Guest Blogger Josh Siegel is a PhD Candidate at the University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on service provider well-being. After earning a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona, he moved to Amsterdam, where he obtained a Master’s degree.
Guest blogger views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of CharityLogic/iCarol, or iCarol’s parent company, Harris Computer Systems.
Child helplines offer support and information to children for a wide variety of issues such as abuse and violence, bullying, sexuality, family, homelessness, health and discrimination. As such, child helplines fulfill the United Nations mandate that all children be heard. In 2017, child helplines in 146 countries received over 24 million contacts from children in need of care and protection, and these numbers are rising rapidly. To help meet this growing demand, helplines have introduced online chat as another method of communication.
To perform well in this challenging and evolving context, helplines invest a substantial part of their budget into training volunteers extensively on how to provide social support to each child in the form of instrumental (e.g. advice) and emotional (e.g. empathy) support. Like many other non-governmental organizations, child helplines face the challenges of limited resources and volunteer turnover.
Volunteers at child helplines play an important role in providing support for children, so keeping them satisfied during encounters is crucial to continue helping children. The purpose of our study was to understand how children’s perceptions of instrumental and emotional support influence volunteer encounter satisfaction, and whether this effect is moderated by a volunteer’s previous encounter experience and levels of interpersonal and service-offering adaptiveness.
From discussions with child helplines, I learned that volunteer turnover is a common concern. The goal of the research was learning how to retain volunteers by keeping them satisfied in their roles. The academic literature about helplines and counseling has found sources of volunteer satisfaction like personal development, and social support from colleagues. However, I was surprised to find that little academic research has explored how volunteers may derive satisfaction from their interactions with children. Since volunteers spend a majority of their shifts talking with children, it seemed like a good place to investigate.
Summary of findings:
When a volunteer feels dissatisfied after a chat with a child, how does this experience affect the volunteer’s next chat?
What was really interesting in this study, is that we were able to collect data from both the child and the volunteer after each chat that they had. This allowed us to understand how a child’s perceptions of the chat influenced the volunteer’s experience. Let me explain what we found.
When volunteers had a chat that they experienced as less satisfying, they felt more satisfied with the next chat, especially when they were able to provide the next child with information and referrals. In our study, we call this providing “instrumental support” and we asked the children the extent to which they felt they received this type of support from the helpline volunteer (children’s perceptions).
The other type of social support we looked into was emotional support. This is like active listening and just trying to help children feel better without directly trying to solve their problems. Unlike instrumental support, providing emotional support in the next chat did not improve volunteer satisfaction after a less satisfying chat.
We think that volunteers might provide instrumental support to feel better. When you’re feeling down, you can feel better by assisting someone because it feels good to help.
We also asked volunteers to rate their own “interpersonal adaptiveness.” It indicates how easy it is for volunteers to adjust how they communicate with each child. For instance, they might change their vocabulary to match a child’s or adjust their personality based on what they think the child needs. We found that those volunteers who feel they are good in interpersonal adaptiveness, were more satisfied when providing instrumental support. Another thing that volunteers do is adapt the support they provide to each child. For some volunteers, it is easier to customize the information or referrals to specifically fit each child’s situation. This is referred to as “service-offering adaptiveness” in our paper. We thought that this would mean some volunteers are better able to detect cues from children. And in doing so, their satisfaction would be more dependent on the cues they picked up from each child. However, we found the opposite. Our results showed that satisfaction for volunteers with higher “service-offering adaptiveness” was actually less affected by providing instrumental support.
Based on our findings, what can helplines do to help volunteers remain satisfied during their encounters with children?
Finding: Volunteers are more satisfied when children believe they received lots of instrumental support.
Suggested Action: Volunteers should have easy access to the helpline’s resources in order to provide the best information, advice, and referrals to children.
Finding: It is important to be aware that a volunteer’s experience with one encounter influences the next encounter.
Suggested Action: There should be sufficient support for volunteers after a less satisfying encounter. We recommend a feedback tool that would help volunteers to “cool off” after one of these chats or even allow a colleague or manager to help volunteers with the next chat.
Finding: Since volunteer satisfaction increases when children are happy with the support provided, it is important that volunteers are able to detect children’s perceptions.
Suggested Action: To help volunteers understand children’s perceptions throughout a chat, we propose that a monitoring system would be helpful. Such a system could highlight keywords in the chat that would signal whether the volunteer should provide more instrumental support and/or emotional support.
Further reading and sourcing: Siegel, J. and van Dolen, W. (2020), “Child helplines: exploring determinants and boundary conditions of volunteer encounter satisfaction”, Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/JSM-05-2019-0200
Call for collaboration:
The project I am currently working on investigates how helpline counselors manage multiple live chats / SMS conversations simultaneously and how doing so can affect their wellbeing. My goal is to identify ways for enhancing counselor wellbeing by determining how and when it is best to handle more than one interaction simultaneously in order to prevent either feeling overloaded or bored.
I am looking for a helpline with a focus on serving youth and children that would be willing to help me collect data from volunteers and counselors about their experiences with each interaction. I would also like to talk with helpline managers and counselors about their experiences, concerns, and ideas to find out how else we can collaborate. In addition to an academic article as output of this research, I would write a management report for the helpline which discusses the findings and recommendations for helpline managers.
If you are interested in collaborating, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Are you concerned that the volume of Chat or Text traffic coming through to your service is lower than you were expecting it would be? Or, are you in the planning stages of adding a Chat or Text service to your center and want to develop a plan for alerting the community to this new way to access your program?
