Building the first SMS crisis line for workers

The professional world is filled with tough situations. Whether you have a big deadline stressing you out, you can’t decide which exciting job offer to take, you’re grappling with an ethical decision, or you’re experiencing harassment, it’s impossible to be prepared for every challenge you might encounter at work.

What if you could shoot a quick message right from your desk, and get an outside perspective? Harnessing the immediacy of live web chat and SMS texting, Empower Work offers people accessible, anonymous support for tough work-related situations.

Founded in June 2017, Empower Work has a team of 13 that uses Front remotely, based across the United States. They’re on a mission to ensure everyone has an advocate to navigate professional questions. Anyone can chat or text a question to receive free support and counseling from their trained peer counselors. We spoke with Founder Jaime-Alexis Fowler to hear more about the Empower Work team and how they use Front to make fast, personal connections between remote counselors and those who need it.

Note: Images do not include real people or numbers from Empower Work users.

What were your team’s biggest challenges?

J: There are a few critical pieces that make Empower Work effective. Our support needs to be immediate, it needs to meet people wherever they are, and it needs to be personal. Our team needed a way to manage fast-paced external communications and distribute conversations among our volunteers, as well as connect remote volunteers.

Our support needs to be immediate, it needs to meet people wherever they are, and it needs to be human. Our team needed a way to manage fast-paced external communications and distribute conversations among our volunteers, as well as connect remote volunteers. - Jaime-Alexis Fowler, Founder, Empower Work

Our volunteers are experienced professionals who go through a series of training sessions to learn how to coach people. One of our training director’s favorite questions to ask is simply: “and what else?” It helps you think about all the possible paths you can take to find a solution.

We don’t give a particular recommendation on what to do — instead we help you get to a point where you feel comfortable making the move that feels right to you, whatever that may be.

Tell us how you work together with Front.

J: Live web chat and texting are the best ways to give immediate support that meets people where they are. We connect Twilio and Chatra channels in Front. Next, we use some of the automation tools Front offers, such as canned responses. Everyone who messages us automatically receives a response where they can view our terms of service and opt in to chatting with a counselor.

Note: Images do not include real people or numbers from Empower Work users.

Once they’ve accepted, we can route all our questions to the right volunteer using a round-robin rule. If needed, we sometimes send users resources that can help them work through their challenges, and we’re able to save those links also using the canned responses feature in Front. That way volunteers can easily search and grab related links without having to leave Front.

The transparency we get by using Front enables us to learn from each other, train our team, and ultimately give better support. - Jaime-Alexis Fowler, Founder, Empower Work

The transparency we get by using Front enables us to learn from each other, train our team, and ultimately give better support. We’re able to collaborate without needing to be in the same physical place. We have teammates based in every time zone. We use internal chat to provide feedback to all volunteers on their conversations.

For times when we don’t have a volunteer available, we have automation set up to send responses using Front’s canned response feature letting people know what hours we’ll be back online. We can also send automated surveys to users after each chat, which helps us gather feedback without spending a lot of time or energy.

What will you accomplish together next?

J: Our team is growing quickly — we’re on track to reach 100 volunteers by the end of 2018. A big goal we’re working toward is identifying larger workforce trends. We tag all the messages we get by category, and then use Front’s analytics to see which topics and trends are coming up most often. We use that to not only inform our service and volunteers, but will be publishing aggregate, anonymous data for wider use as we grow and scale.

Front helps us understand the needs of our users and volunteers, and it informs our testing and decisions as we continue to grow. - Jaime-Alexis Fowler, Founder, Empower Work

We believe Empower Work has the opportunity to serve a huge swath of American workers, and we want to make sure we get it right. Front helps us understand the needs of our users and volunteers, and it informs our testing and decisions as we continue to grow.