NC 211 has handled a total of 155,708 calls since activation on March 18, 2020, by the governor as the lead crisis call line. In comparison, in the same 8 month period in 2019, 93,512 calls were handled. Today, the top caller needs center on Electric Service Payment Assistance, Rent Payment Assistance, and Housing.
We often use call volume to NC 211 as a way to tell the story of our impact and it can also serve as a pulse check for our community - when the volume is high, there is often a crisis in our midst. We can use this data to help local officials see trends and gaps in services.
But quantity is only one measure of our work. Quality is crucial. Here are just a few thoughts about quality from the people on the front lines of our work - our very own call center Resource Specialists.
My last caller thought I had ended the call and I heard her say "He was so lovely. I wish all of these people were like him." This made my day! How’d we get there? Patience, understanding, empathy, and most importantly for me is the truth...making sure the callers are being heard and giving them hope but not giving them definites unless I know for sure. I've had more people tell me “thank you” for saying I don't know or I can't answer that. Valid information is key. They are happy I've taken the time to check and explain things, even if there is no quick fix. Steady on. Lead with love.
For me, quality over quantity means keeping in mind the definition of "fairness," which is NOT "everybody gets the same thing," but "everybody gets what they need." Some callers need more than others and when I have a challenging situation with a caller I think, what if this person was my friend's mom or what if they were my best friend from high school? How would I act and respond to them? That’s when I take a breath and I focus and I tell myself that these moments during the call might be the best moments of their day, or their week, or even their month.
My last call did not go smoothly. The caller was frustrated about the resource I tried to give. It was a difficult call to navigate, as the caller would tell me not to interrupt but would get upset if I was quiet. Every time I got frustrated with how the call was going or I felt like the caller was being rude to me, I remembered all of you (the NC 211 team) and I re-committed to being present with her. There weren’t any resources to help his situation, yet somehow the conversation turned and he no longer seemed offended with how I was responding. By the end of the call, he thanked me for listening and was going to tell everyone about us.
Once I am on a call I can tune out everything else. I do believe that this is their moment and we are graced to be in it with them. I believe that our callers have invited us into their crisis/need and we have an opportunity to give them hope, truth, sometimes an alternate game plan, and as much knowledge as possible.
I take it one call at a time. Listening, letting the caller know we are here for them. When gaining their consent for other agencies to reach out to them, I’m verifying information to make sure everything is correct, and after stating "the first step has been completed" I follow with a big "YAY!" - it seems to go a long way for callers to feel like they aren’t alone.
How We Ensure Quality Even In Midst of Increased Quantity
When volume surges, we certainly work hard to expand our capacity. But we still emphasize the importance of providing a quality service and experience for our neighbors that call. What does this look like?
During a call we work to ensure:
- Callers are getting all of their questions answered and we are providing good solid referrals to community resources
- Our focus is on the caller and not the blinking lights, indicating that someone else is waiting in the queue or multitasking in any other way
- We are taking time with the caller so they know and understand their next steps
After the call:
- We take the time to complete the record and update any important information needed in the system
- and we ask our staff to take a moment to check in with themselves to ensure they are ready - mentally and emotionally, to take another call
What You Can Do
Tell others about NC 211
Find the resources you need by simply dialing 2-1-1 from your telephone. We’re available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. Don’t expect to talk to a machine or need to press buttons to navigate where you want to go. Compassionate, trained referral specialists answer your call when you dial 2-1-1 in search of supportive resources. You can also search our database yourself at NC211.org