Metro United Way is a local, independent nonprofit organization founded in Louisville in 1917, as the Louisville Federation of Social Agencies. Today, Metro United Way helps support more than 90 health and human service agencies serving residents of Bullitt, Jefferson, Oldham and Shelby counties in Kentucky and Clark, Floyd and Harrison counties in Indiana. Metro United Way works to advance the common good by focusing on education, income and health.
On Feb. 3, 2009, Louisville and surrounding areas were hit by a severe ice storm that showered debris on residential neighborhoods, in some cases damaging property. As a cornerstone for these communities, Metro United Way took on the responsibility of creating an initiative to provide relief for the individuals and families most affected by the inclement weather —the elderly, homebound and ill. The focus of the campaign would allow for two primary objectives: 1) to enlist volunteers to help with the cleanup effort; and 2) to take calls from area residents in need of aid.
In order to accomplish both goals, the Metro United Way would have to set up 20 extensions that would be channeled through one phone number to representatives who were taking calls in two distinct groups. One group would consist of representatives taking calls from volunteers, while the other group would take calls from residents in need of aid.
Metro United Way engaged Dennis Renschler, director of technology and central services, to develop a solution for channeling the well-known phone number into a makeshift call center, where the representatives would be able to take calls at separate extensions. “The biggest challenge in front of us was the issue of time,” said Renschler. “We had to set up a makeshift call center, 20 stations and separate groups cost-effectively in a matter of a day or two. We were starting nearly from scratch with the communications aspect; we didn’t even have 20 phones to receive the calls on.”
With no time to lose, how would Metro United Way be able to accomplish the project?
Metro United Way has been a customer of Smoothstone IP Communications for the past five years. Smoothstone was originally brought in to unify internal communications through a VoIP platform; about two years prior to the ice storm, Metro United Way had called in Smoothstone to help with another community-based need. Following such previous experience with Smoothstone, Renschler knew that the IP communications provider would be the best option to facilitate the solution.
“Smoothstone had done a lot of positive work for us in the past in a reliable, timely manner,” Renschler remarked. “With the community in dire need of a solution, Smoothstone immediately took the project on.”
Renschler’s goal was to institute a call center solution that would take only two days to make operational. Smoothstone and Renschler worked together to create a plan for the call center; Smoothstone would utilize an existing community telephone number and forward calls to a new block of Direct Inward Dialing (DID) numbers consisting of 20 virtual extensions. Then, an automated attendant would receive the calls and allow callers to choose the group that would best serve the purpose of the call. Once the call was designated as from a volunteer or from a community member requiring cleanup assistance, the call would be forwarded to the appropriate Metro United Way representative.
Smoothstone also assisted in the timely transfer of the existing phone number by gaining quick approval from the phone number’s service provider. By the end of the first day, everything had been planned and put in place except the delivery and testing of the actual phone units. The next day, Smoothstone representatives arrived at the call center with the units and oversaw the test phase. Then, the call center went operational.
“Another challenge for this project is the unpredictable demand for community aid,” Renschler added. “We can never accurately say how many calls we’ll receive, whether from volunteers or individuals in need of help, so we simply have to set up the call center and hope it can handle the volume of calls. Smoothstone has always been able to handle it, no matter how small or large the community response.”
Smoothstone also put a software solution in place that would allow Metro United Way to measure the call volume and how many callers were designated for each hunt group. That way, Renschler could track the calls in real time and adjust the number of representatives for either hunt group based on demand. The software would also allow the organization to measure the campaign’s numbers for historical reporting.
In the initial three-day call period, Metro United Way logged more than 600 calls on the emergency hotline. Calls continued after the initial time-frame, since the most severely affected individuals were not aware of the emergency number until around the fourth day following the ice storm. Because of the versatile platform Smoothstone had implemented, Metro United Way was able to accept calls following the initial call period until it closed the call center after a week had passed and calls regarding the ice storm were no longer coming in.
“One of the greatest benefits we receive from our relationship with Smoothstone is flexibility,” said Renschler. “With very little notice, Smoothstone’s team was on-site to help oversee the launch phase and was readily available if we ran into any snags. It took less than two days to get everything in place for a communications center that would serve our entire community.”
Smoothstone’s implementation of historical reporting helps Metro United Way learn from previous campaigns in order to serve the community as effectively as it can.
Renschler added, “Whenever I work with Smoothstone, I know that whatever we are undertaking will be a success. I find a great deal of comfort knowing that whenever we need to run a campaign like this, the infrastructure is in place, the technology is there and a company like Smoothstone understands exactly what we need.”