How does an Internal and External Hotline Differ?
When a company has implemented a whistleblower helpline, or fraud intake hotline, often times it's the person on the other end of the phone number that is the only contact point for the caller. Not only does the person on the other end of the phone represent the company that has implemented the program, they also represent the the program itself.
Because of the nature of subjects, or topics the call center takes care of - handling incoming complaints that can range from common theft all the way up to very serious allegations of fraud and harassment - we've decided to discuss what a successful helpline looks like and compare an outsourced third-party call center to an in-house company operated number.
Great ethics and compliance programs offer multichannel support for intake, providing employees a preference in how they wish to report ethical concerns. For employees that rely on a more human connection, anonymous helplines are critical to ensuring that the employee feels supported and nurtured when reporting misconduct.
Table of Content
There are many important factors that make a whistleblower helpline successful. These have been highlighted below along with a comparison on outsourced vs. one operated in-house.
Response Time - Wait Time to Speak to Someone
Response time is an important factor and fundamental to the success of the caller's experience. It's a metric that speaks to how accessible the person on the other end of the phone is. When an employee is calling the number they've been instructed to call, more than likely they are doing so with a certain level of anxiety and fear. They don't want to wait or be put on hold. This might just make the caller hang up, and what they have to report may be very important and lost.
- more than likely operated by a 9-5 employee so there's no after hours coverage when most employees file reports
- chances of them being away from their desk or on the other line is very high
- response time will more than likely be in a few hours or even the next day depending on other workload
- operations run 24/7/365 - there's someone on the other end of the phone at all times so employees always have someone to talk to
- isn't limited to one person - if one agent is busy, another will be there to take the call
- response time is guaranteed at a few seconds for an agent to pick up the phone
Call Time - How Long the Call Takes
A caller is already feeling a certain level of stress and may find the ability to sort through jumbled thoughts a difficult process. A helpline call should not be a stressful event with a hidden pressure to get it over with as soon as possible.
- the person manning the helpline may have other items on their agenda - perhaps an important meeting in 10 minutes. They want to get the call completed fast.
- all the time the caller needs and no pressure to end it
Calm Under Fire - Patience With the Caller
This is important as typically callers are frustrated and scared, or both. It's important that the person manning the phone isn't easily flustered, or doesn't get impatient to get the call over with.
- is the employee manning this phone line also responsible for other tasks? Are they also in the middle of putting together a time-sensitive PowerPoint presentation for an HR meeting happening in 10 minutes? Chances are their mind is not focused on this type of call and they may want to end it as soon as possible, not taking into account the emotions of the caller
- the agent's sole task is to spend time with the caller and make the caller feel safe and important. No matter how emotional the caller is, the agent is trained to keep calm and ensure the safety and comfort of the caller at all times
Empathy With the Caller
Probably one of the most important aspects of a call center and their agents. Most people are empathetic. But call center agents go through a certain level of training to sort through their own emotions when handling a caller, ensuring personal emotion and judgments are not brought into the conversation. A good agent is able to develop a strong rapport with the caller and make them feel like someone is listening. After all, the caller is under a tremendous amount emotion and pressure.
- the person manning an in-house hotline is probably very nice and a great employee, but also has a personal stake in the company. Is that person able to communicate with the caller in a completely neutral manner without bringing any judgment into the mix? Will they listen without thinking "no way, that type of activity could never happen here..." or "the caller is probably just upset that they had to work on a stat holiday..."
- a call center agent has no stake in the company that the caller is reporting on. They are able to remain completely unbiased while doing everything in their power to ensure that the caller has someone to talk to. The agent is able to calm the caller down if emotions are elevated. The agent is able to communicate in an empathetic manner making the caller feel important
Attention to Detail - Reading Between The Lines
Often times, misconduct that is reported by a caller is the same type of misconduct reported by another caller. Hearing the same thing over and over can be monotonous. What's important for the person taking the call is to understand that not all callers are the same, no matter the similarity in issues. It may become easy to keep asking the same questions over and over to callers and soon become complacent. It's also easy to start to assume an understanding of issues without really asking the right questions.
- the person taking the call (HR, CEO) has probably heard it all before. Therefore, their thoughts may start to wander from what's really important - truly hearing what the caller has to say. They may not necessarily 'hear' all the details nor will they read between lines.
- a call center agent is trained to understand that many times a caller may not be completely forthcoming due to stress and/or fear. Their job is to completely understand the issue at hand so no detail is left behind. They are able to read between the lines of a conversation, building trust with the caller to determine the level of importance of an issue - simple theft to corruption
It's very important to consider all employees no matter where they are located. Your employee in South Africa isn't on the same work schedule as head office in California where someone is manning a hotline number. Their chances of being put right through to voicemail a guarantee. Voice mail is no way to operate an whistleblower or fraud intake helpline.
- chances of there being a live voice-to-voice conversation is very challenging. Getting to the root of an issue with back and forth voice mail messages is a waste of time, not to mention important information gets lost in the shuffle
- third-party hotlines offer international global numbers, manned 24/7/365. All your employees, no matter their location, have a number to call, and a live person to speak to
Language and Translation
Many companies operate locations in unique parts of the world where the native tongue may be something most have never heard of. But these are your employees. Their native tongue is important.
- if your hotline is operated by an employee (HR, CEO, etc.) how will they understand the caller speaking Arabic? Urdu? Tamil? What that employee has to say is equally important as the employee calling in from the head office
- third-party helplines have agents that speak and can translate a host of languages. If there's a caller speaking a language the agent does not understand, a translator is brought on the line immediately to speak to the caller. And this all happens in record time (yes really) so that the experience the caller has is no different than the experience a head office employee has
How your employees are treated and what their experiences are when speaking-up matter. When focus is aimed at ensuring the caller feels safe and encouraged to speak-up, no information is lost, no employee will feel like their time isn't important, and the company will have a better chance at quickly understanding unethical behaviors happening in the workplace. A positive interaction with the person on the other end of the helpline number will increase employee relations and company reputation.