After-Hour Client Calls: How Late Is Too Late?

When work-related emergencies arise late at night, knowing whether to contact your colleagues or clients can make or break business relationships. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind.

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By Jacqueline Whitmore

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Say you're in the office working on a client's project when suddenly you look up to realize it's later at night than you thought. You've hit a wall. You can't proceed because you need to speak with your client and can't move forward without an answer.

Question: Should you call, text or email? Wait until morning? Here are some general guidelines to follow:

Prevent last-minute questions. Don't put yourself in a tough situation that may compromise your relationship with a client when you don't have to. Great project managers stay ahead of the ball and regularly intuit potential problems in order to avoid them.

If you know that a particular printing company typically runs two days behind schedule, place your order three days ahead of time to avoid paying express charges. Plan for unexpected hiccups and you'll likely never have to decide whether it's too late to call your client in the first place.

Related: Time Management Tips: What to Do If You Are Always Late

Find an alternative. Before you disturb a client, call the company's main office line. Many companies have somebody on-call specifically for emergencies. You may be able to reach someone who will be able to give you an answer or help you decide whether or not it's worth waking up the big boss.

If all else fails, follow "The Golden Rule.' How would you react if you heard the familiar buzz of your cell phone on your nightstand and saw that work was calling? If you wouldn't want to receive a call late at night regarding the issue you yourself are questioning, wait until morning.

Take your relationship into account. If a client gives you their cell phone number in addition to an office number, it suggests that they are most likely willing to take your call at a reasonable hour if necessary. However, if you know a client works late at night in a home office after putting their kids to bed, for instance, a text may be preferred over a phone call.

Related: Catchafire CEO: If I Don't Use My Time Well, My Employees Won't Either

Consider the industry. Professionals who work in industries like real estate and public relations often receive calls outside of work hours and view it as par for the course. However, most customers keep standard work hours, and so you should avoid calling unless it's an emergency. Otherwise, use email instead.

Establish preferences from the get-go. Everyone has a unique perception of work hours. Some clients may be perfectly comfortable picking up the phone at 10 o'clock at night, while others would be appalled. Get to know your clients from the outset and find out how and when they like to be contacted.

If it's urgent, call. There are many situations in which a customer would prefer, or expect, you to call -- even if it's midnight. In these cases, in order to avoid a catastrophe, pick up the phone. Likewise, if a situation warrants an urgent conversation to avoid missing a deadline, it's usually best to call. But never put your business relationship in jeopardy if the problem can wait until morning.

Related: The Single Most Important Habit of Successful Entrepreneurs

Jacqueline Whitmore

Author, Business Etiquette Expert and Founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach

Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).

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