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Posts Tagged ‘online emotional support’

New SMS Option: Send follow-up messages via SMS

Our clients spoke and we listened! Many clients expressed a wish for iCarol to be able to leverage text messaging in new and different ways. Therefore, we added three new ways to use text messaging in iCarol. Last month’s article outlined how to send text notifications and text messages to other users in your iCarol system.

This article will outline how to conduct follow-ups via text message. These new options carry no set-up fee, but you will be charged a monthly fee for the text messages sent, at a rate of $40/1000 messages/month. The new SMS option will first need to be turned on by an Admin in your iCarol system. It can be found by clicking Admin Tools in the left hand menu, and then the “Messaging” tab. Doing so will take you to the page pictured below, where you will want to click the box next to third option to place a check mark there, then click the “Save all settings” button at the top of the screen.

Admin Tools

To conduct a follow-up via SMS, a follow-up must first be scheduled. The call taker will fill out the “schedule a follow-up activity” section on the Finish tab of the call report as he or she usually does. There are a few fields that must be filled out to indicate that this follow-up will be conducted via SMS. They are:

1. Contact method must be set to “SMS/Text Message”

2. Status must be set to “Open – Follow-up needed”

3. A mobile phone number must be typed in the “Mobile phone (for SMS)” field.

Schedule follow-up sms activity

When you are ready to conduct the follow-up, access the list of follow-ups as you usually do by clicking “Follow-up” on the main Calls screen. Click on the call report number of the call report you would like to conduct the follow-up on. Scroll down to the bottom of the call report to see the scheduled follow-up. You will see a new button labeled “Reply via Texting/SMS”.

Reply via SMS

Click this button and you will be taken to a screen where you can type your message.

Send follow-up SMS

Please note the text in red. If you do not using iCarol SMS Messaging, or if your SMS service is currently offline, any response the client may send will result in an “offline” auto-response message. If you do use iCarol SMS Messaging, and you are currently online, any response will appear in the Messaging queue as usual. Unfortunately, this response will not be linked to the original telephone call, so clients may need to consider custom fields on the SMS call report to indicate the SMS call report was in response to a follow-up via SMS.

Please also note that messages longer than 160 characters will be separated into multiple messages.

Once the SMS message has been sent, the follow-up section of the call report will be updated to indicate that an SMS message was sent, and what the content of that message was.

Sent follow-up SMS

A new report has been added to the Statistics page of iCarol to help you track how many SMS messages are being sent from your system. Admins can access this report by clicking Statistics in the left hand menu, then the Messaging menu. This report contains several filters so you can determine from what area of iCarol the SMS messages are being sent. “Follow-up tasks on call reports” is the option to choose if you would like to see how many follow-up SMS messages are being sent.

Follow-up stats

If you have any questions or need any clarification on this functionality, please do not hesitate to send a case to iCarol Support!

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New Feature Updates

March has been another month of improvements and enhancements released in iCarol. Here’s a review of what’s new this month.

Follow-ups and Surveys: Now easier

helpline flowWe understand the challenges with conducting Follow-ups and Quality Surveys, and new options on the pages that house those to-dos are meant to help streamline that work.

There, you’ll see new sort options as well as a new text search tool. It’s similar to enhancements we had made recently to the Volunteer and Staff page. We’d love to hear what you think of these improvements.

Categories and Keywords: New name, same feature

You may have noticed that in iCarol we use the terms “keywords” and “categories” throughout the software — those are actually the same thing. We’ve started making that verbiage more consistent, so over time we’ll standardize on the term “category.” That is, any place that says “keyword” will eventually say “category.” There’s no change in function here, just making the wording more consistent. It’ll take us a little while to find all mentions in the software, so please bear with us as we make this move towards naming consistency.

Resources: Search multiple custom categories

CategoriesSpeaking of categories, if you have custom categories for your resources, we have a new, optional, search tool that will let you conduct category searches on up to three categories simultaneously.

Those of you using the taxonomy are already familiar with this feature; what’s new is that this is now an option for those not using the taxonomy.

If you’d like this tool turned on, please create a support case. There’s no added charge.

In Development: Public Resource Directory

We’ve been hard at work in our labs for a while now overhauling our tool that lets you add a resource search page to your website – the Public Resource Directory. Many clients currently use that feature to allow people in their communities to find resources and attract them to their website.

Work is progressing nicely, and I thank all those who have offered suggestions. We’ve heard you loud and clear, and the new capabilities are shaping up nicely. We’ll soon have some early screens to share with anyone who’s interested in providing feedback. If you’re not already on the list of those who’d like to participate, please drop me a line at .

