When clients demand same day/weekend/or after hours service

When a client demands same-day service, it can wreak havoc on your IT  schedule. I’m going to share what has successfully been helping us deal with these client “emergencies”.

When more clients request same day service than your IT dept. can accommodate, you need to manage the problem so it doesn’t lead to frustrated employees, lost customers, and bad business. Here’s how to prevent a meltdown when all of your clients want same-day service. And inevitably this seems to happen all at one time. Your phone won’t ring with any issues for weeks, then poof in the same day, they’re all having a meltdown.

Set expectations up front
Problems often begin during the first client meeting. Salespeople can sometimes promise the world to get a new client. However, it’s not in your best interest to suggest that your company can respond to calls within four hours if the office isn’t equipped to act that rapidly or isn’t open on the weekend and the phones shut down at 5pm.

You should explain how after hours and weekend “emergency” calls really work. There’s nothing wrong with promising a quick response due to a true emergency — just make sure clients clearly understand what qualifies as an emergency. I’ve had clients blow up our phones after hours because they can’t figure out how to set up a new outlook account on their new computer or put music on their MP3 players.  I’m sorry, but that’s not a crisis, and not something we even support. The client needs to do a tiny bit of watching our video tutorial or reading our faq section before having a meltdown. Or actually “google” what they need help with.

Define response times in contracts
Client contracts should clearly state how quickly your office will respond to an actual problem. Response times should be defined in a way that leaves no room for misunderstandings. It’s too vague to state “Consultant agrees to respond to trouble tickets in one day.” Instead, the contract should read “Consultant agrees to provide onsite support within 24 business hours when email- or Internet-affecting outages occur” (you can change the language to match the service your office will provide). The response times promised in the contract must be something that you can back up.

Don’t get angry
There’s a natural temptation to get angry  and be short when clients demonstrate shortsightedness or prove difficult. For instance, customers who have been warned repeatedly to replace their obsolete outdated systems and then demand you recover all their data and replace the unit the same day the computer dies. Or, the clients who take 90 days to pay, dispute invoices, and demand you have a technician onsite within an hour of their call. This one is one of my favorites. You don’t pay us for months for actual work we did to the site, but expect instant responses when you want to know how to attach a picture of you and suzy to your email blog.

Getting angry doesn’t help the situation. You signed up for this when you became an IT person. Take a deep breath, listen to some feng shui music and move on.

Charge more
There’s a reason many other industries have adopted “rush” or “same day” fees: they work. I suggest doubling your regular rate for same-day service, after hours calls or weekend jobs. This weeds out quickly what is an “emergency”

You should satisfy clients who require same-day service in a way that discourages them from making unreasonable demands and charge for your efforts and overtime fees. When you respond to unanticipated calls on short notice, it almost always means another client is being pushed back, which is unfair to them, and someone must work late to accommodate the day’s other regularly scheduled tasks.

Conclusion
In the 13 years I have been doing web design and marketing work, I have found that the more often you make an exception for a client, the more often they expect it. The more you try and give, the more they seem to take. Instead of appreciating the fact that you’ve just given them free advice, or burnt dinner to take their call at 7pm and stayed on the line with them until they understood how to check their email, or been late to another client meeting because they wouldn’t let you off the phone, or called you like a psycho 12 times in a row and you finally had to excuse yourself at the wedding because something MUST be wrong for a client to call that many times over and over, the more you realize, sometimes you just can’t be nice like you want to. Billing people for your actual time resolves this problem quickly. This balancing act is difficult for even the most seasoned veterans to master. I struggle with it daily because I am from the old school where you bend over backwards for your clients and they are “always right”. There are clients I know I could help and that I genuinely like speaking with, but we have recently had to put our foot down, because we felt we had way too many clients taking advantage of our generosity. It’s also ok to cut the ties on those clients that hinder you more than help you. If a client is constantly demanding and pushy, yet (this is a real life instance) pays you an average of $25 a month. You are more than likely hurting your actual paying clients for this one overbearing, time consuming client who doesn’t appreciate you or your time. And heaven forbid if you actually invoiced them for the real hours you spent giving them advice, phone time, returning emails to them and so on. We have recently started firing clients, for this behavior and it’s a liberating feeling. Not to mention the extra time we have to work on clients who actually pay their bills on time and honestly do appreciate us. 🙂

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