It's 1AM - do you know where your clients are?
Hopefully in bed dreaming of the latest hernia surgery DVD - but what if the client is:
A) On the opposite coast and it is only 10pm.
B) In Europe or China and it is...well...some time in the near future.
C) In a crisis
I. Crisis = Something that is a matter of life and death
II. Crisis = Someone has lost their USB thumb drive and has a 7am presentation
III. Crisis = Something in between I & II.
D) Working on the same project as you and assumes you are still awake.
E) A doctor who, apparently, does not sleep.
If you are like me, you have experienced all of the above.
During the day, phone calls, emails and meetings are the norm. The sun is up. But when the sun goes down, anything can happen. Most of the time, you go home, watch some tv and chill out. Sometimes.
If you are an independent contractor, a small business owner, a large business owner, not the owner but in a position in which you manage projects, or somewhere between the owner and the low man on the totem pole, or the low man on the totem pole, you probably have a set of standards that goes something like this:
Should I Answer the Phone at Any Hour?
A. If the caller ID is from someone I know - let it go to voice mail, then check it and decide what to do.
B. If A + it is someone directly involved in a current deadline, and you are awake, answer the call.
C. If it is someone involved in a deadline and I am awake working on the project, then answer the phone.
D. If the client calls and does not get me, maybe they will send an email or a text. Then I can reply if I want to, need to or would not dare not reply.
But what if YOU initiate contact?
A. You are checking email before bed and you reply to a query or send a new message, assuming the recipient will get the message in the morning.
B. If you sent a message and the recipient is awake, in a different time zone, bored or antsy, perhaps they will get your message instantly, and reply.
C. If B happens, you have the possibility of engaging in conversation either via text, email or phone.
D. If 2 to 5 back and forth cycles of text or email does not seem to make 1 + 1 = 2, then it may be prudent to dial a number, or expect the phone to ring.
E. Assuming you intentionally engage in telephone talking or simply accept a phone call, and it is 1AM, then be sure to get to the point and get off the phone.
F. If you are in an all night edit session or whatever, then phone calls, Skype video chat or whatever may be the norm.
In general, I do not answer the phone after 7pm, unless there is a hot deadline in the works, or if one or more of the following criteria are satisfied:
A. A hot deadline is imminent.
B. A hot client is calling - this is someone you stop what you are doing for, morning, noon or night.
A and B may be mutually exclusive or inclusive to each other.
C. It's the boss.
D. It's the fire department/police/alarm company.
E. It's a co-worker who is out of town on a shoot, or working an all-nighter, or broken down on the side of the road with no one else to call.
F. I'm awake and in need of a surprise.
Note - if you are awoken by a call, clear your throat before you answer. Nothing is worse than answering the phone like Peter Brady going through puberty.
Sure, I could turn off the phone completely and avoid these concerns - but as you can surmise, I have a system of tolerances that if followed lead to sanity as well as the providing of customer service when appropriate.
Here are a few examples from the real world (details have been changed to protect the guilty!):
Call Out of the Blue (aka, I am not expecting it)
9pm (7pm Jackson Hole time)
Woman, "Hold for Dr McDreamy"
McDreamy, "Michael? Derek Shepherd."
Me, after a split second to get my game face on, "Hi, how can I help you?"
McDreamy, "I'm here with Trapper John, Quincy, Dr Quinn, Marcus Welby and Cliff Huxtable. Can you instruct us on how to import DICOM movies into Powerpoint. You're on speakerphone."
I went on to boot up my computer, find some links and send out some emails with instructions. I later got a call from my boss apologizing, who was there also and had no idea what was about to happen until it was already happening.
Expected Call (and one that never seems to arrive)
I was, maybe, going to fly down to East Buttonhole, North Carolina to shoot a new procedure. As of 5pm Friday when I left the office, it was not confirmed. I booked a last minute flight on a puddlejumper out of Raleigh. Saturday - nothing. Sunday AM - nothing. I am leaving voicemails and emails all the while - this was long before smart phones or even regularly used cell phones. Sunday afternoon - nothing. Finally at 10pm Sunday night, with a possible 6am plane the next morning, I finally got the call that we were on.
I initiate the call
Recently, while completing work on a publishing project, with hundreds of images to prepare for the final layout, I happened to be awake at 11:30pm. I had previously texted a doctor, who had just gotten back from vacation, to please text me when he was home. He did, and I replied "thanks, please download the new PDF." He did, then he called me around midnight. This is a scenario outlined above - don't send a message in the wee hours of the night unless you are prepared for an immediate respone.
Me, "Hi, how was your trip?"
notice I did not say "do you know what time it is?" - if you have that attitude you are best not to answer, which is perfectly acceptable behavior.
Doc Brown, "Marty, you'll never believe it. I just realized that the time circuits in the time vehicle are irreparably damaged. I'm afraid you are stuck here with me in 1885."
Me, "Cool, I've always wanted to learn to use a lasso. Hey, what's that noise in the background?"
Doc, "That's my steam powered ice machine. I've just invented Cream Soda!"
It was the middle of the night, but seriously, I engaged in friendly banter for a few moments, just to demonstrate that it was ok to call, because this was a hot deadline. I would not have answered the phone if it was not important.
We took care of the immediate question and said goodnight. But then he called back at 12:30 and again at 1:00am. I was up until 2am my time, and he was in Hill Valley, California 3 hours earlier. No worries - I don't do this every day, but given the time difference during business hours, this actually saved about 6 hours of phone tag the next day. I just hoped I would remember what we discussed in the morning.
Final Example - Opposite of Very Late = Very Early
In a nutshell, my good friend Lando Calrissian had to give a lecture to a conference of tabana gas mine workers on Dantooine (something about blowout preventers - especially important on gas planets), but he was at another conference on Malastair. The hotel he was in did not have a holonet transmission suite, nor could we find a vendor who was available at 3am local time on a weekend without involving the Hutts. Sometimes customer service is a black hole.
Luckily my ship, the Millenium Falcon, has a holonet transmitter. However it costs a lot of Republic credits to use it and it is often not working, so we sometimes use a free service that runs on a subspace carrier beacon. We ran a test the night before and it seemed to work, but one problem, Lando did not have a microphone for his computer, so we worked out a system using two comlinks and a microphone on my end. With Lando up at 2:30am, I awoke at 5:30am, we connected to each other's comlinks, then contacted the conference on Dantooine. The slides were transmitted directly from Lando to the conference, but the audio went to my comlink then into my computer to the conference. It seemed to work ok. At the end we had a good laugh.
For the real story (names still changed, but not quite so geeky) check out this blog, which I should have entitled "Mork Calling Orson, Come in Orson..."
Can you tell I have had a lot of coffee? Which reminds me, I think I'll do a blog about the perfect cup of coffee - that should be good for the COW's Google results!
Seriously - our jobs as media professionals are to provide excellent customer service to our...customers. Whether this takes place during regular working hours, any hour of the day, or if you consider any hour of the day to be regular working hours, likely will depend upon the client and upon the project, and upon YOU. Sometimes, duty calls, sometimes not. But in any case, your job is to get the job done.
Preferably while the sun is up!
Thanks for reading.
PS - If you are reading this after midnight, go to bed!