Hotline Uses CRM App to Fight Domestic Violence

By Eileen McCooey Print this article Print
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The National Domestic Violence Hotline relies on a cloud-based customer service app to help a growing number of victims of abusive relationships.

For the past 20 years, the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) has provided confidential, one-on-one support to victims of abusive relationships. More than 600 people in crisis—many of them in immediate physical danger— turn to the hotline each day. A cloud-based social customer service application is helping the NDVH cope with the influx of requests for help.

The need is growing. Last year alone, the hotline received more than 436,000 contacts. The vast majority were phone calls to the Austin, Texas-based organization's 24/7, toll-free hotline, but some 100,000 contacts were made via online chat or text. Since it took its first call on Feb. 21, 1996, the NDVH has received more than 4 million contacts.

"When someone reaches out to us, our first concern is for the caller's immediate safety," stresses Wade Treichler, vice president of technology for the NDVH. "Our advocates help figure out next steps and provide direct connection to resources from our database of more than 4,000 agencies and other organizations."

Callers remain anonymous, and all discussions are confidential. However, the NDVH does collect non-identifiable information—such as gender and general location—so it can match callers with an appropriate resource in their area.

Moving to a Cloud-Based Platform

Technology is key to all of those interactions. Around 2005, the organization started using custom in-house software for caller intake and referral. In 2013, it added live online chat capability. The following year, Treichler took a hard look at the organization's needs and decided it was time for change.

"We wanted a system that was scalable and cloud-based," he says. "We are driving toward less system-installed software in favor of web-based platforms. That keeps us lean and puts the load on the software provider."

The best option for the NDVH's needs was Salesforce's Service Cloud social customer service application, which is built on a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. The agency found it extremely flexible and suited to the hotline's mixed Mac and PC environment. Implementation and fine-tuning took about eight months.

"We built internal prototypes of typical callers and ran mock scenarios so we could see how everything worked," Treichler reports. In April 2015, the new system went live.

When a call, chat or text comes in, an advocate works in a dashboard on the computer. On the left side of the screen are pick values for attributes such as age range, ZIP code, victim characteristics and more. On the right side is a list of providers. A map interface built on Google maps shows the distance of the providers to the caller's approximate location.

The flexibility of the platform enables changes based on feedback from advocates, almost in real time. "We have a place in the app where advocates can make notes," Treichler explains. "They reported, for example, that more contacts mention firearms, so we have added that as a pick value. We have already had one major release and two smaller ones to improve our workflow, user interface and data collection."

Enhancing Data Quality

The quality of data has definitely improved, Treichler adds, and that helps the organization align its policies and lobbying with emerging trends. This has been very helpful in interactions with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, among others.

"Overall, since we went live, we have seen a 30 percent decrease in unknown, or NA, values," he says. He also attributes an 8 percent improvement in the answer rate in part to the Service Cloud, as well as to staffing improvements. That's critical, since nearly 110,000 contacts went unanswered last year due to a lack of resources.

The reaction of the staff to the new system has been very positive, Treichler says, though some of the hotline's 130 advocates who had been using the old system for more than 10 years took time to embrace Service Cloud. Costs have not necessarily fallen, but they have shifted from hardware to licensing.

"This has taken a huge load off hosting servers on site," he says. "Also, since the app is not on premise, we now have four advocates using the system in a small office in Washington, D.C., which opened in 2015."

Looking ahead, the National Domestic Violence Hotline hopes to integrate Service Cloud with its phone system and is currently in the testing phase. "We don't use caller ID, so we don't capture names, but we see promising integration on the horizon, capturing metadata such as the duration of a call," Treichler says.

When the phones are connected to Service Cloud, it will be possible to potentially eliminate the handset and use soft phones through the computer, clicking to dial, for example. That would cut down on errors in dialing.

"We hope this will happen within the next year," Treichler says. "But we have rolled out a lot of changes in the past year, and we want to be mindful of overloading our employees."

This article was originally published on 2016-12-15
Eileen McCooey, a New York-based consultant and Baseline contributor, has extensive experience covering a wide range of business and consumer topics, including digital technologies and consumer electronics of all kinds.
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