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.