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After-Hours Answering Service Creates Better Customer Experiences
Ryan Ambs

By: Ryan Ambs on November 11th, 2018

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After-Hours Answering Service Creates Better Customer Experiences

How Answering Services Work

Businesses and organizations hire an after-hours answering service for multiple reasons. One common reason is to avoid the need to hire, schedule, and manage staff outside of regular business hours to answer phone calls and handle customer communication.

This may also be needed to avoid a staff revolt or burning out employees when they’re asked to work evenings and weekends.

Another frequently cited reason to hire an after-hours answering service is to provide personal, around-the-clock phone support to customers or callers anytime of the day or night. This customer-centric reason looks at improving customer service and optimizing customer experiences (CE).

Other reasons are to expand the effective hours of operation, save money, or increase the level of service and responsiveness after hours.

Yet businesses can seemingly realize any of these reasons using voicemail or even an answering machine. So why don’t they? Some have tried, only to fail. They quickly realize the folly of their shortsighted pipe dream. Others are smart enough to know technology by itself can’t provide what customers seek; it won’t work. Why is that? Because technology seldom creates a better customer experience and usually offers mediocre customer service at best.

To achieve customer service excellence requires real people handling phone calls 24/7. And the most cost-effective way to do this is by hiring an after-hours answering service. Here are some reasons why an after-hours answering service provides what customers want.

Real People Provide the Personal Touch

When people have a need, especially a basic one, their first impulse is to go online and figure it out themselves. Some people prefer this approach, and others feel it’s their only option. Yet for more involved inquiries, online self-service seldom works. For important issues, customers want to talk with real people who will provide a personal touch and fully address their concerns.

Abby Abernathy understands this. She’s a new mom, and she’s heard all the stories about first-time mothers who fixate on each little hick-up, gurgle, and burp that comes from their new baby. She determined not to be one of those moms, yet she knows she is. She can’t help it.

Abby’s husband works third shift, so when baby Cora woke up screaming at 2 a.m., Abby knew it was up to her to figure things out. She forced her eyes open, slid out of bed, and slogged down the hall, pinballing off the walls. This was more than a dirty diaper or empty tummy, even though she tried both of those solutions in a vain attempt to get Cora to stop crying. The baby only got louder—and more agitated.

With Abby’s panic growing, she pulled out her smartphone to search for answers, but this didn’t help. First, she held a screaming baby and couldn’t focus. Next, she didn’t have her contacts in, so the screen was fuzzy. Besides she really didn’t know what to search for. This was getting her nowhere.

Her next thought was Mom. She would surely know what to do. And even though she wouldn’t complain about being woken up at three in the morning—was it already three?—Abby didn’t want to inconvenience her.

Next, she considered her new pediatrician’s office. But what good would leaving a message do? At best no one would hear it till 8 a.m. and that was five hours away. Cora couldn’t wait that long. Abby couldn’t wait that long either. She felt her baby’s forehead. Did she have a fever? Maybe. Then Abby held her daughter’s tiny hand. The girl’s cold fingers worried her even more. Could a baby have a fever and be too cold?

Abby mentally rehearsed the message she would leave on the clinic’s answering machine. She would strive to not sound panicked or demanding or pathetic, while still conveying the gravity of her concerns.

She took a slow breath and dialed the number, braced to hear the mechanical droning of a recording. But she heard one ring and no recording. The second ring came, and Abby was about ready to hang up in frustration. How could they not even have an answering machine? But her thoughts were interrupted when a real person answered the phone. “This is Dr. Walton’s after-hours answering service. Do you have an emergency?”

Abby blinked back tears of relief and nodded. Her carefully planned explanation was gone. Finally she croaked out a feeble, “Yes.”

“It sounds like you’re having a rough morning,” the kind lady said. “I’m sorry for what you’re going through.” The woman’s soothing demeanor calmed Abby immediately and within seconds, Cora relaxed in her arms and soon the screaming turned to a normal cry and then a whimper. Had Cora sensed her mom’s worry and simply been reacting to it?

