this time featuring our friends at Samaritans, was covered in a prominent US news publication.
In April, The Boston Globe highlighted the success of Samaritans’ texting program, which you can read here. According to the report, the organization received more than 300 text messages in February, which was nearly triple the number received in January. They expect to receive upwards of 1,000 text messages per month by this summer as word of the program spreads.
Samartians opted to text-enable their helpline number for the purposes of this program, which is part of its success. Another clear contributor to the volume they’re experiencing is their latest advertising partnership with MBTA in Boston which began in January. The T, as it’s known in Boston, began showing messages on LED notification boards with information such as, “Lonely? Desperate? We can help 24/7” featuring Samaritans’ number. This and other messages appear periodically between 7am and 9pm on weekdays, and 9am until 9pm on weekends.
While Samaritans and MBTA had an advertising partnership prior to this one, it was MBTA that approached Samaritans last year about expanding the messaging to reach an even larger audience. You can read more about this advertising program in The Boston Globe article.
From all of us at iCarol, we’d like to congratulate Samaritans on the success they’ve had so far, and we wish them all the best with this life-saving program moving forward.
To learn more about texting with iCarol, join one of our Service Alternatives: Live Chat and Texting webinars. If you’d like to learn more about text-enabling your helpline number check out our blog article, and reach out to our support team to get started.
In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, we’d like to share a recent story featured on Cleveland’s local CBS affiliate, highlighting the fantastic work of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, including their new chat and text program with iCarol. We were honored to welcome this organization into the iCarol family a few months ago and are so proud of the positive impact they are having, the dedication of their volunteers and staff, not to mention the strength and bravery of the survivors who they are helping.
CRCC promotes a vision of a community free from sexual violence. Their programs lend support and resources to survivors of rape and sexual abuse, helping them throughout their healing process, while also promoting prevention and social change necessary to abolish sexual violence. You can find out more about their many wonderful programs and services on their website.
As CRCC’s website discusses, it wasn’t all that long ago that most survivors kept silent due to the shame and also lack of societal understanding around rape and sexual abuse. In some ways things have improved for survivors in that there are now more resources available and more understanding people ready to hear and accept stories of sexual violence without judgment or blame placed on the survivor.
Still, survivors experience a myriad of emotions resulting from the trauma of sexual violence, and it can be extremely difficult to discuss. It’s estimated that even today, more than 2/3 of sexual assaults are never reported. The vast majority of sexual assaults also occur between two parties who know one another, and not between strangers. This further complicates an already painful experience, especially if the rapist was someone the survivor liked or trusted.
CRCC is a force behind breaking the silence by offering channels that meet the survivor where they are via outlets that can feel safer than discussing it over the phone. Like so many of our helpline clients have experienced, these silent forms of emotional support available through live chat and texting provide an anonymity that helps people feel less exposed and vulnerable, and can become a first step to recovery.
In the short time since their chat and text program launched, CRCC has been busy with traffic from their local community, while also receiving some messages from as far away as California and Nevada. Their experience of immediately receiving a healthy volume of texts stems from a great marketing plan, but also the fact that they text-enabled their existing helpline number – a number that had been known to their community for more than 40 years. We’ve often heard from our text-enabling users that texts will begin to flow in before much advertising or marketing is even done. We believe that this is because the pervasiveness of texting in our culture leads many people to assume these helpline numbers accept both chats and texts, and thus you could already be receiving texts to your helpline that you’re not even aware of.
We hope you’ll join us in congratulating the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center on this latest success and wish them well as they serve survivors of sexual violence. Check out the news story below!
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.
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.
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