How to set customer email response time benchmarks – a quick guide
It’s an age of instant responses. With mobile phones at our fingertips and connectivity on the go, we expect DEMAND prompt responses to our emails and queries. Businesses that don’t provide prompt, supportive responses are ticked off our list. Want to know how to lose business fast? Try slow, unhelpful, bland, robotic customer service response. You’ll lose business in no time!
We’re not being rhetorical.
Customer service response rates matter.
Countless studies conducted by the world’s top organizations point to one fundamental fact:
Customer service response rates matter. Email response rates matter. Chat response rates matter. They impact your sales. They hurt (or boost) your reviews. They literally impact the customer’s decision to continue doing business with you. And in B2B, slow response time could mean losing millions.
Each of these response times is measured by certain benchmarks that companies must reach to be considered as world-class service.
For customer service response rates via email, it’s 1 hour.
For live chat, it’s 48 seconds.
For phone calls, it’s 20 seconds.
Image Source: Astute Solutions
Regardless of the customer service mode – whether email or phone, generally, 1 hour or less is the time customers are willing to wait to get a response to their queries.
So how quickly should teams respond to customer emails?
It’s easy to brush this question off by citing 24 hours as a safe and acceptable response time, but the fact is, customers don’t want to wait 24 hours anymore.
In March 2020, Jeff Toister of Toister Performance Solutions conducted a study consisting of 3,200 participants. His study reveals that nearly a third of customers expect businesses to respond to emails in one hour or less.
A study by SuperOffice study also reveals that in sharp contrast to customer expectations, the typical company takes 12 hours to respond to emails, disappoints, and loses a large chunk of its customers.
As if this was not enough, the study also revealed that nearly 62% of companies failed to respond to emails!
In another study conducted by Dr. James Oldroyd, it was revealed that salespeople had a 100 times greater chance of making successful contact with a lead within five minutes of an inquiry as opposed to 30 minutes.
In layman’s terms, the soonest you respond to a customer, the higher your conversion rates.
Response rates directly impact lead generation and sales. But more importantly, they affect the relationship companies have with their customers. If you’re a small business, slow, unhelpful response time could mean a literal loss of revenue. If you’re an enterprise, the impact is gradual – negative reviews on social media, loss of recommendations and potential business, and loss of community trust.
Yet, companies are still lagging. They are still unable to meet the 1-hour benchmark. If these studies truly reflect the current approach to customer or client service response times, there is something broken in our systems.
Why are companies unable to meet response time demands?
Over the years, we’ve worked with small businesses, startups, and enterprise organizations, and almost all of them regardless of size and industry had common flaws that prevented them from reaching the potential of their customer service goals.
Some of these, in order of importance, are described below:
- No Specific Benchmark to Measure Response Time Performance: There is an unspoken rule that agents need to respond swiftly to customer queries, but there’s no written documentation, no benchmark, or no performance criteria to measure against. In fact, there’s no way for companies to gauge how long it takes each of their agents to respond to customer queries. No surveys, no reviews, and no communication takes place over response time performance. Reps are free to respond at any time with ease. Some even miss out on assigned leads simply because it was the weekend and reps weren’t available to respond. While reps are criticized, they are not encouraged or trained to meet a set standard because it just doesn’t exist in the organization.
- No Technology to Measure Response Time: Even if companies want to measure response time, they do not have the tools to measure the performance of each rep. Usually, response times are measured during the customer service phase with the use of tickets in the CRM. But there’s no response rate measure of the initial query or in the lead gen process as there are no tickets generated for that. Leads are transferred into the CRM, assigned to respective account managers who then initiate their correspondence based on their availability. The inability to measure email response time during the initial phase is one of the reasons why companies can’t implement standards and benchmarks. And that causes them to neglect response times completely.
- Short on Support Staff: Of course, the lack of resources is a key reason for companies to fail in meeting demands, but in an age of automation and limitless possibilities, this problem does not hold much weight. With emails integrated into our phones and connectivity on the go, reps can answer them at any time. Moreover, if they cannot be available to respond immediately, they can always send a templated response acknowledging the query/problem and promising a resolve within the next working hours. While customers want supportive responses, they can tolerate or make do with acknowledgment and a promise to get back within the next working hour. Radio silence is what no one appreciates.
- Ignoring Customer Queries and Complains: Most of the focus is on getting new leads. But once the lead becomes a paying customer, their queries and complaints are either ignored or are placed in the backburner until reps are available to sort them out. This not only spells doom for the company but could also result in legal litigations. You may just lose one potential business if you don’t respond to a lead. But not responding to a customer results in losing multiple businesses.A poor rating or review on social media, where a customer specifically states your poor service can put you in a precarious position of losing your business to competitors who provide better customer services. 94% of consumers say an online review has convinced them to avoid a business!
