The scene: A customer calls your home services after-hours phone line at 11 p.m. on a Sunday. She's upset because she has an emergency and needs an on-call technician to come by immediately.
Does her definition of an emergency match your definition? She's a loyal customer who has used your maintenance services for years. Does that make a difference as to whether you escalate her emergency? Who decides what qualifies as an emergency once business hours are over? How do you make sure you deploy your team members in the right scenarios and avoid burnout?
These questions comprise an after-hours escalation strategy. Mastering escalation management is essential to customer satisfaction and managing your customer service representative (CSR) and on-call team's workload.
Your customer doesn't care about any of that, though. They just need help, now.
"In the home services industry, when something has really terribly gone wrong, (the customer wants) somebody to pick up the phone," says Savannah McDermott, Schedule Engine Director of Customer Success.
Don't have a clearly defined after-hours escalation strategy? No problem. Read on to learn what exactly after-hours escalation entails, why contractors benefit from an escalation strategy, and how to efficiently escalate jobs that come in outside of regular business hours. The solution to your escalation problems is closer than you may think.
What is After-Hours Escalation?
After-hours escalation occurs after you've parked your service vans for the night, locked your doors, and turned out the lights. Even though the average business day ends at 5 p.m., we all know home service problems happen at any hour of the day. And sometimes, those problems are emergencies.
After-hours escalation means pushing an emergency to the right person at the right time. An emergency that requires after-hours escalation could include:
A weather-induced event
A power outage
A broken AC unit during a heatwave
But how do you categorize the magnitude of the emergency? That's where an escalation strategy comes in.
Why Do Contractors Need an After-Hours Escalation Strategy?
You can leave emergency qualification metrics up to the service rep who's in charge that night, but that will probably differ from your support agent who works the next night, creating an inconsistent measure of success.
It also adds to:
Unclear expectations for your on-call staff
Customer complaints on social media
Lower employee morale
Lower employee and customer retention
When an employee pushes off a customer's problem in the middle of the night for issues viewed as "not important enough," they can receive negative feedback and create an angry customer. Management might say they need to have more ownership, solve the problem by pushing the customer to a later appointment date themselves, and employ better use of on-call technicians' time.
If they push the customer call too late, it can create an inconsistent or poor customer experience, leading to a potential loss in revenue and increased customer churn. In fact, 48% of consumers report discontinuing business with a company after a poor experience.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, 86% of customers with great customer experiences will likely buy from you again, boosting customer retention by turning one-time emergency clients into long-term brand champions.
Now that we've covered the "why," let's cover the "how."
When and How Should Contractors Escalate After-Hours Jobs?
Personalize your strategy to your business model. Depending on your service location, size, customer service team, and time of year, your tactics may differ from your competitors down the road.
A range of factors goes into deciding how to escalate. For example, someone lacking heat in their home during a chilly night in October is lower on the emergency scale than someone who doesn't have heat when it's -20°F.
If you have a membership program and a subscriber who often uses your preventive maintenance calls in an emergency, you may be more inclined to provide escalated customer support than if it was someone you've never done business with before. If you have a plumber and HVAC technician on-call after hours, but not an electrician, you may have to push all electric-involved problems to the following day.
Categorizing your escalation situations into tangible measures helps you strategically handle them.
Some examples of escalation categories are:
All calls escalated to on-call technicians, no matter what
In the first category, you choose to have your customer support team take care of all after-hours calls from loyal customers—whether they meet your emergency qualifications or not. This category helps you protect all of your customers, old and new and helps build brand loyalty with your membership base without burning out your technicians.
In the second category, customer service agents route all incoming calls to your on-call technician, regardless of membership status or customer emergency.
How do you know which category to follow? It's completely dependent on your wants and needs. Let's say it's shoulder season, and you're trying to acquire more business (no matter the circumstances, revenue is revenue). You may choose to follow Category 2 metrics (all calls escalated).
Fast forward a few months, and it's peak season:
Demand is up.
You were able to hire and train only two new technicians.
One of your support reps is out on a well-deserved vacation.
Pivot your plan to Category 1 (loyal customers).
Having an escalation strategy doesn't mean it needs to remain static. Your strategy can move with you and your business needs.
Let's say, for example:
Your in-house staffing is extra low this year.
You're dealing with supply chain issues.
