By Bryan Orr
If you work in a business where you only get calls during regular business hours, I ENVY YOU.
I own a service business and the phones may slow down after hours, but they never truly stop ringing. If you run the sort of business where customers call looking for answers or crazier still, call with EMERGENCIES, you will need to have a game plan for handling after hours business phone calls.
Many businesses just opt to have their customers leave a message on a voicemail. I know when I leave a message on a voicemail that my chances of EVER being called back are slim, let alone in a timely fashion.
Just the other day I locked myself out of my truck at 9PM on a Saturday night. I called five different locksmiths and only one called me back. This is not the experience you want to give your customers if they are calling with an urgent issue.
If you do choose voicemail make sure to leave in the message when the caller can expect to get a call back, and then FOLLOW THROUGH. Some services like Google Voice allow you to have the message transcribed and sent to you as a text. I find this much easier than trying to wade through a voicemail. The key thing to know is: If you send customers to voicemail, you will lose some of them.
You have made the call to a business after hours and gotten an answer from what sounds like a noisy call center. It doesn’t take long to realize that the person on the other end ONLY wants to take a message and they usually ask too many questions and have very few answers.
If, as a business owner, you decide to go with an answering service DO NOT be tempted to go for the lowest bidder. Find a service that specializes in your industry that can provide a level of customer service support and care that will make you look good. A bad answering service can often be worse than a voicemail.
After-Hours Phone Rotation
One technique is to have the phones forwarded to different employees on a rotational basis to cover the calls. This method can work, but you need to be very clear on expectations and policies for the person who carries the “phone.” You don’t want them trying to answer at a noisy ball game or after they have a few too many on a Friday night. An after hours rotation can work well, but also could become a customer service and employee morale nightmare.
Dedicated After-Hours Staff
We have found that the best way to handle after hours call is to hire an outsourced customer service rep or two, backed up by an answering service AND an on call manager / supervisor.
This ensures that the calls get answered professionally by someone trained to actually answer questions. If they miss the call for some reason and fail to answer in 5 rings, then the call forwards to the answering service. We use a quality answering service called Centratel to take these missed calls and they promptly forward the messages to the on call employee and / or manager.
This multi-level approach ensures that our customers all get a live person answering the phones and also helps maintain employee morale by preventing employees needing to pick up “live” calls at all hours.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and sometimes that first impression is a phone call after hours.
Make it count.