- Lack of Training and Incentives: Reps are hardly ever trained on effective, prompt responses. The lack of a benchmark and standards means reps don’t even know what they are supposed to follow – and even if they do care and respond in time, it’s hardly ever recognized. Because there’s no way to measure performance, there’s no benchmark and because there’s no benchmark, there’s no standard to adhere to!
What can you do to improve response time performance?
Ok! So enough with the problems. What could be the possible solution? What can companies do to improve their response time, keep customers happy, incentivize reps to perform better, and stay happily ever after?
Well, quite a few things that are easy enough to implement.
- Define Standards and Benchmarks: If there’s no universal standard to follow, create an internal standard. While customers demand responses within an hour, realistically speaking, that’s often difficult for companies to achieve. Sometimes, some answers need additional research, some cannot be answered within an hour and some may need internal meetings and discussions. You will have to decide your company’s benchmarks based on factors like:
- The types of queries you commonly receive and the average response time required for each
- The availability of resources to resolve these queries as they come in. Can some of it be templated?
- First response time – how much time should you ideally take to respond to first-time customers.
- Your goals for measuring response time
- Your staff, their locations (if you have a global support staff), and work hour restrictions
- What customers expect from your business. For instance, a business looking to purchase a CRM may wait for a response time of 24 hours but a B2C customer hoping to get support to a technical problem may only want to wait an hour. You only know this if you study your customers expectations and understand what they truly want from your business in terms of support and communication.
- Invest in a Response Time Tracking Solution: Now that you’ve defined your benchmarks, you’ll need to implement and measure them. And no, CRMs are not good trackers of response time. You’ll need a solution that can help you measure response time right down to individual accounts. Timetoreply Sales, for instance, allows managers to measure the performance of each email account (of course, without violating privacy conditions). Additionally, businesses can also measure the ratio and average response time of each team member over a certain time duration. In-depth response time measurements can help you set new goals and benchmarks for your team and also measure their performance on the go. If you want to know which of your team reps are the most active responders, this is the best way to do so.
- Combine Speed with Support: Just because speed matters doesn’t mean you start sending off canned responses – that frustrates customers more than slow responses. Bots are a great way to stall queries, but it’s just a temporary fix and not a viable solution.
Instead, companies must accompany an acknowledgment message by a support message promising a response within a certain time limit. For instance, try replacing a robotic, typical response like:
“Thank you for contacting us. We will get back to you within 24 hours.”
“Thank you for getting in touch! We understand the value of your time and strive to deliver an accurate response within 4 hours of your query posted during business hours. Queries after business hours will be responded at the earliest on the next working day. Your patience is appreciated. Have a great day ahead!”
See? Human. Kind. People really wouldn’t mind waiting if they were given assurance and acknowledgment. Your goal isn’t just to be speedy, but also to be helpful. A bland, robotic response does not qualify and cannot be measured as response time success.
- Start by Improving First Response Time: Don’t start by setting benchmarks for customer service. Start by the first response team. When a potential lead sends you a query, they expect a prompt response. They don’t know you, they’ve never interacted with you, but a slow response from your end will be enough reason for them to categorize you as untrustworthy. Many startup businesses have lost millions in potential partnerships just because they responded to a lead two or three days later. Getting a fast response time builds confidence and gives a positive sign to the customer that you care about. It’s mostly the first time interaction that convinces even the most reluctant leads to become customers. If you’re looking to improve first response time and want to know how to read up on our previous blog where we help you know how you can improve your sales conversion rate by improving your average first response time.
- Identify and Resolve Team Problems: You may still be experiencing delays even after setting up benchmarks and systems. Hence, before you invest in solutions, it’s imperative to identify current problems preventing your teams from maximizing performance.
- Are teams inundated with requests?
- Do you need to make more hirings?
- Do you have team members who are struggling to keep up with demands?
- Do you have an accessible knowledge base?
- Are your processes automated where there’s a proper workflow that decides who’s responsible for answering different types of questions?
- Do you know how much time one sales rep takes to answer a query?
At the end of the day, your goal should be to prioritize and help every lead and customer feel valued and appreciated. They must receive your support throughout their journey with your organization. Your customer response time is just part of the bigger equation of optimal customer service – something that can quite literally make or break a business. Your customers want to be heard. What are you doing to make that possible?
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