5 Ways to Reduce Customer Service Response Times

5 Ways to Reduce Customer Service Response Times

Post summary: 

  • The most important attribute of good customer service, according to customers’ themselves, is a fast response time. How quickly do you respond to your own customers?
  • According to our own research of 1,000 companies, the average response time to respond to customer service requests is 12 hours and 10 minutes. That’s too long! So, how can you reduce response times?
  • We share 5 of the most effective and easy-to-implement techniques that we use at SuperOffice, which helped us reduce our own response time from more than 5 hours to now less than 1 hour.

Your customers are the source of your revenue.

Without them you don’t have much of a business – so it’s important to keep them happy.

Yet, our most recent customer service study found that 62% of companies do not respond to customer emails.

It’s clear that you have an opportunity to stand out against the competition by simply responding to your customers.

For companies that do respond, the average response time is 12 hours – well above the one hour timeframe that customers expect – with the slowest response taking longer than 8 days!

Average response times (fastest to slowest)

So, how long does it take for you to respond to your customers?

To find out, you need to calculate your first response time (FRT).

What is average first response time (FRT)?

Average first response time is one of the most important customer service reports used to understand how you are performing. It looks at not just the one-off response for a single customer, but the average response time for your entire department.

Reducing response times and responding to your customers with helpful and relevant information is the key to customer service success!

Therefore, if you want to improve the experience for your customers, then you need to make reducing your average FRT a priority for your business.

So, how do I calculate average FRT?

To understand how to calculate your average FRT, there are two key pieces of data you need to collect from your customer service team:

  1. The total time it took to respond to emails during a selected time period.
  2. The total number of responses sent in that selected time period.

Make sure the time period for both metrics matches. You may want to look at this over the course of a day, a week, or even a month to get a clear picture.

Then, simply divide the top figure (total time to send responses) by the bottom figure (total number of responses). This will give you a single number of hours, which is your average FRT.

How to calculate average first response time?

For SuperOffice Service customers, FRT is calculated automatically – meaning less work for you and your team!

Here, you can find the average response time by reporting period, by department or team and by individual agents.

Average response times report for customer service

If you’re not a SuperOffice customer, then here’s how you can calculate your average FRT.

Let’s imagine you send 3 customer service emails per day.

The first email takes 2 hours, the second takes 4 hours, and the third takes 6 hours. Collectively, it takes you 12 hours to respond to all 3 emails. Now, divide 12 hours by the 3 emails you sent and you end up with an average response time of 4 hours.

If you calculate that your average response time is 4 hours, then – job well done!

However, if it takes your team longer than the average to respond, then it might be time to examine how to amp up team work and find new ways to improve your processes, so you can reduce response times and keep your customers happy.

But, do fast response times really matter?

Yes, they do, and here’s why.

Why speed matters in customer service

Let’s start with the obvious – a fast response makes your customers feel important.

Second, speed matters in customer service because your customers expect demand it!

CMO council found that the most important attribute of good customer service, according to the customers’ themselves, is a fast response time.

Therefore, responding quickly means you’re meeting customer expectations.

What happens when a company takes too long to respond and doesn’t meet expectations?

They stop doing business with you.

Personally, I prefer a response within 15 minutes – no more than an hour maximum.

If they don’t respond, I’ll find a new company to do business with (if possible). Slow response times definitely leave a bad impression for any future business. David Bailey-Lauring, CEO at Blu Mint Digital

Sadly, too few companies prioritize fast response times.

A study by Call Centre Helper found that only 12% of customer service managers are focused on responding quickly to their customers.

Reducing response times is a low priority for many businesses

If meeting customer expectations isn’t enough to persuade you of how important it is, perhaps another argument will do the trick? The third reason for why speed matters is that if you don’t respond quickly, your customers will contact you through another channel – essentially doubling your workload!

The Northridge Group’s State of Customer Service Experience Report found that 40% of millennials (today’s decision makers) wait 60 minutes before they try to contact you in another channel.

Responding quickly means less work for you and your team, so you can spend more time on writing quality responses.

Finally, responding quickly to your customers will grow your business.

A study of more than 500,000 interactions found that customers are willing to spend more with a business that responds quickly to their enquiry. Simply put, a fast response generates higher revenue.

How to reduce customer service response times

There’s a direct business benefit to reducing response times.

To help you get started, we’ve collected 5 of the most effective and easy-to-implement techniques that you can use to respond quickly to your customers.

1. Implement customer service software

Do you use customer service software?

If not, then now is the time to consider it.

