Top tips to developing your helpline on a budget

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Read how our member, Disability Information Scotland reviewed, developed and enhanced their service.

Since 1999, Disability Information Scotland (Update) have been dedicated to providing up-to-the-minute information to help improve the lives of disabled people across Scotland. Our team of disability information specialists man a confidential helpline which is available to anyone - disabled people and people with long term ill health, their families, friends, carers and also professionals working in the field of disability.

Over the last couple of years we began to notice a shift in the nature of calls to our helpline. As information provision continues to evolve (with the mass of information now freely available on the internet and social media), it became apparent that our clients could often find general information which was relevant to their enquiry but they didn’t actually know what to do with that information. How did it relate to them as an individual? What was their next step? What options were available to them?

We realised that we needed to shift our perspective more from providing general information and signposting to more in-depth and tailored information to help “guide our clients through the maze”. We needed to ensure that we were providing a highly tailored, person-centred and supportive information service.

In addition, a number of our helpline callers, particularly those most affected by welfare reform were experiencing high levels of anxiety and upset, sometimes just needing a “listening ear”. They needed to be able to talk about their circumstances, be properly heard and respected and for someone to just “understand” what they were going through. Emotional support is vital for some people and unfortunately in some local council areas, cuts to services mean this type of support is not always available.

All of these factors prompted us to take a step back and re-evaluate our helpline and indeed to look at our overall strategy – in simple terms……what do our clients need, what do we currently do to help, and how can we make it better!

We wanted to ensure that as the way information provision continues to change, that we also continue to evolve and to deliver the best possible service. We were also aware that as a small national charity working within tight financial constraints, we were going to have to find creative ways to do it. We began to find out what support was available and who could we learn from?

We’re still on our journey, but here’s our Top 5 Tip to developing your helpline:

  1. Visit other helplines. Find out what works for them, share innovatory practice, and learn from each other. Recent trips to visit The Silver Line (24 hour helpline for older people) and Enquire (Scottish advice service for additional support for learning) proved invaluable and enabled us to look at other efficient and effective ways of monitoring our enquiries.
  2. Speak to the experts. Helplines Partnerships (HLP) were able to provide advice on the best phone tariff to suit our helpline. As a result, we’ve now changed our helpline to an 0300 number to help reduce costs to our clients and have implemented a new SMS text service, so clients can call us and we’ll call them back. Also, attending HLP events and training has kept us aware of the challenges faced by the helpline sector as well as opportunities to network with other like-minded organisations.
  3. Free consultancy and support. We applied to the Supporting Communities Programme which provides advice and support to community organisations across Scotland, run by the Scottish Community Development Centre (SCDC). We were fortunate to secure 5 days free mentoring and support which has helped us to produce a new strategic plan and a tailored evaluation system to more accurately measure our impact. We were also very fortunate to have a Social Impact Map for our helpline service facilitated for us from Pilotlight. It reinforced that our ‘listening ear’ is just as important as the information we provide.
  4. Learn from your feedback. Finding out more about what people do with the information we provide enables us to be clearer about our impact – and also to do more of what works. We’ve recently started making “follow up calls” to our clients to find out not only how the information helped them, but also to just to “listen” to anyone who wants to offload.
  5. And finally, embrace the challenge and be creative in finding solutions!

We are still on our journey with our “evolving helpline”, but when we get great feedback from our clients, we know we’re on the right path!

  • Information provided was absolutely spot on. Can’t thank you guys enough!
  • A comfort at that time as I felt that I’d been dealing with everything on my own and didn’t know where else to turn.
  • You’ve made my day by speaking to me today

Join us on our journey at #shareinfo4change

Twitter: @UPDATE_Scotland
Helpline: 0300 323 9961
Email: [email protected]
Website: www.update.org.uk

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