Krausman’s mighty team of four, now all working from home with much of the rest of the country, wanted to better connect the often-decentralized 211 systems, which would make it easier to load balance call volumes, engage volunteers, and more efficiently share information.
For a few years, Krausman’s team had been handling the balancing of call volumes between different 211 systems manually. For instance, if a hurricane or other natural disaster swept through part of the country, they would identify agencies with capacity and help route call overloads from the affected area to 211s in other areas, easing the burden on the local network and its specialists.
The arrival of COVID-19 and the national scale of needs, however, means there isn’t anyone to transfer calls to, and Krausman’s team can’t possibly manually load-balance within all individual states with decentralized networks.
“Right now everybody is overwhelmed, so no one can offer support, and we can’t transfer calls out,” Krausman said. “What we need to be able to do is enable 211s to send calls into a central place and us to bring on volunteers and leverage technology to answer those calls.”
Quickly, they developed a streamlined routing system with a front-end interactive voice response (IVR). People could call in to a single 1-800 number or their local 211 which would automatically transfer some calls to the new platform, where the AI-assisted IVR bot could help answer commonly asked questions about COVID-19 and related services. If the caller still wanted to speak to a specialist, they would be routed depending on their location to a live agent logged into the platform or back to a local 211 with available specialists to answer. While it may sound complex, the client experience is relatively seamless.
Ohio presented itself as a perfect pilot testing ground for the new system.
“Ohio is one of the states where there are a number of 211s covering different combinations of counties, but 37 counties are currently without access to 211,” says Krausman. “They turned to us and said they could essentially provide statewide coverage during this emergency if we could help them create a central platform to route calls from uncovered counties to existing 211s and other willing volunteers.”
As the team rolled out the pilot in Ohio, they stayed focused on their North Star: helping more people faster. Says 211 Manager Sawyer Baker on Krausman’s team, “This is still a fluid thing and every state is different. We want to make sure it’s the most helpful for the people who are calling in.”
Noting the high call durations experienced by 211s across the country, Baker adds, “There are some things where the bot will give you the answer, but then people still want to talk to a live agent,” and the team made sure the system enabled that connection seamlessly. Their system also includes a knowledge base integrated into the agent interface to more easily deliver state-specific and nationwide information.
While Krausman’s team awaits enough data to be able to measure the impact of the new system on reducing call abandonment rates and wait times, she notes there’s already been a victory in Ohio: With the entire state now covered by a connected 211 system, 211 agencies are now in talks with state government to activate and receive funding to build capacity even further, which wouldn’t have been possible before the new technology.