Information and Referral (I&R) resources provide vital services to communities throughout the United States to connect the right people to the right information every day. In fact, these services, particularly 2-1-1 call centers, reach approximately 270 million people, covering all 50 states to provide callers information on training, employment, and help with food/utilities, as well as referrals to human services for a variety of other needs and crises. Although I&R delivers a unique, one-stop service for any person searching for information, many I&R platforms are not an all-in-one solution for the call center agents operating such services.
Limited Budgets, Market Demands, and Multiple Vendors, Oh My!
Organizations focused on I&R services face exuberant challenges every day. One of the most constricting challenges affecting this essential resource is limited budgets and budget restrictions. Many 2-1-1s and information and referral centers receive funding from various sources including local United Ways, Federal, state or local government funds, and community foundations. Despite funding from these multiple resources, I&R centers must keep stringent reports while completing numerous steps to keep and qualify for funding annually.
Coupled with budgetary concerns, many 2-1-1s and other I&R organizations continue to face increasing market demands for innovative I&R technology. With consumer preferences for convenience and ease-of-use at an all-time high, many I&R resource databases are not equipped with the latest technology to stay ahead of the increasing demands. This pressure often leads to information and referral organizations working with multiple vendors to run their database systems and telephony solutions – oftentimes leading to poor communication, time lags, and increasing costs.
Integrate to Communicate
In response to these significant challenges, I&R organizations are beginning to seek technologies that work to integrate information and referral systems into one complete solution. By combining resource databases with telephony systems into a single, easy-to-use tool, I&R centers are moving from communicating with multiple vendors to conveniently consolidating their working relationships to only a single vendor while increasing their communication capabilities with callers.
2-1-1 services answer more than 15.6 million calls annually in the United States, and with such high call volumes, these organizations do not have the time or the resources to waste communicating with multiple vendors to fix multiple systems. By integrating information and referral client tracking technologies with a multimedia contact center solution, I&R organizations improve efficiency of I&R specialists, streamline communication, and reduce capital costs. What’s more, these unique, integrated systems are meeting the demands of the modern consumer that prefers to search for answers independently online, and desires communication in any convenient modality including voice, video, chat, or SMS.
What’s the Big Deal?
Information and referral services are a vital resource for the United States, and according to a study commissioned by United Way Worldwide in December, this national service is estimated to provide $1.1 billion in net value to society over the next decade. Predictions in the same study concluded that as a one-stop shop for social services, 2-1-1 services would ultimately save Americans millions of dollars in taxpayer money. As these services continue to expand and impact millions, I&R organizations will need to continue to integrate their systems into a single easy communication solution to provide an efficient experience for consumers and I&R specialists alike.
Although challenges for information & referral organizations will continue to exist – specifically with funding sources and demands from the future market – improvements in information and referral platforms coupled with integration of multimedia contact center software will pave the way for a more successful future for I&R organizations.