Instead of your CSR being on vacation, your best CSR just retired.
Do you have to throw your escalation strategy out the window and cease all after-hour calls, leaving you with a full inbox and voicemail on Monday mornings and disgruntled customers? Not if you pair an escalation strategy with a live answering service.
What Should You Look for in a Live Answering Service?
With most outsource call centers, a service manager often sends a list (or even just a photo of a calendar) showing which technicians are on-call. This way of doing things can create a lot of human error. Many answering services provide one-off messaging to inform your on-call agents but don't provide any custom escalation workflow, or detailed notes on the issue at hand, or offer any brand-building because they aren't familiar with the industry.
Having trusted phone support with industry-trained agents (HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and more) helps deliver a consistent customer experience. With Schedule Engine Live, you can count on empathetic, kind, and warm service from industry-trained agents who use active listening techniques, helping you build brand trust and loyalty.
"Nobody who ever picks up the phone at Schedule Engine Live is picking up the next phone for a dentist's office," says McDermott. "Our voice agents go through pretty extensive training about how this industry works, so they're able to be really specialized and meet the needs of our client base."
An after-hours phone service that can integrate into your Field Service Management (FSM) system or CRM can also streamline your business. Many call centers and answering services require a login to your FSM system. For some FSM systems, the FSM provider makes their clients pay extra to have multiple logins, often a requirement for a third-party call center to gain access.
Schedule Engine's Live Voice Escalation Workflow
Schedule Engine integrates right into your booking flow, and includes a robust automated messaging system that allows our agents to trigger escalations according to your rules and schedule to get the job to the right service technician. Choose from different strategy options, including what trades to escalate for and whether to escalate all calls or only loyal customers. You can create unlimited custom workflows by setting contact preferences (phone, text, email) and a list of who to contact in order.
"If your first tech is asleep, we automatically hit up your second on-call tech," McDermott says. "We can do as many of those custom escalations as you need all the way up to waking up your manager."
With flexible, easy-to-adjust escalation coverage, you can update your coverage whenever you need it. If demand is heavy during a storm, an employee calls out sick, or something else unexpected comes up, you can adjust your escalation plan. If too many escalations start coming in, you can manually turn off your escalations by disabling your plan for the night.
Schedule Engine's Live Voice solution builds your customer relationships with timely support delivered with empathy and warmth. Live Voice can drastically increase the number of bookings you can make after hours, with no need to sort through messages or follow up with anyone the next day. Being able to flexibly add coverage allows you to focus on the future rather than constantly playing catch-up.
Academy Air, a St. Louis-area HVAC company, originally partnered with Schedule Engine for after-hours support, but then leaned on them during staffing shortages.
"Schedule Engine actually fulfilled a call center role for Academy Air during a time of rebuilding," says Michelle Micheletti, Regional Director of Marketing for Academy Air. "The team really kept our business flowing during that time, because we didn't have people to answer the calls. Most of our calls were just going to abandon, or if you'd go to a third party, you're just turning around and giving that message back to a lean call center that can't call them back."
Unlike other providers, Schedule Engine's agents deeply understand the trades, including HVAC, electrical, plumbing, and garage door installation and repair—among others, and deliver a great customer service experience that aligns with your brand.
Thanks to powerful capacity calculating software and FSM integration partnerships, Schedule Engine can book jobs for your team, either for middle-of-the-night emergencies or standard business-hour calls, without needing you to give a third-party agent direct access to your system. This limits human error and protects your data privacy.
"The cool thing about Schedule Engine Live Voice is that it's not just a standalone answering service," McDermott says. "It's actually a fully integrated service that stacks right on top of your scheduler. All of the information our organization has about your company, needs, and processes is already in our systems and ready to use via our live agent services. It's all seamlessly integrated. It helps funnel things into the same spot your CSR teams are already super familiar with."
Does your on-call schedule change daily? No problem. With Schedule Engine, your on-call schedule is fully in your hands. You just update the on-call schedule in your Schedule Engine dashboard, and it will automatically update for the Live Voice agents.
"If the furnace is out in the dead of winter, the customer isn't going to leave a voicemail for a contractor who didn't answer. Instead, they make phone calls to every contractor they find on Google until someone books an appointment."
Schedule a demo today to learn how Schedule Engine can help craft a next-level escalation strategy that is perfect for your company.