Messaging WorkflowMessaging

Our engineers are also forging ahead with streamlining counselor workflow for instant messaging and text messaging. We’ll be sure and let you know well in advance before we make any changes. If anyone wants to be on the list of those who will test it out — and thereby get a sneak peak and provide input on screens and functionality — please . Thanks to those who have already signed up.

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15 iCarol Messaging Tools That Improve Your Crisis Intervention Service

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.

ShiftsTotal 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.

Vols-StaffSupport 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.

SearchSilent 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.

Exclamation Mark copyTools 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 ManagementData 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.

helpline flowFollow-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.

Pie chart pointing to dollar signReports 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.

Collaborating w partnersLoad 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.

Data SecurityWhat’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!

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Key Differences and Similarities between Instant Messaging and Texting with iCarol

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.

Access

Laptop in useInstant 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.

Convenience

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.

Smart Phone  with two thumbs

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.

Variable Cost

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.

Privacy

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.

Keyboard and screen in useWith 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.

Call Report Editing copy

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.

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What we took away from NOMORE.org’s ad

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

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Evaluating Live Chat vs. Texting for your helpline

By now you probably realize that you absolutely must offer some form of Online Emotional Support to stay relevant in a world where people are going online for everything, including helpline services like crisis intervention, suicide prevention, or information and referral.

iCarol enables you to provide both live chat and texting (aka “Messaging”) to your community. Messaging fits in seamlessly with the rest of your iCarol system, and you can make use of the same tools you’re used to engaging when taking a call, like call report forms and resource searches. Helpline managers will be able to run statistical analysis on Messaging interactions, with or separate from reports about Calls. The platform is intuitive, just like the rest of iCarol, so your volunteers and staff will catch on very quickly. And best of all, because the counselor’s screen and the process flow is virtually identical whether you’re engaged in a live chat or text, once your volunteers are trained on one it’s a total breeze to add on the other.

But say you’re just getting started, and you know you can only choose one platform for now. Which one do you go with? Which is better for your community, for your target population, for your service requirements? Take a look at this comparison between Live Chat and Texting with iCarol…

Laptop in use vs. Smart Phone  with two thumbs

How the client reaches you

Live Chat Texting
We’ll give you a bit of code to place on your website which will make a “Chat now” button appear. This button checks iCarol to see if 1) You have a chat shift set up at that moment and 2) If someone is assigned to that shift. If both are true, then the button will show you are Online and clicking it takes the visitor through to registration and on to the chat. Our team will work with you to text enable your existing helpline number, or obtain either a short code or a new 10 digit phone number for your service. You’ll then advertise this number, along with your hours of availability, on your website, fliers, social media ads, etc. People will send a direct text to that number to initiate a conversation with your counselors.

Service Availability

For both Live Chat and Texting, you’ll set up shifts in iCarol to note whether your service is available.

Live Chat Texting
If a shift is not set up and staffed, the Chat Now button will automatically display as “offline” on your website and the visitor will be unable to initiate the chat. The button will display the next time chat is available, so the visitor knows when to return. You can advertise your service’s hours and availability, but a visitor may still send you a text, even if you have no shift set up at that time. If that’s the case, the visitor receives a polite message (customized by you) letting them know that they’ve reached you outside your available hours.

Security

Live Chat Texting
Your conversation is secure and encryped end-to-end from visitor to counselor, because the entire conversation is traveling over iCarol’s secure servers. The conversation is secure when passing over our servers, but there times that the conversation is flowing over the telephone wireless network. While phone companies do make some promises about data protection, they are not complete. This is true for any text messaging service.

Visitor Mobility

Live Chat Texting
Live chat is typically conducted via a computer, and so the visitor will likely stay in one place while chatting. Visitors might use their smart phone’s web browser to view your website and start a chat, in which case they may be more mobile. Very mobile, since visitors will be using their smart phone to text in to your service. They could text you from the bus, from a library, the park, etc. and may be on the go as they carry on the conversation.

Length of the Conversation

The overwhelming majority of our clients report that any online interaction, whether via chat or text, take much more time than a phone call. Our clients tell us that a typical chat, for example, may be an hour or more long.

Live Chat Texting
The entire conversation takes place during a single session, and there is a clear beginning and end. It’s not uncommon to have these sessions last an hour or more. Also longer than phone calls, but this conversation may span several days, or even weeks. Think about how when you text with a friend, they may suddenly “drop off” because they got busy and had to turn their attention elsewhere. Later, when they’re available again, they may text you back to continue where they left off. The same can happen with visitors texting in to your service.

