How can you serve your clients while you’re sleeping?

No. Technology can’t replace you. Yes, technology can help you have more impact on your clients, make you more effective and efficient.

If you know me or my work, you know that I think technology can play an increasingly useful role in your work serving newcomers to Canada. I don’t believe technology is a panacea or can completely replace human and face-to-face services. But it can supplement, complement and, yes, some times replace aspects of that work.

And, yes, that will soon mean sometimes doing work completely virtually with clients who won’t or can’t come into your office (and, yes, I define video conferencing as face-to-face. I mean, how isn’t it?).

Think about the mundane, repetitive, administrative parts of your work. In workshops and conversations, I use the example of a resume (I started my career as an employment counsellor, so I can imagine how this might have been useful). You might spend your day providing repetitive information to clients about resumes, what is a “Canadian resume,” what are different resume formats, what to include/not include in your resume, etc. Already there are thousands of websites with templates, articles, videos and other useful information. But, like most agencies, you write your own articles, blog posts, etc., because we believe that we need to create new content and resources, etc.

What if you could point (and some of you probably already do) clients to a page or a series of links that work them through all of that information on their own? That they can do as homework in preparation for your work together? What if it was in the form of a chatbot that walked them through the resume writing approach? What if it meant that when you actually sat down together (or video conferenced, or whatever works best), you weren’t simply repeating all that typical resume information to them, but actually working with them on a draft of their resume which they created based on the homework you gave them?

If I was still working as an employment counsellor, I would find that useful. It would make my job more interesting (less repetition, more personalized service work) and more efficient and effective for clients who ARE motivated self-starters and can do that initial homework and then sit with you to get the edits, critique and insights to truly make their resume pop.

Side effect, more time for you to spend with your more high needs or vulnerable clients.

It doesn’t replace you. It makes your job more interesting (potentially) and able to have more impact on more clients (definitely).

Who wouldn’t want that?

Let’s step out a bit more macro. What about administrative information about your work or agency? What if your office is closed and clients are trying to get information outside of office hours?

You can have this information on your website. And you probably should. But, like most organizations, your website probably sucks (it does, I’m sorry, but you’re not alone). You should improve that, and access useful publicly available information about topics that are important to you and your clients, link to those sites (like Settlement.Org) and add information that might be hyper-local or missing, but don’t reinvent the wheel.

What if you could continue to serve your clients while you’re sleeping?

Some time ago I interviewed Lawrence Murphy, a Canadian pioneer in online counselling. And he said something that has always stuck with me. I’ll quote it here, but you can listen to the entire conversation:

“We have stories from clients who say, ‘I woke up at two in the morning, in the middle of an anxiety attack, and instead of pacing around my apartment, saying, ‘Okay, come on, man, your face to face appointment is Thursday, it’s going to be okay, settle down.’ Instead of doing that, I opened my laptop, I went on the website, I opened the latest message that you’d sent me. And there I was, at two in the morning, working on my stuff, getting through things, improving my views and attitudes, thinking harder about what my experience is, and where I want to go and who I want to be.’

And I mean, I’m in bed, right? I’m asleep. But the client is working on their stuff. So I put in, you know, my one clinical hour of responding to their email, I ask them questions, I provide some empathy, I provide some insight, I refer them to a website or two, and I put in my clinical hours, which is basically 50 minutes, right. And the client can go in once, twice, five times, 20 times, the client can spend 15 hours with me over the course of a week. And I put in an hour. People often talk about the drawbacks and the challenges, there’s huge benefits, tremendous benefits. In face to face counseling, you know, we’ll give people homework – over the course of the next week, I want you to think about this. Clients go away and they don’t always remember exactly what we said, they lose the piece of paper we gave them. We say go to this website, but you know, they have to take out the bit of paper from their pocket, they have to sit at the computer. They’re already at the computer in the middle of a session with me, and I’ve written go to this website. Well, that’s pretty easy. So one of the one of the beauties of it is that in the in the face-to-face work you’re not there anymore. It’s their memory of you. Whereas when they’re doing the online work, I mean, you really are, you’re right there. Clients say extraordinary things to us: ‘You know, it’s like you were in the room with me. I felt connected to you, I felt engaged in the moment when I working through your questions.'”

That’s powerful. And that’s email counselling. Low tech, high impact.

Look where we’re at these days. You probably already access FAQs, chatbots, AI assistants in your personal life. Maybe you use them professionally. Maybe you and your organization are building or thinking about building something that can help you in your work, as well as provide 24/7 service to your clients.

Technology can help you do that.

Something like a “virtual assistant designed to streamline access to information and access to people who work for public service organizations. The intent is to make information and resources easily accessible for the public using a platform that most of them are already on (no need to visit the official website of the organization), while decreasing the workload of staff by being able to address some of the public’s needs via the tool and eliminating the need to talk to an individual for basic information or communication.”

Sounds good, right? Take 5 minutes to watch it in action:

More great examples here.

Then watch this quick TED Talk about using automation to help refugees settle:

and then dive into a more complete explanation of the technology he’s talking about and how it could help your work:

No. Technology can’t replace you.

Yes, technology can help you have more impact on your clients, make you more effective and efficient.

It can.

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