Join us on Monday, April 9 at 2pm EDT for a Q&A webinar with a panel of staff members operating successful Chat and Text programs to hear about how they communicated their service offerings to their communities. Can’t make it? Fear not! We’ll have the recording available to watch at your convenience.
Learn More and Register
Have you been considering adding on popular and in-demand communication channels like Live Chat or Texting to your organization’s services? Are you curious to see how these channels are handled in iCarol, and how they fit seamlessly into the rest of the functions of the software? I hope you’ll join my teammate Mary and I for a live demo on Thursday at 2pm EDT so we can show you!
To find out more about this webinar and what we’ll cover, visit our registration page.
Learn More and Register
iCarol is thrilled to attend the National Sexual Assault Conference (NSAC) in Dallas, TX, June 7-9, 2017. Over the past few years, iCarol has helped more and more agencies working in the sexual violence support space, especially as the need to offer chat and text to survivors increases. We couldn’t be more honored to help these agencies in their missions, and make the work these vital agencies do easier, and save them time and money along the way.
For some, like the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, the agency is focused on sexual violence prevention and survivor support. For many other iCarol clients, sexual violence support work is part of a multi-faceted agency.
In particular, providing survivors options for texting and live chat during the crucial hours following a sexual assault ensures they have options other than calling on the phone to reach out to the supporting agency. Many survivors have questions about getting a SANE nurse exam, or need support. Some agencies even explain how an advocate can meet the survivor at the hospital and explain the processes over text messages or live chat. In many states, the sooner evidence is collected in an exam (often within 72 hours), the better. The support work for survivors surely does not end there.
Here are a few other highlights of iCarol’s work with sexual violence support agencies:
Ensure hours/funding are accounted for and seamlessly administer and track:
- Advocate/SANE hospital & mobile responder activities
- Outreach/presentations at schools, events, training
- Case worker/advocate follow-up — no one gets missed
Instant reporting for funders:
- Advocate and staff training hours & certification (also with expiration alerts to staff)
- Monthly & quarterly reporting of interactions (calls, chat, text, in person), stats built right in
Better volunteer/advocate/staff shift attendance:
- Clear and web/mobile accessible organized schedules
- Seamless tools for volunteers to get help to fill a shift
- Text and email reminders about upcoming shifts
The conferences is “A Conference for People Who Want to End Sexual Violence,” according to their website. It also states: “The purpose of the conference is to provide a national training opportunity for 1,500+ workers from rape crisis centers, state sexual assault coalitions and other allies (medical professionals, law enforcement, campus rape crisis programs, public health department workers, and others) from across the United States and its territories.”
If you are going to be at the conference, please stop by the iCarol booth! Have questions or want to set up a time to meet? Please !
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!
We’re getting ever so close to releasing the powerful enhancements to your Call Report Forms and Live Chat and Texting features in iCarol. Take a few minutes to watch our new video!
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.
One of the great things about Messaging with iCarol is the inclusion of notifications to tell you when a help seeker is waiting to have a chat or texting session with you. Historically these notifications arrive on your computer screen where you’re signed in to iCarol, and you can then promptly assume that new conversation. This ensures that visitors are promptly attended to, helpling them feel heard and cared for.
The drawback to this is, your volunteers and staff can’t always be at their workstation for the entire duration of their shift. They may have work that takes them to places other than the call center, whether that’s down the hallway or across town. Perhaps, like many agencies, your overnight shifts are sleep shifts with staff permitted to sleep or at least doze, either in the office or at their homes, with the understanding that they need to be awake and alert at a moment’s notice. In these and other scenarios, receiving those notifications only at your workstation computer presents a challenge.
But now there’s an additional option available: your chat specialists can receive text message alerts to their mobile phone when a new conversation arrives.
In a system update scheduled to occur today, our Messaging users will be able to set up these notifications to be sent to their volunteers and staff via text message. And to add an additional layer of protection, supervisors or on-call staff can receive escalations if the incoming conversations aren’t assumed promptly. This feature will be available to all Messaging users who host and control their Messaging service, at no additional subscription cost, though it’s important to note that each sent alert will count towards the bundle of texts purchased for that month.
Admin users will need to turn on these mobile alerts and set it up to your specifications. At first this functionality will only be available to our North American clients, but rest assured we are working diligently to bring these same tools to our clients elsewhere in the world as soon as possible. We can also offer this enhancement just to users who host and control their Messaging services, i.e. at this time messaging services which are part of bigger collaboratives that you participate in or share coverage of, where you do not control the messaging settings, are not eligible for the mobile alerts feature. We know how useful and helpful these alerts are, and so we’re working hard to expand the coverage of this tool for an even wider range of iCarol users.
Click the +/- to Expand/Collapse set up instructions and screenshots + –
Our hope is that this additional option for notifying your volunteers of newly arriving conversations will help you provide a high quality, prompt response to your community. We realize that when adding new channels to your service, you’re often asking volunteers to multi-task and provide both your traditional and alternative services simultaneously. Rest assured that in spite of this multi-tasking and wherever their shift duties may take them, these alerts will assist in consistent, complete service delivery.
We also hope these new notifications will help with staffing and service hour decisions. Overnight staff can be better notified of these conversations even if they are not at their workstation, in the event your agency allows sleeping shifts overnight. Additionally, if you are unsure of the best hours in which to provide your new chat or text service, and you want to keep your service open 24/7 for a time to gauge peak service times, these alerts will better help you maintain that ’round the clock coverage, especially if staff are to go about their normal business or even be at their homes for part or all of that period. These mobile alerts will allow new services to keep the service open for extended hours, without needing a person to be tethered to their workstation for that entire period.
If you have any additional questions about this feature, we invite you to reach out to our Support Team.
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.