Usage costs

Live Chat Texting
There are no per-message or per-Chat costs for live chat. We offer bundles of text messages to you at a nominal cost. Depending on the subscription your visitor has purchased with their wireless phone carrier, they might also incur per-text costs from their mobile provider’s network.

Setting a Service Area

Live Chat Texting
When the visitor clicks the Chat Now button, they’ll be taken to a registration screen. You can decide what questions, if any, you’d like to ask before they proceed to the chat. Using registration requirements before the chat begins, you can ensure that only visitors who identify as residing within a certain geographic area can enter the chat. You can optionally choose to have visitors register their phones prior to the very first time they send a text to you. This can help you collect data, ensure it’s not a “robot” text, and restrict service to a selected geographic area. For example, during registration, you can have the system ask visitors things like age range or gender, which funders may require. If you asked for geographic information, iCarol could automatically restrict service to visitors from an area you select. Visitors only have to answer these questions once; thereafter, iCarol will remember the answers they provided that first time they texted in.

So now you know some of the differences and similarities between offering Live Chat or Texting through iCarol at your helpline. If you’d like to learn more, why not join us for a webinar about Messaging with iCarol. Or you can with your questions.

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Even more iCarol enhancements coming soon

2015 is already off to a great start. We've already launched one new feature, made some enhancements to the Volunteers and Staff page, and that’s just the start of what we have planned for this year.

Internal Chat – Newly Available

Internal Chat copy

Have you had a chance to try out our new Internal Chat feature? It’ll let you exchange short, typed messages with colleagues right from within your secure iCarol screen.

We’re pretty excited about this one, and have gotten great feedback already. Some of us — not naming names — might have even blushed a little at the kind compliments you’ve sent our way. Folks have told us it’s sure helped them improve internal communications in their centers.

If you’re an administrator, you can turn this feature on whenever you’re ready. For quick instructions, please click on the Help button on the bottom left of your iCarol screen to find short videos. Help Articles are also coming soon – look under the Volunteers & Staff category.

Thank you to those of you who participated in focus groups and pre-release testing. We value your thoughtful feedback, which helps us build useful features.

This feature is available now in all iCarol systems, at no extra charge. It’s part of our ongoing effort to help you help others.

Volunteer – Staff Page Enhancements — Newly Available

Conference copy

Search & Sorting: Ever need to quickly see who would be able to cover a Tuesday afternoon shift? Who prefers text messaging shifts? Or who started in 2010? Maybe you want to quickly locate a particular person’s profile? Check out our new search facility on the main Volunteer and Staff page. It’s on the right-hand side, just above the list of personnel. Also you can now sort the columns on that page using the arrows next to the column names.

Tag Skills & Achievements for Multiple People at Once: Say you’ve done a CPR training, attended by 30 of your colleagues, and you’d like to document their participation in the Skills & Achievements area. Gone are the days when you’d have to go into each individual profile to do that. Instead, put a checkmark next to the names you’d like to tag, then scroll down to the bottom of the list and click on the new link that lets you tag all people at once.

Check out our blog from earlier this week that shows some screenshots of these enhancements.

Messaging with Visitors – Enhancements in the works

Smart Phone  with two thumbs

We’re busy in our labs these days building ways to streamline your messaging workflow. Those of you who use both Text Messaging and Instant Messaging know the screens are pretty much twins, so there will be improvements in both workflows.

The biggest change is that the messaging session will be conducted right in the report form – no longer will conversation occur in a separate pop-up. The whole process is more intuitive; we expect it ought to expedite training.

The improvements not only cut down on the number of “clicks” in your workflow – freeing up more time to spend with your visitors – but will also let you more quickly find resources using the full search filters you’ve come to know and love. And those of you using the taxonomy will be able to tag referrals in messaging the same way you do for referrals on calls.

Rest assured, we pledge to keep you up-to-date on expected availability dates and will provide a variety of materials to help with a transition to this improved workflow.

Please if you’re interested in testing out the improved workflow while it’s still in development. We’d love to get your feedback and hear your suggestions as we put the finishing touches on this over the next few weeks. I’d give you logins to our test system – the tests won’t impact your production system.

Public Resource Directory – Enhancements in the works

Resources

Our Public Resource Directory feature offers you a turn-key way to let visitors to your website search your carefully-curated resource database. Built-in, real-time reports let you keep on top of searches popular in your community. Now we’re actively working to make that feature even better: Easier searches, more precise results, more intuitive screens, and some great new capabilities.

Stay tuned for more news. If you’d like to be part of the focus groups and testing for these enhancements, please . Thanks to all who have volunteered already.

