Different tools, same mission: the ACCESS helpdesk past and present
2019-10-28 | By Genoveva Geppaart
Since its foundation in 1986, ACCESS’ mission has always been serving internationals to settle successfully in the Netherlands through the experience of our volunteers, 90% of which are, or have been expats. One of the ways in which we do this is through our helpdesk.
From rolodex to database
Pre-dating the internet, the ACCESS helpdesk was called the Telephone Help Desk (THD), because all questions were asked and responded to via the phone. When you entered the room where the THD volunteers were working, you heard the phone ringing all the time. The information used to respond to inquiries was stored in a rolodex, a rotating file device used to store contact information alphabetically. Around 1991 a database was developed, and became the foundation of the more modern database implemented in 2006 – which continues to be in use today – and is fondly referred to as DAISY (Database of ACCESS Information Systems). DAISY continues to be maintained by the Information Research Department (IRD) and included names and contact details of expat- friendly organisations all over the Netherlands, referred to us by the community. For many years, all database records were printed and organised in folders for the THD volunteers, over time this migrated to a closed database continually updated and reviewed by our IRD teams.
Today, THD stands for The Helpdesk and the ringing of phones has been replaced by the sounds of keyboards as an increasing number of inquiries are received and responded to by email.
Leaflets and Information Calendar
Although the database was very important, other sources of information were also necessary. The helpdesk also had a drawer with leaflets/flyers for many years. This was kept up-to-date by the Information Research Department (IRD), which was also responsible for migrating the information from those leaflets into DAISY. From 1989 through to 2010 the IRD volunteers made an Information Calendar. This was a calendar, supplemented with information for newcomers. Subjects covered included moving to the Netherlands, finding accommodation, disposal and recycling, finding a job, healthcare, banks and post office, transport and childcare. The Information Calendar also provided addresses of embassies/consulates, a list of international schools, a list of important airlines and public transport companies, contact details for several clubs for internationals as well as a list of important Dutch words.
From books, factsheets and booklets to FAQs
ACCESS, and those who were part of it though felt they had far more to share, and could provide even greater value than simply answering calls and providing information. From this desire to further support the international community grew a series of books – written by our volunteers – which over time, and due to changing circumstances eventually became booklets and factsheets. The titles, and subjects covered were many and varied and they provided not only answers to many questions – but sometimes context and background to many subjects and how these were experienced in the Netherlands. With the advent of internet, and websites as resources for information the booklets/factsheets became FAQ Guides which the public could download for free – and which the helpdesk team could reference to respond to inquiries. Today, these FAQs can be found directly online where they continue to be kept up to date by our Communications team, and continue to be used by our helpdesk.
From the 20+ titles ACCESS had to share information and resources about life in the Netherlands, which ranged from giving birth and what to when you leave to cycling and how to get married/divorced or cohabitate in the Netherlands – and everything else in between, today, there are more than 300 FAQs categorised into seven broad categories. These are: –:
- Dual careers
These FAQs are today supplemented by a series of articles, features on the website, written by internationals providing the context previously found in some of our books. And if the answer to the question is not found, our helpdesk continues to do what it does best, and guide you to the resources or information you need.
The helpdesk is the first point of contact for our internationals who are looking for information about life in the Netherlands – whether they contact us before they arrive, or shortly afterwards – or anytime during their stay in the Netherlands. Since 2010 though we have had the pleasure, and honour of also being able to provide a face-to-face helpdesk service through our Information and Hospitality teams working from the expat centres in The Hague Utrecht, Amsterdam and Leiden. Newly arrived internationals living in or near these cities can arrange all kinds of formalities there, as well as have a chat with our team, and ask their questions in person. The main difference with our original helpdesk is that the focus is on face-to-face contacts and comprehensive, general information. At our original helpdesk most questions are asked by e-mail and the responses are more specific or detailed. From our newer, external helpdesks, we can empathise, encourage and provide the information sought.
Since ACCESS was founded, the helpdesk has been important in providing information to internationals about life in the Netherlands. Over the years, the tools have changed from a rolodex to a database, to our own website which includes FAQs and now includes our teams working from several external helpdesks in cooperating expat centres. In 33 years though, our mission though, has not changed: helping internationals to settle successfully in the Netherlands, through the experience of those who have done so before them.
Not found the answer to your question? Contact our helpdesk.
Interested in becoming part of a rewarding experience, and helping others as part of our team? Find out about volunteering with ACCESS.
Have we helped you in the past? Let our team know, we love receiving appreciation for what we do.