They talked for a few minutes more, and Abby decided Cora was going to be okay. But now she knew that if Cora started screaming again, Dr. Walton’s answering service was just a call away. And they could reach him or the on-call nurse immediately.

This was the assurance she needed. Abby and Cora went back to bed, and the next thing Abby heard was her alarm telling her it was morning.

Available Whenever It’s Convenient for Your Customers

Some shortsighted businesses have the misguided notion that their customers should call during business hours. If they can’t do that, the call must not be that important. But wise business managers have rejected this old-school view and have embraced a more holistic idea of being available for their customers any time. This is one more way to provide excellent customer service. And to make this happen in a cost-effective manner, they tap the expertise of an after-hours answering service.

Michael Brower would soon know just how important this was. After a too-long, sixteen-hour workday, he dragged himself home at 11:30. He shuffled up to his door anticipating the cozy comfort of his bed just seconds away. He might just jump in with his clothes on. That’s how exhausted he was.

But there sitting on his doorstep was a shipment for an order he had placed earlier this week. He was momentarily excited, but then he realized the box was too small to hold his order. Grumbling he opened the door and kicked the box inside. He dropped his bag and coat on the floor and then tore into the box.

Barely able to keep his eyes open, he could still tell that he got a partial shipment and that what they did ship was wrong. How could they have made such a mistake?

He would deal with this right now. Besides he was now too agitated to sleep anyway. He would call a company, leave a scathing message, and demand satisfaction. Maybe then he could unwind the knotted tension pulsating in his head.

The company’s number was in his phone’s directory. Yes, he called them that often but never this late. He expected voicemail and hoped he wouldn’t have to press too many buttons to accomplish his goal. But when Joshua answered—and not a computer—Michael’s resolve to unleash an unrestrained rant evaporated.

Joshua listened patiently as Michael’s frustration spewed forth. Then Joshua surprised his caller even more. “I’m so sorry this is happened and can understand how frustrating this is. Let me tell you what I can do to take care of this.”

Within two minutes, Joshua had requested a replacement order, double checked all the information, and requested overnight delivery—at no charge. The package would arrive tomorrow afternoon, possibly even before Michael got home from work.

“Again,” Joshua said, “let me apologize for our error. I hope we can win back your loyalty.”

A surge of tension left Michael’s amped up body. “I think you just did.”

Around-the-Clock Access Greets Customers 24/7

In our busy, always-on society, people increasingly expect to be able to call a business anytime when it’s convenient for them and immediately address their concern. Waiting for the business to open the next business day is so archaic. Fortunately an after-hours telephone answering service can come to the rescue to provide customer service excellence 24/7, and to do it at an affordable price.

Melissa understands firsthand why 24/7 availability is so important. She runs heard over her busy family: her entrepreneurial husband and five active kids, ages eight to eighteen. Six months ago she carefully planned their dental checkups to smartly happen on one afternoon in an orderly manner. But now things had unraveled.

First her husband had an important sales presentation that he didn’t dare change. Strike one to her perfect plan. Then Emily, their eighteen-year-old, who just started a new job, had to attend mandatory orientation training. Strike two. The final straw was twelve-year-old Ethan when he admitted that he had earned himself an after-school detention for the next two days. Strike three.

After grilling everyone to make sure she understood these last-minute changes and verifying their new availability, she called her dentist office at 9:30 p.m. She planned to leave a message for them to find in the morning, which would give them as much time as possible to fill the open slots. Hopefully they wouldn’t be too upset—or charge her for the missed appointments. She also intended to leave the availability for her husband, Emily, and Ethan to reschedule. She wrote everything down to be sure she had it right.

But when she called, she didn’t get voicemail as she expected. Instead she got their after-hours answering service, where a professional-sounding, twenty-something name Jessica answered her call.

As concisely as possible, Melissa gave the information about who she had to cancel and started in with her wish list of when they might be able to reschedule. “Just a minute,” said Jessica. “Give me a moment to catch up.”

Melissa wondered why the girl wasn’t grasping what she was saying but dismissed her irritation. “When do you think the office will be able to call me back?”

