Beyond Business Hours: 10 Tips For Better After Hours Call Handling

In today’s fast-paced business landscape, catering to your customers’ needs doesn’t end when the clock strikes five. The demand for after-hours support is growing, as more businesses focus on providing an exceptional customer experience. 

After hours is exactly what it sounds like – extending support or service to customers outside your regular business hours, such as nighttime and weekends. Gone are the days when your customers had to wait anxiously for the next business day to resolve their concerns. 

Whether it’s 6 pm or 6 am, customers are no longer content with being sent to voicemail or receiving an automated response.

Why Do Customers Call After-Hours?

Picture this: you’re sitting in your living room after a long day when you notice a leak in your ceiling. Would you wait 30 minutes on hold to reach an HVAC company while that leak becomes a full-blown flood right in from of your eyes? 

For many businesses, being available to your customers around the clock is not a luxury, it’s an absolute necessity. In our ‘always-on’, digitally connected culture, when people pick up the phone it’s typically due to an urgent matter they feel can’t wait. After-hours support can be essential for businesses in the home services, property management, medical, legal, and IT industries.

Of course, not all emergencies are created equal. Sometimes you might receive calls after hours due to convenience, rather than crisis. Businesses with a global or national customer base may have after-hours support to serve callers in different time zones. And if you can’t offer those customers the convenience and flexibility they seek, you may drive them to your competitors.

Should Your Business Offer After-hours Support?

If you operate in a competitive industry, you probably already do offer some sort of after-hours support to your customers. Whether it’s an auto-attendant phone system, a chatbot, call forwarding to an on-call employee, or a good old-fashion voicemail – or any combination of these.

However, the harsh truth is that over half of customer service issues currently go unsolved (qualtrics). And for your customers, sometimes an unhelpful response can be more frustrating than no response at all. When providing after-hours support in-house, businesses often rely on a skeleton staff—the minimal number of employees required to keep the service running.

But, offering after-hours support should go beyond having someone available to answer the call. It’s about crafting a seamless and unforgettable customer experience that sets you apart from your competitors.

Tips for Better After-Hours Call Handling

1. Provide a dedicated after-hours emergency line. 

Most customers choose a channel based on how fast they need a response. Establishing a separate line for emergencies can streamline after-hours communication and create a clear distinction between urgent situations and regular inquiries. It also gives your customers the peace of mind that if they do have a genuine emergency, you’re committed to providing immediate assistance, even in the middle of the night.

2. Make sure a trained employee is available.

Speaking to a real person offers a level of reassurance and human touch that can’t be replicated by an automated system or bot. Plus, more complex customer issues tend to require a well-trained employee that can ‘think outside the box’. In urgent and stressful situations, this real-time problem-solving can improve customer satisfaction and prevent potential issues from escalating.

3. Keep it prompt and personal. 

An employee trained in the art of customer service can adapt their communication style, tone, and pace to match the customer’s needs. They can personalize the conversation and keep things moving along to ensure after-hours issues get resolved quickly. Whether it’s providing extra information, offering alternative solutions, or connecting the customer with the appropriate resources, going the extra mile can help you retain even the prickliest of customers.

4. Ask the right questions.

When handling after-hours calls, it’s important to gather all the necessary information efficiently and effectively. Often, the first point of contact for after-hours will triage calls – the process of asking the right questions to understand the urgency of the situation and determine the most appropriate course of action. Equipping your staff with probing questions can help them get to the root of the issue more quickly.

5. Document all the details.

After obtaining the customer’s information, it is imperative that details are documented accurately. This ensures that you have a record of the customer’s issue, allowing for easy reference in case of follow-up inquiries or escalations. It also helps provide a seamless handoff between different support staff or shifts, for a consistent and efficient resolution process. Be sure to include relevant timestamps, summaries of the conversation, any unique circumstances, and any actions taken or advised.

6. Establish emergency escalation protocol.

Some after-hours issues can’t be solved immediately, which is why it is crucial that staff know what steps to follow in situations that require additional expertise. Define clear criteria for when an escalation is necessary, and specify the roles and responsibilities of each team member involved in the escalation process. A well-defined escalation process will minimize response times and ensure the right personnel are involved only when necessary.

7. Offer other channels for help.

Some after-hours issues can’t be solved immediately, which is why it is crucial that staff know what steps to follow in situations that require additional expertise. Define clear criteria for when an escalation is necessary, and specify the roles and responsibilities of each team member involved in the escalation process. A well-defined escalation process will minimize response times and ensure the right personnel are involved only when necessary.

8. Empathy is key. 

After a long and possibly challenging day, customers seeking support may be exceptionally stressed, anxious or impatient. In these situations, empathy becomes even more crucial to de-escalate upset or frustrated callers. By expressing empathy, you acknowledge the customer’s feelings, frustrations, and challenges. This also communicates to the customer that their concerns are being heard and taken seriously.

9. Provide a morning summary.

Providing a summary of the after-hours calls that came in the night before ensures continuity of customer support. The team taking over in the morning can pick up where the after-hours team left off, armed with the necessary context. This allows support staff to prioritize and proactively reach out to customers who may have left messages overnight and tackle any outstanding issues.

10. Outsource to a 24/7 answering service. 

While your in-house team may have limited availability and resources, an answering service is dedicated to providing uninterrupted support, even during holidays and weekends. Their team is trained to expertly handle calls, escalate issues, and deliver messages with precision – ensuring no urgent call goes unanswered. Outsourcing after-hours call handling not only takes the pressure off your team, it gives your callers access to specialized support and demonstrates you’re committed to meeting their needs.

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