Shaun Sephton, our lead engineer, had an insightful conversation with Team Everest team founder and CEO Karthik Vidya. Team Everest is an NGO based in India focusing on scholarships and volunteering, started in 2006. Their vision is to inspire everyone to volunteer and make volunteering a habit.
Full interview here:
Shaun: What is the goal/objective of your organisation? What problem are you trying to solve as an organisation?
Karthik: Organisational vision is to inspire volunteers and to promote volunteering as a lifestyle or habbit. Imagine the impact 100 billion people in India volunteering 1 day per month could have.
With regards to projects being currently executed over WhatsApp and Turn specifically, the current goals of the organisation are:
- to support students on a scholarship program
- to support volunteers volunteering for various events organised by Team Everest.
Shaun: Tell me about your target audience - Who are you solving this problem for?
Karthik: Team Everest is using WhatsApp to support the following target audiences:
- Poor or parentless students who have completed schooling up to grade 12, who have been awarded a scholarship to complete their undergraduate college education.
- Volunteers volunteering for various events organised by Team Everest.
The problem being solved for each target audience is:
- Supporting students on scholarship program with various day to day questions, e.g. when will a fee be paid, or general questions around the scholarship. Helpdesk operators respond directly in person to these queries. Additionally WhatsApp is used as a notification system informing students of upcoming training programs, or when scholarship payments have been made.
- Supporting volunteers with guidance should they need it. Sending out newsletters to volunteers to further build the community. And notifying volunteers of upcoming events to increase engagement.
Shaun: How do you use chat to help solve that problem?
Karthik: WhatsApp is widely used by both students and volunteers in India and is the preferred communications medium(more widely used than email). Therefore chat is the ideal medium through which to communicate with students.
WhatsApp and Turn’s helpdesk facilitates direct human to human communication and timely notifications to support students and volunteers effectively. The challenge here is not to create an automated chat bot but instead to allow for direct human support to students and volunteers effectively and efficiently.
Shaun: Can you share a real-world story where your chat service helped a user?
Karthik: Before using chat, students would have to physically visit the Team Everest office when they required assistance, which was a very time consuming process and which has proven to be unsustainable given the current amount of students on the program.
Now with chat instead of visiting the Team Everest office, students can be supported over WhatsApp. For example consider the case of scholarship payments, where students can now courier all their receipts to Team Everest, who can then send a WhatsApp message informing students once the receipts have been received. Once the team has validated the receipts students are again notified via WhatsApp that their receipts have been validated and payment is being processed. Once payment has been made students are again notified via WhatsApp and they can confirm that they have received payment.
Shaun: What is the impact that you expect from your chat service?
Karthik: Previous to chat there were various disparate points of contact. Students would engage with various different people in search of support and it was difficult to keep track of everything. Now with chat there is a single point of contact with a full history. This has eliminated a lot of chaos and in general has reduced operational overhead. Students now have a single point of contact, helpdesk operators can now effectively support students. The end result has been the ability to scale the scholarship program and to continue scaling it in future.
Shaun: How are you measuring impact at the moment? How do you know if your chat service is having a positive impact?
Karthik: In Team Everest’s example impact is not measured as such in terms of outcomes for students, but rather in terms of Team Everest being able to scale their scholarship program. Where once students had to visit an office in person they can now use chat to perform everything online. This has enabled Team Everest to scale their scholarship, even into areas where they previously did not even have a physical presence. Team Everest used to support 19 students with scholarships in 2016, today they support over 1000 students.
Shaun: How do people know you have a chat service? How do you promote your chat service?
Karthik: Not applicable, the aim here currently is not to grow the community but rather support an existing cohort of students and volunteers.
Shaun: What are your major learnings from building and running the chat service?
Karthik: Communicate over platforms which people are already using to ensure high engagement rates.
Shaun: What challenges did you face whilst launching your service?
Karthik: Initially it was difficult to work with templates effectively, however over time it became clear how to setup templates to be able to use them in multiple places etc.
Additionally it was a challenge to manage the team responding to chats, since chat volumes would not always be consistent. Currently there are two full time helpdesk operators, however at peak times up to ten operators might be needed.
Shaun: What are your current challenges?
Karthik: Exploring other more dynamic use cases where WhatsApp can be leveraged. For example sending certificates to students, which will require putting in place additional systems to source and send unique certificates as message attachments.
Shaun: Have you integrated Turn with any external tool? If yes, would you be willing to share the resources with the community?
Karthik: ZOHO Creator was used to integrate to the Turn API for automation and to send notification messages.
Shaun: Would you be open to sharing resources with the community such as your content/playbooks or any webhooks you created?
Shaun: If you want to change/add one thing to Turn that would make building and/or running your chat service easier, what would that be?
- Need the ability to segment users into collections based on profile data.
- Need the ability to view users closest to exiting the 24 hour response window such that operators can respond to them first.
- Need the ability to create a voice recording and send it from the Turn helpdesk interface.
Organisation context: https://www.teameverest.ngo/
Interviewee: Karthik Vidya
Interviewer: Shaun Sephton