Meeting all of your customers' support expectations can sometimes be tricky, especially when your operation isn't active 24/7; there are times when there just won't be anyone there to pick up the phone or respond to an email.
Your customers will hopefully know how your support team operates and when they can get hold of you when they need help, but during times of the year when your business might close down for longer, such as Christmas and New Year, it's essential your customers know what the contingency plan is and where to turn to if things take an unexpected turn.
Below are some simple rules to follow to make sure that clients aren't left in the dark and can be assured that even when you're not in the office, they know you're able and willing to respond if the situation demands it.
Let your customers know in advance
Take the time to communicate suitably in advance what your operating hours will be as you head into the holiday season. As a courtesy, follow this up with a repeat message, closer to any deadlines that you may have communicated.
Don't just rely on emails or notifications either; if you're speaking to your customers (and you should be) make sure that they are aware when you'll be around and when you won't. It's a nice human touch and gives you an opportunity to get to know your clients better!
Update out-of-office messaging, phone lines and customer-facing systems
Although you may have already sent messages to your customers advising of your process, it's important to have clear out-of-office messages in place on the individual email accounts of those staff who regularly receive direct client communications. Don't let them slip through the net!
If your phone system allows for custom phone messaging and control over closure times, make sure that you've taken the opportunity to sync your phone services with your changed operating hours. If you get a chance to record a holiday message for your clients, that can be a nice touch too.
If you operate an online support portal or ticketing system, take a few moments to update any automated responses to show your changed hours.
Set clear deadlines for work to be done
As a business who writes and deploys complex code for our customers, we're very careful not to release code changes too late in the day, or when the weekend beckons - when we're not around to tackle any issues that might arise. The same process applies when the business closes for longer. This is especially true at a time of the year when staffing levels reduce in many businesses.
As such, we advise all customers of a Christmas and New Year release deadline for any non-critical code work. With this deadline in place, we're able to effectively manage and prioritise requests to be handled at the right time and work on tasks when the office has limited staffing. This ensures work is ready for testing and release as soon as operations return to normal.
What happens if there's an emergency?
When you communicate your operating hours, you should be very clear about what your customer should do if they need to contact you for help when you're not around and what they should expect in terms of your response. Give them the numbers to call, systems to use, steps to follow and guidance on what's considered an emergency and what's not. When it comes to websites and systems we build, I give the following broad examples on what we'd call critical incidents:
- Breakages to a site or system, which directly affects the profitability of the business.
- Breakages to a site or system, which renders it completely inoperable or incorrect on a wide scale.
These aren't set in stone and I'd much rather a customer got in touch sooner if they were worried that a problem may fall into a category above - or looks like it might escalate that way. It's important to always want to provide assurance and peace of mind that the sites or systems we build maintain maximum uptime and profitability, whatever time of year.
This all sounds very much like common sense, and it mostly is, but keeping the communication flowing will make for happier customers who know they're being looked after. Also, remember that if your customers know there's a deadline, it can encourage them to line up further work for you at times when productivity normally slows, which is beneficial to all parties.