Thursday, February 17, 2005

A help-desk for arts organizations

The main reason I called Neville at the Arts and Business Council of Greater Philadelphia (see previous post) was to ask him about their new help desk project - "TechConnection for the Arts".

In brief, the service is this:
Arts staff can call a toll-free number 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week for access to professional and immediate technology support - over the phone.

The service is available to any nonprofit arts and cultural organization in the Greater Philadelphia Region.

The annual fee is $50 for orgs with 1-5 staff members up to $150 for orgs with 16-25 staff members (with further rates available for larger organizations).
In a word - wow. That's awesome. Every staffperson has access to call a tech person over the phone, all for the annual organizational fee of $50-$150. That seems like a great deal - and I wanted to know how it was possible, and how it's working out.
(For what it's worth, a similar thing is offered in Dallas. Let me know if you know of others elsewhere.)
Neville said they were lucky to find a partner in the business community that was looking to turn part of its mission - serving the needs of the community - into reality. In return, this established tech organization was hoping to raise its profile in their home in Philly, where it was still relativley obscure.

The company, CAI, had an established phone-based help-desk operation already underway. They agreed to offer help-desk "bandwidth" as their investment in the community and their tool for increasing visibility. The ABC took on the logistical and administrative side of registering new arts organizations and training users.

Training users? Neville said one of the biggest challenges has been convincing people to use the service once they've signed up. The three biggest barriers seem to be:
  • Habit. It's difficult to get people to change their habits purely by giving them information; they need to retrain themselves - for example to not go to whoever helped them the last time, and instead call the tech support number.
  • Fear. Have you ever had someone troubleshoot a computer problem over the phone? It can be clunky and challenging, and you spend a lot of time making sure both people are on the same page before getting to the heart of the matter.... And now imagine you're in that situation, but you're afraid of technology. It can be fairly intimidating. So even though it works, it's not the same as...
  • Delegation. The person down the hall may not know as much as the techie on the phone, but in my experience people tend to prefer having someone else deal with challenges than learning it for themselves - which is what's happening when they are walked through a troubleshooting process on the phone.
So the ABC provides an orientation in how the process works; what to expect; and and what cannot be addressed by this service. In addition, they do all the outreach to arts organzitions, and transmit information about new enrollment to CAI for their database. Currently, they are supporting about 50 arts orgs, representing about 500 individual staff; ultimately, they hope to double or triple that amount. Finally, the ABC also helps provide opportunities for CAI to raise their profile - certainly through the press coverage of this new service, as well as business-to-business introductions, etc.

Amazingly, the ABC and CAI went from zero to pilot to "live" in about a year; Neville estimates he spent 20% of his time over the course of the year on this project, and it involved several players form both the ABC abnd CAI, as well as a couple of consultants who helped shepherd the process along. And it's not like they convinced CAI to offer this service, then posted a bunch of phone numbers, leaned back and watched the tech support tickers start rolling. The ABC spends time and money and other resources on this project, ensuring it continues to work smoothly, promoting enrollment - and perhaps more importantly, promoting usage.


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