“There shouldn’t be any need for them to call back,” Jessica answered. I canceled the three appointments you mentioned, and we have an opening the next day at 2:30 for your husband. Will that work?

“You’re at the office?” Jessica asked. “I can’t believe it.”

“No, I’m at the answering service, but I have secure access into their scheduling program. There are no more openings on Wednesday, but on Thursday we can get Emily and Ethan in back-to-back starting at 3:35. Will that work?”

Melissa’s jaw dropped. “I can’t believe it.” Then she caught herself. “Yes, that will be excellent. Thank you so much.”

“Great! I have it finalized. Would you prefer reminders via text or email? We have both on file.”

Melissa chose text reminders and hung up the phone with a smile.

That’s when Emma, their fourteen-year-old shuffled into the room, avoiding eye contact. “Um, about my dentist appointment tomorrow . . . “

Human Operators Address Human Concerns Without Technology Roadblocks

People are increasingly impatient today, and they have little tolerance when they’re forced into technology-constrained customer service solutions. They hang up on answering machines and repeatedly hit zero during the endless voicemail prompts in hopes of reaching a real person. But they grumble—sometimes loudly—when their phone call isn’t answered at all.

What’s a cash-strapped business to do? Simple. They tap the staff at an after-hours answering service to provide the personal touch that their callers crave—and deserve.

James understands this. He’s personally on the trailing edge of the baby boom generation, and he hates online self-service solutions and automated options that stand in the way of him getting what he wants. But it’s even more pronounced with his aging mother who gives up in frustration when she encounters this unfriendly technology.

So she asks him to handle it for her. He says, “Yes,” but all the while he’s thinking, Why can’t you do it yourself? That’s what I do. So now she just calls him and expects him to take care of things.

Like last Sunday, when she woke him at 6 a.m., barely coherent. “I don’t know what to do. Water everywhere. Can’t make it stop. Do something!” James had two choices. One was to jump in his car and spend thirty minutes driving to her house to assess the problem. Maybe he could fix it or maybe he couldn’t. The other option was to call for a plumber and hope he could reach someone right away who would make an emergency service call on Sunday morning. Neither option seemed ideal.

Weighing the pros and cons, he decided he would spend five minutes trying to reach a plumber, and if he wasn’t making progress, he’d hop in his car and start driving.

He expected three possible scenarios when he called: phone calls that would never be answered, a clunky recording on an aging answering machine that sounded like it was dying, or navigating a confusing menu of unhelpful voicemail options. Maybe he shouldn’t even bother to try at all and just start driving.

First, he called the plumber who fixed a broken toilet for him last year. The phone just rang. Then he hung up and called a company he had heard others rave about. On the second attempt and still not figuring out the right combinations of buttons to press to leave a message, he gave up on them too. Then he remembered a buddy from high school who he thought was a plumber. James found his number and dialed it, expecting more of the same.

“Good morning, Robert Carrigan Plumbing and Electrical Service. This is Amanda.”

“Amanda! I’m so glad to actually talk to a person. My mother has an emergency plumbing situation, and I wonder if Robert could handle it. It sounds pretty bad.”

“Bill is on-call, and I’m sure he can take care of everything. What’s your mom’s address?”

As soon as he gave the address to Amanda, she sent Bill a text message. Within seconds she returned her attention to James, “Bill’s on his way and expects to be there in seventeen minutes.”

“That’s amazing! I don’t know what I would’ve done had you not been in the office to answer the phone.”

Amanda chuckled. “I’m not in the office. I work at Mr. Carrigan’s after-hours answering service, where we handle his emergency calls.”

James asked if he could give his credit card for payment and was pleased to find out that he could. He thanked Amanda again and said goodbye. Then he changed clothes and headed over to Moms with a smile. Thanks to Robert’s after-hours answering service, the next time Mom needed a plumber, she could make that call herself.

The Next Step

If your customers want to reach you outside of business hours, don’t ignore them or force them into using infuriating technology, when a real person is what they want—and expect. This doesn’t have to be hard to do. Providing 24/7 customer service excellence is easy when you hire a professional after-hours answering service to handle your calls.

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