Want to know the secret to our success?
Every organization has that thing it loves most about what it does in the community. Staff members discuss it in grant reports and explain it to friends with pride.
As 211info’s management team sat around a paper-covered conference table exploring the latest internal statistical dashboard, we began discussing what we love most: the second question.
What is the second question?
You may have noticed our blog is called The Second Question. If you’ve come on tours in our call center (please do if you haven’t), you’ve heard us mention the second question. The second question happens in our call center every day.
Anyone could give out phone numbers and search a database. But what happens when someone calls and they don’t know what they want? Or what happens when they call for a service but that service doesn’t exist? Are they out of luck? When people call 211 they aren’t.
Our call center staff are experts at digging deep and asking the second question that will help the caller. They learn more about the caller’s problem and suggest some creative ways to get their need met.
What SNAP and energy assistance have in common
Do you want to see the second question on display? Listen to a call for utility payment assistance. Thousands of people call every month for this service, and demand far exceeds need. Since our staff doesn’t want to turn callers away empty handed, they turn to SNAP.
SNAP (or food stamps, as the benefit is commonly known) is one of the few reliable programs that still has money available. And clients who call because they can’t afford utility payments are likely eligible for it.
So when a caller asks for non-existent utility money, we always ask if they are on SNAP. If a family can cut money from their grocery budget and divert those funds to their utility bill, then their need has been met.
This interaction happens over and over again in our call center, and it is pretty cool to watch.
I’ve also seen a call for a “social network” turn into a call about support groups for people who have been discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. And if you talk to any member of our call center they could give dozens of examples.
At 211info we love the second question. It is a human service that is far more valuable than simple dispatching. It is about compassion and listening. So next time someone asks you about 211, we hope the first thing you mention is the second question.
Promote your program
"We have been getting a lot of participants for our financial education through 211, so thanks for helping us spread the word- you guys are a great resource!"
- Talia Kahn-Kravis, Program Coordinator, Innovative Changes
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