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A Holiday message from our CEO

fireplace fireside chat with mug of hot cider coffee or tea

As one of the people who started iCarol, one of my greatest joys is sitting down with one of our clients to hear about their experiences using our software and how it has helped in the lives of the people they served. I wish it were possible to grab a mug of hot cider this holiday season and sit down by a fireplace with each one of you 45,000 folks, but since it is not, I’ll share my reflections on the year of 2014 and a glimpse into 2015.

Our clients collectively logged over 5 million calls into iCarol this year. Each one of those encounters was a personal contact by phone, chat, text or in person and represented a moment or more where two people connected and a help-seeker was served by a help-giver. Having been a volunteer on our local crisis line myself, I understand the wide range of emotions that can flow during such a session and the glimpse it gave me into the struggles people have on a daily basis. We try fervently to make iCarol a valuable and unobtrusive tool in those conversations – something to help the help-giver and not get in the way. A recent message to our Twitter feed said “Your software is like having magical powers to do good” and, while I’m not sure we can live up to that for every encounter, we are sure delighted when it can for even just some.

2014 was a year that we significantly improved our game. We hired quite a few people and reorganized into a well-structured team that can continue to grow for years to come. We invested in a more rigorous testing and release schedule, meaning that our enhancements are predictable, visible and higher quality than ever before. We firmed up our support of multiple language interface, opening up iCarol to use by communities whose first language is not English. We instituted a formal product roadmap process, giving us a vision of what iCarol will evolve to be in the coming years.

In 2015, that starts with solidifying iCarol as the best multi-channel platform for non-profit helplines around the world. Our support of live chat and texting is fundamental to the way our clients meet the public through wildly popular electronic channels, and its integration with the same kinds of tools that are needed when serving people by phone sets us apart from generic third-party systems. You’ll hear some exciting news early next year articulating improvements coming to iCarol Messaging.

Later in the year we plan to revamp the way our clients can make their Resource databases searchable from their public website. Our existing tool gets the job done, but we have a vision of bringing the wisdom of professional phone workers, who know how to bridge the gap between a help-seeker expressing a need to a service that can meet the need, to your public websites.

We’ll also seek to do at least a couple of more large projects like these to get you all excited about. And throughout 2015 we will continue to make innumerable smaller enhancements and tweaks to iCarol that will form a chorus of advancement we hope you will notice and enjoy in your daily work.

From all of us here at iCarol, we wholeheartedly thank you for coming on this adventure with us and wish you a safe and rewarding holiday season. Best wishes for your new year.

Neil McKechnie
CEO and Co-founder, iCarol

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In Case You Missed it: Roundup of 2014 Enhancements

It’s been a busy year here at CharityLogic, as we’ve added lots of new and enhanced features to iCarol. Below are a few of our favorites. If you’d like more information on how to use any of these, please check the Help section of your iCarol system to access videos and articles, or contact our support team via the case management links, also found in that Help section.

Smart Phone with two thumbs

Outbound texting:

You can send followups via text message. This does not require a subscription to our text messaging add-on (just a fee based on text usage), but if you do have a texting subscription, you could use your iCarol system to respond via text to replies you receive from visitors.

You can now send text messages to colleagues from within iCarol, and users can designate if they’d prefer to receive automated reminders – such as upcoming shift reminders — via text message instead of or in addition to via email. Here too, this does not require a subscription to text messaging, and will only incur a text usage fee.

Greater resource search success:

If you use iCarol’s Public Resource Directory to let visitors search your resource database, you could improve their search results with a new tool that lets you associate colloquial terms (“I’m hungry”) to terms in your database (“food pantries”). Clients using this — this method is called Folksonomy — tell us they’ve seen stellar results. Find controls for this Folksonomy tool in the Resources> Manage Resources screen, in the Taxonomy column. There’s no additional charge to adjust the folksonomy controls for your Public Resource Directory.

Messaging:

  • Instant Messaging: The counselor screen has a new streamlined design.

  • Instant Messaging: Would you like to have us customize your Visitor Chat screens and Chat Now button, so the colors and graphics better match your website? Please contact support (there is a one-time charge for this).

  • Collaborating w partnersInstant Messaging and Text Messaging: We’ve improved the ability to let partners handle messaging sessions for each other, which also streamlines how partners in a collaborative messaging environment can share duties responding to visitors. If you’ve wanted to add a messaging service to your center, but are concerned about having adequate staffing levels, you could consider using this feature to partner with another iCarol-using center — or multiple centers — who could help field your messaging visitor requests.

