Do You Really Know What Your 3rd Party Hotline Operator Says?

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Have you called your hotline after hours? Did your answering service follow their simple instructions?

While using a 3rd party hotline operator to answer your hotline may provide your agency with the flexibility needed to maintain a 24-7 helpline, it can also create serious problems impacting your caller’s experience. We examine this issue in a little more detail in this post.

Is this article for me?

Potentially! You should definitely read this article if:

  1. Your agency uses an answering service
  2. Your agency is considering using a 3rd party answering service or call center field calls to your agency.

3rd Party Hotline Operators are often not trained

I have heard an answering service operator express confusion to their supervisor about a caller, because ‘men don’t get raped’ – a myth about sexual violence that many agencies try so hard to dispel.

Another time, a client reported being called directly by an answering service operator and berated for requesting services. Several operators at answering services I worked with have tried to offer support directly to the callers, which brought up issues of confidentiality and resulted in the operators giving misdirected and even dangerous advice.

A different operator told a caller that the rape crisis center could not help them, because they were dealing with sexual harassment – despite the rape crisis center having advocates trained in providing services to those dealing with sexual harassment. 

– Former crisis coordinator at a rape crisis center

Third party hotline operators, also known as answering service operators are often not trained in the specifics of your field, and this can create challenges for your agency.

Your answering service is representing you in the community. Do you know what they’re saying?

The agencies mentioned in the quote above were unable to permanently correct the errors they experienced, despite doing frequent quality assurance checks with their answering services.

You’re taking on a lot of risk by having a 3rd party answer calls to your hotline. In their own way they may think that they’re helping, but they might actually be causing a lot of harm, deterring people from connecting with you.


Question: How do I know if this is happening at our agency?

Audit your own hotline. Try calling your hotline at different times of the day to see what actual callers experience. Operators typically have a script, but you may experience that they go off-script, and that different operators (which are on at different times) go off-script in different, and sometimes surprising ways.

Check for Reviews: A lot of agencies don’t have reviews, but if your agency regularly gets reviews on public sites such as Yelp, Google, etc then it’s worth checking to see if some of those reviews name your answering service operator explicitly and flag issues.

Question: We use an answering service because they help us block inappropriate callers. Are there alternatives?

Yes! There are lots of approaches that can be even more effective. You can reach out to learn more.

Question: We use an answering service because we need to patch callers through to different people depending on the type of call, our on-call schedule, and several other factors. Are there alternatives?

Yes! We can patch callers through to your advocates based on the type of call, your (complex) on-call schedules, and much more. You can reach out to learn more.

Looking for a better approach?

If you’d like to learn more about ways to move away from answering services – with sophisticated solutions to call order, scheduling, burnout protection, and more – please reach out to us. We provide customized solutions.

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