The Best Hotlines

According to “The Case for Anonymous Hotlines”, published in Risk and Insurance, by Dave Slovin, April 15, 2007:

“Good hotlines are available to callers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and always are staffed by a live interviewer. Many agencies utilize an internal hotline that only operates from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and then kicks over to voicemail. Unfortunately, the quality of a tip might be diminished once a caller is relegated to voicemail. Consider that and the fact that roughly 50 percent of all hotline calls occur at night or on weekends. An individual seeking to remain anonymous might try to leave a very brief message by omitting critical details, which would otherwise have supported the investigation. Some callers might even change their minds and hang up when they reach an automated voicemail response, fearing that their voice or caller ID could be recognized.”

The Ethical Advocate team agrees. Our call statistics are similar, with a substantial portion taking place on the weekend. This may be partially driven by the fact that callers have more time to think about the incident during the weekend (assuming a M-F workweek) and want a way to relieve their mind. We also receive many calls at 2 in the morning, probably from those who can’t get to sleep while thinking about the incident.

This brings up the objections identified to the recent Project on Government Oversight (POGO) report released on March 20, 2009. In the Ethical Advocate commentary, we highlight that the POGO team completely overlooked this and other critical requirements of an effective hotline. But, if taking feedback from a hotline provider seems biased, POGO should have looked to the unbiased experts in the industry, such as the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), and the previously identified factors in providing an effective hotline, published in 2005.

The AICPA list identifies many items which are difficult to provide internally. These include 24 x 365 coverage, multilingual capability, trained interviewers and no voicemail, a case management system that logs calls, demonstrates case closure, and has management oversight capabilities, and the ability for reporters to anonymously follow-up with administrators via a unique tracking number or user account.

The POGO report does not take these items into account. Instead, it investigated one hotline reporting company and then made a sweeping proclamation related to the entire hotline industry and its services. If the POGO team wants to provide a complete recommendation to their stakeholders, the above, and extremely important, hotline characteristics must be addressed.