  • Text Messaging: If you’d like a texting number that connotes a wider geographic range than a number with a typical area code might imply, we now offer texting numbers with toll-free prefixes. Despite the name, these toll-free numbers don’t cost less to use than “regular” texting phone numbers, but to some folks, they connote a more universal service area. As a bonus, we have acquired a nice stock of such texting numbers attractive to help centers, crisis centers, and 2-1-1s. We’ll be happy to let you select from that stock to use with your iCarol texting service on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Automated Resource Verification:

Enhancements include the ability to see the results of verification emails sent, a useful new screen that lets you sort and filter responses, and the ability to save settings for future use.

iCarol API

API:

We’ve extended the functionality of the tool that lets your developers, with your permission, tap into your iCarol-hosted data to create whatever you’d like them to build.

Language Options

Multi-lingual:

Do your call-takers and/or visitors sometimes prefer to work in a language other than English? Please ask us how we can set your system to function nicely in more than one language, letting you toggle between languages on the fly. You can even store resources in multiple languages, too.

Responsive Screens:

Many of iCarol’s screens now look even better on mobile devices. This comes in handy, for example, when volunteers and staff would like to sign up for shifts directly from a smartphone.

Taxonomy:

Assign taxonomy terms to multiple resources concurrently. We’re always looking for ways to reduce the number of mouse clicks needed to complete a task, and this new feature sure speeds up the resource editing process.

ResourcesEnhanced resource management features:

  • When you create a printable document (.pdf) of an agency record, that document now includes the Agency’s child Program and Site records. Handy for “manual” verification and more!

  • Custom text fields are now searchable, helping you locate resources more quickly and accurately.

  • Calculate your resource database’s “complexity” and view a report estimating annual person-hours required to maintain your database. This may come in handy as you plan out your staffing needs in the new year.

    Bar Chart

    Statistics:

    We’ve added a handful of text messaging usage reports, and the aforementioned Resource Complexity Report.

    Transparency:

    We’ve added Admin dashboard access to release notes, which detail enhancements to iCarol on an ongoing basis. This list, in addition to the dashboard, is a great place to look to keep current on the ever-expanding list of enhancements.

    Training:

    There are a whole lot more video tutorials, to help you get the most out of your iCarol subscription.

    Blog

    Call reports:

    Admins now have editing control of nearly all aspects of call report forms. Make changes instantly and easily.


    More recently we’ve been busy in our labs finishing an Internal Chat tool, which we expect to release in the next few weeks. This tool lets anyone with access to your system exchange short, typed messages with each other, and Admins have total control over who can use this. if you’d like to test this out in your system now and have an advance peek. Otherwise, we’ll keep you posted on the system-wide launch date via the Dashboard, which is where we’ll continue to post all enhancements as they become available.

    It’s sure been a productive year, and we’ve got lots in store for 2015. We welcome your input, and expect to conduct phone-based focus groups with clients throughout the year on topics such as the Public Resource Directory, Messaging, Statistics, and more. Please if you’d like to participate in those, or any other topic. We truly do want to hear your ideas on how we can improve the software to help you help others.

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  • Introducing TxtToday

    On the blog today we welcome Christopher Kurzum of CONTACT of Mercer County, NJ to give us an update on an exciting project called “TxtToday.” iCarol supports this project through providing the platform and assisting in some coordination in helping centers join this network. We also recently participated in their workshop about TxtToday at the NASCOD/CUSA conference in Nashville. Check out Chris’s update, below:

    TxtToday-Logo-CYMK“TxtToday is the new national texting warmline from CONTACT of Mercer County, NJ in partnership with iCarol. We have been working closely with CONTACT The Crisis Line of Jackson, MS on a pilot program to test out the national texting portal. We have had great success in our beta testing and are planning to conduct longer tests utilizing role plays to practice “real life” scenarios.”

    “We are also pleased to announce that as a result of our presentation at the NASCOD/CUSA conference, TxtToday now has two additional centers that are going to participate with us in the pilot program, which runs through the end of this year. Both the Idaho Suicide Hotline and the Family Service Association in Pennsylvania will be joining our beta testing. We are very excited to be working with them as well.”

    “In the next few weeks, CONTACT of Mercer County, NJ plans on running tests with the three participating centers. We anticipate that these tests will run smoothly and help us identify any areas for improvement. Our next steps are to continue our pilot program and to also apply for grants for TxtToday. We have a number of interested centers that would like to work with us, and when grants are obtained we plan on subsidizing the cost of the network so that we may begin running the program live in early 2015.”

    “We would like to thank the centers that are participating in our pilot program with us as well as iCarol for their continued support in this endeavor.”

    If you’d like to learn more about TxtToday, or want to learn more about joining the network, .

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