Any suggestions: a phone system for at-home volunteers?

November 4, 2020

Digital Candle has just received the following request. It doesn't fit with the stated expertise of any of our experts, but someone out there must know!

If you've got any suggestions on this - or would be happy to chat to the charity grappling with this issue - email andy@digitalcandle.org.uk

We are a small charity, setting up a telephone helpline for people to call when they need basic help with a digital device or task.

Calls to the helpline will go to voicemail, and messages will then be assigned to one of a team of volunteers, who will call the person back.

It's important to note that the volunteers are very part-time, and each one may only be available for a few hours a month; they will not be manning a phoneline from a desk full-time like a call centre employee. We hope to have 50-100 volunteers in total. They will be working from home and we want them to be able to use their own mobile phone, and/or a desktop app, to make their calls.

We are seeking help from Digital Candle because we have not yet found a tech solution that provides what we need, but we believe other small charities out there must already be running similar services and we hope one of your experts might know what kinds of tech systems they are using and be able to give us some recommendations.

A summary of the features we need:
* a service that includes a functional mobile app for iOS and Android: that notifies a volunteer when they have been assigned a message to respond to, and allows them easily to call from within the app
* ideally a desktop app for Windows and MacOS, in addition to the mobile app
* the app should make calls using WiFi, not using the volunteer's personal minutes or data allowance
* the call should use number masking, ie appear to be coming from our central helpline number, not the volunteer's personal number
* to be able to track the call, mark it as responded to, and allow the volunteer to add notes and for example tag it as done or to follow up further etc. Ideally this would be within the calling app, as well as automatically passed through to an internal CRM backend (we currently use Airtable but HubSpot or similar would be fine too)
* a coordinator should be able to assign a new voicemail messages to a volunteer, and for others to see that the call has been assigned and is no longer in the inbound queue
* pricing: many services seem to have a per-user pricing model eg £25 per user per month. But with our setup, of many very part-time users, this is unsuitable and unaffordable. So we need a solution with a flat or per-call fee system rather than per user. Ideally a company offering a charity discount too.

We have trialled Aircall, which fulfils many of the needs above but unfortunately their iOS app isn't yet fully functional.

We are planning to trial other products such as Aloware, Freshworks and JustCall.

We think we may be asking a lot for everything to be handled within a single app frontend, and so we are happy to cobble something together from different services. Obviously more integrated is better! But our priority is an easy and stable experience for the volunteer users, more than needing a simple backend/CRM system "internally".

Thank you in advance for any advice on what others are using to achieve this kind of service. We're hoping to launch our helpline as soon as possible so we'd very much appreciate a response from someone soon.

If you've got any suggestions on this - or would be happy to chat to the charity grappling with this issue - email andy@digitalcandle.org.uk