Customers are the most vital part of your business. To keep a steady flow of income, you need to retain loyal customers and gain new ones. One of the best ways to keep repeat customers happy and attract new ones is by offering great customer service.
A very important aspect of quality customer service is responding to consumers in a timely manner. In the digital age, customers expect all of their questions to be answered right away. If they feel ignored, they’ll likely try to get what they need elsewhere.
In this article, we’ll teach you what customer response time is and why it’s important. Then we’ll provide tips you can use to achieve faster response times. Use the links below to skip from section to section.
- What is customer service response time?
- Ways to reduce customer service response time
- Does fast customer response time really matter?
- Standard customer service response time
- Calculate your average customer service response time
What is customer service response time?
Customer service response time is the average time it takes for your business to answer customer queries or complaints.
Today’s consumers have a variety of ways to contact your business. They may make contact by phone, email, or even on social media. The channel a customer uses to get in touch can affect how long they’re willing to wait for service.
Not only is it important to follow up with customers quickly, but your response also needs to be helpful of course. Sending quick, useful responses is a great way to earn customers’ trust and loyalty.
If you need help improving your current response times, Upwork’s database of customer service experts will introduce you to professionals who may be able to help you upgrade your support strategies.
Ways to reduce customer service response time
While it’s inevitable that some inquiries will take your service team multiple interactions with a customer to work out, the goal should be to solve their problem in one message.
Consider these actions as you work to improve your customer service response time.
1. Define real goals
Setting goals for your customer response time is the first step to improving it. Do some research to see what the benchmark average response time is in your industry. To set goals, you’ll have to measure your company’s results.
Customer relationship management (CRM) tools like HubSpot CRM or Zoho CRM can help maintain a record of your business’s key performance indicators (KPIs) and give you reports when you need them. Customer service KPIs you might want to measure include:
- First response time (FRT) is the amount of time it takes for your service team to initially get back to a customer’s request. While automated emails are often helpful tools, they’re not considered adequate first responses to a customer.
- Average handling time (AHT) refers to the amount of time it takes for a customer service rep to complete an interaction with a customer over the phone. It includes talk and transfer time, the time a customer spends on hold, and the time it takes for the rep to complete service tasks after a call.
- Ticket resolution time is the total amount of time it takes for service staff to sort out an inquiry and satisfy the customer. Some issues may take several interactions, while others might be solved in just one.
Here’s an example of a goal you might set: You manage a finance app. Your company’s average response time to customer emails is 16 hours. However, the average email first response time in the financial industry is 14 hours. One of your goals might be to decrease your service team’s response time to under 14 hours.
2. Set up a first automated response
You can’t rely on an automated message to fully satisfy a customer’s needs. However, a good automated response can serve as a placeholder for a reply, save your service team some time, and help you manage customer expectations. Sometimes, an automated message is even able to guide a customer toward finding the information they’re looking for.
Quality automated messages are helpful to your customers and can make your reps’ jobs easier. A good automated message should:
- Assure the customer you’ve received their request and let them know when they can expect a response. It might say, “A customer service rep will be contacting you within the next 24 hours.” If you respond sooner, you’ll impress them. If a query comes in on a day your business is closed (like a weekend), let the customer know what your business hours are.
- Have links to any knowledge bases where customers are able to find answers for themselves. If you’ve created a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page or a guide for handling your product’s common problems, tell your customers where to find them.
Let’s say your e-commerce company sells Bluetooth headphones. An automated email message might look something like this: “Thank you for your inquiry! We value your business, and a customer service representative will be reaching out to you via email within the next 24 hours. If it’s Saturday or Sunday, please give us until the following Monday to respond, as we’re closed on weekends.
“In the meantime, please take a look at our FAQ page [embedded link] for answers to some of our most commonly asked questions. We also have helpful guides on our website for things like connecting your headphones to your smartphone [embedded link] and downloading our companion app [embedded link].”
3. Prioritize the requests
Customer tickets have varying levels of urgency and importance. Some have the potential of causing massive problems if they’re not handled immediately, while others might not be as dire. That’s why it’s vital to split up customer tickets based on how critical or pressing they are.
For example, let’s say your company offers a digital payment platform (similar to PayPal). One of your biggest customers is an e-commerce business that sells electronics. They use your software to process all of their customer payments.
It’s the day before Cyber Monday (the biggest online sales day of the year) and their portal isn’t processing payments. If the issue isn’t resolved before Monday, the company stands to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales and your business will lose tens of thousands of dollars in processing fees.
This doesn’t mean that other tickets aren’t important. Ideally, you want to solve every ticket quickly. One way to ensure that urgent tickets are prioritized is to designate experienced and knowledgeable members of your customer service department to handle critical inquiries or tickets from valuable customers. This leaves your newer staff to take care of less complex issues.
4. Prepare customer service response templates
There’s no reason your customer service reps should have to rewrite the same responses to common questions over and over. Create templates for your team members to use to respond to the customer requests that come in all the time.
Templates can save time, give every customer a comparable level of service, and help you establish a consistent brand voice. Set up the templates to respond to customer questions you receive over email, social media, or any other platform.
If you have an online subscription service, for example, a common problem could be that users forget their username or password information. Here’s an example of a template your rep could use to address this issue:
“I’m sorry you’re having trouble signing in. If you’ve forgotten your username or password, don’t worry. We’ll help you find it. Please select an option below to help us better serve you:
I don’t remember my username [embedded link].
I don’t remember my password [embedded link].”
