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Posted 7.19.05

The 211 “First Call for Help” call centers serving Cuyahoga and adjacent counties need greater cooperation and communication among each other to cope with shrinking funding and rising demand for their services.

Those are the conclusions of a study of the call centers’ operations carried out by four Weatherhead School of Management MBA students. The students examined call centers in Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Portage and Summit counties. Among the specific recommendations in the report are for the call centers to:

• Establish regular meetings among directors to discuss common challenges and solutions to them
• Begin an electronic newsletter
• Make each center’s performance metrics and results public, and set collective regional goals for them.

 The study recommends against any consolidation among the call centers it examined, but does suggest collaboration on small projects or areas of interest as a way to increase communication.

“All nonprofits are facing difficult times, especially in the social service area,” said Sam Brown, one of the report’s authors. “There’s less money to go around at a time when there is an increasing demand on services. It makes sense for services to look for ways to save money and increase efficiency.”

Brown said Cuyahoga County’s 211 service is the largest and best financed among those it surveyed and is affiliated with the county’s United Way. “One of the things we were trying to figure out is how Cuyahoga County’s center could leverage those advantages to benefit the whole region. We determined by interviewing executives that the other counties wanted to remain independent, but maybe there are ways Cuyahoga County could help them with marketing and setting service parameters.”

Brown explained that the study had been assigned as part of the Weatherhead School’s required “Action Learning” course. The course gives students the opportunity to use their management skills and analytical tools to address “real world” problems.

Other authors of the report were Vincent Amato, John Tran and Chun-Hua Lin. All four graduated from Weatherhead in May.

Results of the study were presented to the 211 advisory board and senior executives at Cuyahoga County’s United Way, said Stephen Wertheim, director of the 211 service. “We’re implementing many of the recommendations,” Wertheim said. “For example, we’ve been working with the United Way of Medina County and county commissioners and developed a 211 service there. The Cuyahoga, Geauga and Medina services now are all using the same call tracking phone system, so that the process of tracking calls will be much more seamless, and we have developed common branding. And we’ve begun discussions with Lorain County on ways we can cooperate more closely.”

Brown said working on the report was a very satisfying experience. “It’s great to be able to take this knowledge you’ve accumulated and use it in a way that will really help people.”

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