In the Trenches: Business Hours Revisited

Back in April, I wrote about establishing fixed business hours, and I implemented some soon afterward. The move not only has helped to preserve my sanity, but also hasn’t hurt the company (a double bonus!). But there is still one issue: We could probably do a better job of communicating these hours to clients.

Our current business hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Pacific time. When we receive requests at other times, we only respond immediately if a matter is urgent. That said, if we’re going back and forth with a client and the clock strikes seven, we don’t quit working until we resolve the issue. We also bend the rules a little if, for example, waiting until Monday morning to buy a particular plane ticket would mean missing the “seven-day advance purchase” window and losing a cheaper fare. We try to be practical and flexible, because we want to see things through. The formal business hours simply make sure that Kevin and I eventually get a break.

For the most part, our hours and overall approach work well. If an urgent call comes in, we handle it right away. And we save everything else until the next business day.

Unfortunately, some of our clients do not realize that we have business hours. We’ve received many notes on weekends asking whether we’d received people’s original requests. Some clients just assume that we’re always on duty, waiting to answer their emails. In reality, we did get their calls and emails, but we hadn’t yet replied because the issues weren’t urgent.

This isn’t an issue for phone calls, because we do have a voicemail message explaining that we’ll get back to people during business hours. We also direct them to another place if it’s urgent. But most of our business is done via email anyway, and that’s where we have trouble.

We post our business hours on the Contact page of our website. I don’t include it in our email signature lines, because I hate absurdly long email signatures and most people don’t read them, anyway. We could send an “out of office” auto-response on the weekends, but why risk annoying people who aren’t concerned about our response times? I’m just not sure that there is a great way to make our policy clearer, but I’d like to think there is.

Thoughts?

About Brett Snyder

Brett is the Founder and President of Cranky Concierge air travel assistance. He also writes the consumer air travel blog, The Cranky Flier.
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7 comments
techauthor
techauthor

Have two email links. One says "Next Business Hours Response is OK" and the other says "I need help right away, and I"m willing to pay a little extra for it."

thetravelanalyst
thetravelanalyst

Perhaps make it more explicit on your contact page?  For example, you could add a statement in bold and yellow that e-mails to the non-urgent e-mail address will be responded to on the next business day.

David
David

I think you are on a heading for potential disaster this way Brett. Your business model screams out for 24/7availability.  Why would I book your services on a Saturday AM Sunday Pm trip if your are going to be unavailable?

stvweb
stvweb

I agree that an out of office email on the weekends would be annoying but I can't think of another method to notify someone electronically. If I email someone and don't receive a response, I will follow up with a phone call. If the voice mail message said the business was closed I would wait until they open.

Stephanie Faris
Stephanie Faris

I think e-mail is the culprit here. In the past, a business simply had to put its hours on its outgoing voicemail message and the customer understood the business is closed. You communicate your hours very clearly on your contact page, but you have that section for "Urgent Assistance." Is it possible these customers feel their issue is urgent even when it isn't? I think it's symptomatic of our society today that people assume an e-mail will receive a response on weekends...but I think your hours are very reasonable. They allow extra cushion for those who need to plan trips after 5pm.

crankyconcierge
crankyconcierge

David - I think there might be some misunderstanding about how this works.  If you click the link at the top of the post, you can go to the original post about business hours which explains it better.  But in short, we monitor people who are flying 24/7.  And if someone has an urgent issue, we're available.  The business hours are to set expectations for people who are just inquiring about service for future travel. 

crankyconcierge
crankyconcierge

I think you've hit the nail on the head, Stephanie.  There are definitely people who think their needs are urgent, even if they're just looking for flights several months away.  Ideally, we wouldn't have to have business hours because people would understand, but alas...

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  1. [...] In the Trenches: Business Hours Revisited – Intuit Small Business Blog Our business hours work well, but we can do a better job of communicating them I think. [...]

  2. [...] written about Cranky Concierge’s struggle with business hours before. One reader asked the obvious question that emerged from the discussion: “So, Brett, how [...]