Many vendors provide a special, “secret” phone number for off-hours support that they distribute solely to customers who purchase off-hours support. The advantage of that secret number is that it can be handled separately and differently from the regular number (for instance forwarded around the world in Follow-The-Sun fashion) while its restricted distribution prevents unauthorized customers from reaching the off-hours support staff in the first place. Should you follow this example? As usual, the answer is a resounding “it depends.”
– If you allow customers to purchase off-hours support on the fly you must (and should!) publish the off-hours number. (Note that many B2B vendors do not actually charge customers on the spot, as via a credit card: instead they ask customers to sign a promise to pay, which is transformed into an invoice later on.)
– The worst possible outcome is that an entitled customer fails to remember the number during an emergency, so consider posting the number on your web site and mentioning it to phone callers. For the web site, something as simple as requiring customers to click to see the number can be a good reminder that only authorized users can call. On the phone, try, “You are calling outside our regular business hours. If you need immediate assistance and you have purchased 24×7 support, please hang up and call this number. Otherwise please leave a message and we’ll get back to you on the next business day.” Alternatively, provide an automatic transfer to customers, “If you have a critical issue and you have purchased 24×7 support, please press 1”. Pressing 1 transfers the call to the on-duty staff.
– Allow customers to get off-hours support electronically, without having to call, even if you work with a paging system. All it takes is an automatic trigger for P1 cases logged by properly-entitled customers that signals the on-duty staff, which most CRM systems can handle.
– Educate the staff on how to handle non-entitled callers. In a B2B environemnt it’s usually best to help the customer and follow up the next day with a bill, a proposal for extended support, or a discussion about appropriate calling patterns.