Handle after-hours calls better than your competition and watch the money flow.

Sitting in a bar many years ago with Frank Blau, an industry giant, at a convention (trust me, it was all about the education!), we got to talking about extended-hour service.

Frank was sharing with me that 40 percent of his profitability came from his company’s ability to handle the after-hours calls better than his competition. That was an eye-opener. But it was nothing new to me; I was born into a family business that actively practiced the 24/7/365 philosophy by manning our own phones and having staff in the field to do just that.

That said, Frank is king when it comes to numbers and I had never sat back to realize just how right he was until that moment.

I teach my clients how to extend their hours of service so that they better serve their customers on their schedule, not at the convenience of the company. It’s the right thing to do. But it’s also the only smart way to squeeze all the profit you can out of your business. That’s true in any economy, but now it’s nonnegotiable.

So if you’re going to get smart and put an extended-hours service program into place, here’s how I teach my clients to kick in the extended hours program the right way:

1. How do you keep track of who's on and who's off for a rotating shift layout?

Answer: Set up an Excel spreadsheet that has all the techs you employ and then what trade skills they can do - plumbing, drain cleaning, heating, electrical, etc. Then, plot it out on a monthly calendar just so you get a feel for it.

2. How many techs do I need on these shifts?

Answer: The number of techs depends on the following:
  • How much measured call volume you have and when the calls are coming in.

    Typically, one tech is scheduled and working, and there is one on-call tech available if the demand requires you call him in. Then adjust as these extended hours become known by existing customers and, optimistically, new customers.

    FYI: Get good at handling these calls! Then advertise the heck out of it and make the phone ring off the hook.

  • The more trades you do, the more on-call techs you will need.

    This is another essential reason for cross-training, which is something you must commit to. It becomes a great WIIFM (what’s in it for me) reason for techs since you can then stress it as a way to have less on-call hours, reach a higher salary level and attain more of a bonus.

    FYI: The 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekday shifts or 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday shifts are “Gravy Shifts.” You have no competition because most everyone shuts down at 4 p.m. or doesn’t work at all on Saturday. Plus, most charge extra for Saturday calls. Frankly, the techs just need to be good, and your CSRs and DSRs need to be good at booking these slots. Then the money will flow.

3. Do I schedule calls for Saturday and any call that comes in that day is on an on-call basis?

Answer: The best companies call Saturday hours “same as normal service.” The day is staffed with rotating shifts or overtime in the most dramatic weather if staffing rotation isn’t possible.

You’ll get higher sales with someone who works this shift instead of just being on call. It also takes a dedicated CSR who fields these calls in the office from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. with the intention of booking them.

Many of the best shops insist their managers rotate handling the after-hours calls because they screen the callers and get a credit card over the phone. Plus, they have computer access remotely to make sure they book the call live. They also have far more ability to get a tech out of bed or off the couch and into his truck than an answering service does or even a CSR.

FYI: It’s all about the intention to book the call, make the sale and everyone being held accountable to that end.

4. Where is the cutoff on taking extended-hours calls, if any?

Answer: The rotating techs are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday or from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, and we don't stop taking more calls!

We book the techs for their shift. When they tell us they’re winding down, the on-call tech takes over.

Note that if the 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. tech (which is a rotating shift through the company) decides on a 5-degree night to say, “Screw it! I’m going home at 7 p.m.,” this will stick the on-call tech. Trust me, they will fix this behavior fast, especially if you let them all know you’re aware of it.

Last Notes

To get the 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekday and Saturday rotational shift up and running, you should:
    1. Better manage the dispatching and call-taking areas of your business to ensure there are sufficient calls for these techs.

    2. Make sure the office manager trains the office staff to properly book these calls, and instruct him or her how to handle the unavoidable complaints once the shift begins.

    3. The service manager needs to meet each day with the techs on rotation to find out how the previous day’s calls went so adjustments can be made to maximize these shifts.

    4. If it is going well (i.e., these techs are making good sales), talk to the 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. tech and the Saturday tech to get their feedback. Get them to stand up and “testify” to the value of the extended-hours shifts at your weekly tech sales meeting.

    5. Actively solicit customer feedback to the extended coverage and get as many good testimonials as you can. Photos are also a big bonus. This becomes marketing gold.
For example: “I had water running everywhere and it was 6 p.m. When I called Appleseed, I was expecting an answering machine. To my delight and great relief, Al - a real live, caring person - answered the phone. He reassured me they had a tech who was still working because they have extended hours just for things like this. To my extreme joy, Tom showed up in 30 minutes and I was once again warm and dry. Thank you, Appleseed, for working around the clock to help people like me in need.
Jane Doe
Phoenix, Ariz.

Get busy converting these calls, and put a stop to the dollars you’ve been throwing away!