5. Set up time-based email alerts
Customer inquiries might sometimes be overlooked for a number of reasons. Your agents might need more information to answer a customer’s request or they might delay answering questions that aren’t urgent.
Keeping track of all the inquiries in your queue can be hard. Time-based email alerts remind you how long a customer has been waiting for a response. Customer service email tools like Help Scout or Hiver are helpful for setting up email alerts.
Let’s say your staffing firm has a goal to deliver a helpful first response to every inquiry within 12 hours. You could set up a time-based email alert to notify you if an email has been in your queue for 11 hours so you have time to respond to it within the target time.
6. Study common requests to identify and anticipate them
As your business operates, you’ll get an idea of what questions seem to pop up frequently. Make sure your customer service team is prepared to handle these issues quickly. Also, bring any new employees up to speed so they know what to expect.
You can use tools like Typeform and Jotform to create customer service forms to help you categorize and keep track of different types of customer service requests. Design forms with a list of problem types for your customers to choose from.
If your e-commerce business ships clothing, for example, a common issue your customers might have is submitting the wrong shipping address. If you train your service reps to change the address on a customer’s order fast, they’ll have more time to handle other complex requests.
7. Create an FAQ page
Sometimes, customers like the opportunity to solve their own problems. By setting up a knowledge base or FAQ (frequently asked questions) page for your business, you give your consumers the opportunity to find solutions to their problems on their own.
Programs like Document360 or KBase are helpful for creating FAQ pages. A good FAQ page will save your company and service reps a lot of time solving user problems. Include a link to your FAQ page in emails, on your website, in automated messages, and on your business’s social media pages.
Even though the FAQ answers may be helpful to your customers, though, don’t depend on them alone to solve your customers’ issues. Customer service experts should still respond to every inquiry personally.
An FAQ page can work great for a variety of businesses. For example, if your company sells computers, you might have questions and answers that tell your customers how to handle common problems like frozen screens and interrupted internet connections.
8. Use customer service software
You have a variety of customer service tools to choose from. The best software tools for your company will depend on factors like what type of business you run and what your customer service goals are. Here are a few types of customer service software:
- CRM tools like Salesforce and Zendesk store customer information, which can help you increase customer loyalty.
- Chat and messaging tools like LiveChat and Smartsupp help you provide customer support over short message service (SMS), email, and social media channels.
- Chatbot platforms like ManyChat and ChatBot.com create AI robots to help your visitors solve common issues. Chatbots may help reduce your service team’s workload.
- Knowledge base tools like Wix Answers and Bloomfire can help you provide resources for your customers to research their own solutions.
Great customer service software can help your business improve its response time in a few ways:
- It helps save time by automating processes and workflows, for example, by sending auto-responses.
- It helps you keep track of certain information, such as how long specific customers have been waiting for a response.
- It helps you measure performance metrics like your business’s average first response times.
- It provides a platform that may help your team collaborate more efficiently.
9. Add more customer service experts
If you’ve tried all of the above strategies and you’re still having trouble meeting your response time goals, it might be time to engage more customer service experts to handle the workload.
Does fast customer response time really matter?
A quick customer response time is absolutely crucial for your business. The market research organization Forrester discovered that over three-fourths of the consumers they surveyed said the most important aspect of customer service is that a business respects its customers’ time.
Forrester’s research also found that over half of their participants would give up on an online purchase if they had an issue they couldn’t find an answer to quickly.
Reducing your customer response time is one of the best things you can do to promote customer satisfaction, build a loyal customer base, and attract new customers.
Standard customer service response time
When a consumer has a problem, they want an immediate response. In fact, a survey conducted by Jeff Toister and SuperOffice found that a third of customers expected a company to respond to a new email within one hour. Meanwhile, around 11% believed a company should respond within 15 minutes.
How do most companies measure up? Another customer service study found that the majority of businesses don’t answer emails at all; of those that do (around 38%), the average email response time is 12 hours and 10 minutes.
The average response time for your particular industry might be different. Consistently beating the industry average response time will go a long way toward helping you create a positive customer experience. Here are the average email response times for a few business types:
- Supply chain logistics—12 hours
- Financial services—14 hours
- Retail—17 hours
- Real estate—15 hours
- Corporate travel agencies—36 hours
Calculate your average customer service response time
In the next few sections, we’ll teach you how to figure out the customer response time for your business using two different methods.
1. Record the time that passes between receiving the message and providing the response
One way to track all of your response times is by recording the amount of time it takes to respond to every customer query. You can document each response time in a spreadsheet like Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel. Use the AVERAGE function to find your average customer response time.
The calculation shows the average response time for the five responses in the above chart is seven and a half hours.
2. Customer service software time trackers
For large businesses that get huge numbers of customer inquiries, it may not be practical to manage your own response time metrics. Fortunately, several software tools are available to track your response times and automatically create reports based on them.
Select from a variety of customer service tools you can use to track your response times in real time. HubSpot CRM, Freshdesk, and Movidesk are just a few examples of resources with time trackers that can record and analyze customer service metrics.
Make the most out of your customer service
No one likes to be kept waiting. By reducing your reply time, you show your customers that you appreciate them and value their time. A quick response time is an essential part of a great customer service experience.
But finding new team members for your support team can be challenging. Great support workers need a mix of hard skills, like computer competency, and soft skills, like communication abilities, to artfully handle varied types of customer service interactions.
Upwork can help you find independent customer service experts with proven track records of success to help your business meet customer expectations. We also have a quality job board for talented professionals looking to fill customer service roles.
Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this section. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.
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