We’re experimenting with new, simpler ways to become a Samaritans volunteer.

At the moment, it’s a long process of info sessions, interviews, selection events, group exercises and training, with a lot of manual effort required from our branch volunteers at every step. It can take many months to become a trained volunteer.

We’ve drastically simplified that process for a growing number of branches in northern England. In a single, immediate online transaction, a user can now:

User interviews and analytics are giving us very positive feedback so far, but the work is never finished. In the spirit of continuous improvement, we’re refining the service this fortnight.

Here are some of the bigger things we’re focusing on.

The new user journey to become a volunteer

Making it easy to reschedule

Samaritans is powered by volunteer effort, and we want to make sure that by streamlining the recruitment process, we create less work for our branch volunteers, not more. Dealing with missed interviews is a key factor in that.

Although users can now book an interview slot straight away, it’s still difficult for them to cancel or amend that slot if they find out later that they can’t attend.

Actionable reminders

We’re following the example of the NHS and sending users actionable email and SMS reminders. They’ll be able to simply click a prominent link in an email or reply “CANCEL” to a text message. No user account or complicated form needed.

This means we can better respect the time of our users and our volunteers.

Asking the most important questions first

There are several big decisions for users to make during the recruitment journey, along with many simpler tasks, like giving us an email address and contact phone number.

At the moment, there isn’t much logic to the order these questions are asked in.

We’re reorganising this to ask the most important questions first, and leave the simple stuff, like contact details, until the end.

Now we’ll ask users, in order:

  1. What role they’d like to do
  2. Where they’d like to volunteer
  3. When they’d like to interview
  4. Some contact details

Giving people time to think

Being a listening volunteer can be emotionally demanding, so we want to make sure users have the time they need to consider whether the role is for them.

We’ve gotten some great feedback on our stop and think page, which presents five statements about the tougher parts of the role, each of which must be acknowledged by the user before continuing.

Users who select the listening volunteer role are asked to stop and think for a moment

Now, we want to make it clearer what to do if after reading these statements, the user changes their mind and decides the listening role isn’t for them, but still wants to volunteer with us. That includes clearer signposting to our other non-listening roles.

Sharing what works, nationally

Although we’re still actively experimenting with interview booking, we’re very pleased with how the earlier steps of this journey are performing.

It’s a good time to retire our old form entirely and start directing everyone to this brand new service.

That means that regardless of where in the country you are, you can start to benefit from the improvements, even if your nearest branch doesn’t support online interview booking yet.

Once this is done, we’re in a better position to make small, continous improvements, rather than saving everything for a risky, big release at some point in the future.

We’re looking forward to testing out all these changes with real users over the next few weeks and seeing how they perform.

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