If your company still uses a shared access mailbox to manage hundreds (or even thousands) of customer service emails, there’s no easier way to improve your customer service processes than to invest in and implement customer service software.

Customer service software stores every single conversation or interaction you’ve had during your company’s relationship with your customer. This means you can look back and understand their problems, identify details of the products they’re subscribing to and use this information to be more helpful in your response.

On top of this, using the right tools for the job means you’ll be much faster than you would be trying to piece together all this information from a shared inbox or other similar low-tech approach.

2. Use email autoresponders

Sometimes, all a customer needs to know is that their email has been received and that help is on the way. It’s only when their concerns, problems or complaints have gone ignored that negative sentiment begins to appear and potentially affect your long-term relationship with the customer.

A great way to overcome this is to use email autoresponders.

Less than 10% of companies use autoresponders, but this simple, age-old technology can be used to let a customer know you have received their email and what they should expect to happen next.

Example of an auto-responder email

You can also use this opportunity to outline things like:

  • Thanking them for their message. This way, they know you’re taking their communication seriously and paying it the respect they deserve.
  • Opening hours of your customer service department. By including this, they know that if they email in the middle of the night or on a weekend, that it might take several hours (or even days), until their email is seen by someone.
  • Average response times. Informing your customers of when they can expect a response sets expectations upfront. Plus, including a timeframe will take the pressure off your customer service team by avoiding follow-up inquiries.
  • Links to FAQs / instruction manuals. No matter how easy to use you think your website is, your customers won’t always find documents like FAQs or manuals. Sometimes, all they need is a gentle nudge in the right direction, and through self-service they could end up solving their problem before you get the chance to respond.

3. Time-based email alerts

Although we aim to respond to every customer service email, sometimes emails can get left behind.

For example, you could be waiting for some information before you can respond in full, or perhaps there’re more emails in the customer service queue than you expected. Whatever the reason, your customers deserve your attention within a reasonable timeframe.

To avoid losing emails in the system or response times being delayed for much longer than they need to be, try setting up time-based email alerts.

For companies that use a shared access mailbox, this will have to be done manually.

However, if you use customer service software, you can set this up automatically and tag new emails with a timer. Simply work out how quickly you would like to respond to your customers and then set up an alert to trigger before the timeframe. This way, you’ll ensure you have ample time to read and respond to your customers within your average response time.

How to set up time based alerts for customer service

4. Use templates + text shortcuts

Experienced agents know what type of questions their customers ask time after time. Use this information to make sure your website and help documentation reflect these types of questions. And you can also use it to better prepare your customer service team.

Rather than making your team repeatedly come up with custom responses to the same questions, you can supply them with customer service email templates to help make their job easier. Not only will it speed up your response time, but it’ll also help you keep your communication consistent.

This means that every customer will get the same answer to their question, with little or no deviation – helping to reinforce the brand and keep all your customers happy.

Of course, not every customer service query can be handled with a template.

Another way to help make writing emails easier is to use text shortcuts.

For example, by assigning shortcuts to commonly used words or phrases, you can dramatically reduce the number of keystrokes needed to write an email response.

Here’s how it could work: with the shortcuts updating automatically once the email has been sent, based on your settings.

Use text shortcuts to reduce response times

Simple, but very effective!

The more times you use the same shortcut, the quicker it will be to type up a response.

You could also use shortcuts for other parts of the email, including:

  • Social media profile links,
  • Links to FAQs or knowledge base,
  • Email subscription copy and links.

Text shortcuts or email templates can dramatically reduce the amount of time needed to answer an email, which in turn will allow you to respond to more emails and reduce your average response time.

5. Categorize and prioritize the emails you receive

One of the best ways to speed up the way you answer customer service emails is to categorize and prioritize the emails you receive.

When a new email is received, it should go through a ‘triage’ system – just like a patient would in a hospital emergency room. You can assess an email based on its subject or theme and assign it a tag accordingly. Different tags should have different levels of priority based on criteria such as time needed to respond, complexity of the problem, and the importance to both the customer and the business.

Once you have the emails categorized and prioritized your team can then efficiently respond to each email based on one category at a time by order of priority. By concentrating on one topic or subject area at a time, major time saving efficiencies can be made, compared to jumping between multiple topics which can be time-consuming and inefficient.

A response time within one hour?

We reached out to Stein Ove Sektnan, manager of customer service at SuperOffice, to get his input on how to reduce response times.

Here’s what he had to say:

Asking your customer service team to respond quickly might sound easy enough, but the more you focus on speed, rather than quality, the more likely you are to lower the quality of service you provide to your customers.

When it comes to response times, here’s what you should think about:

Define what a reply is. A fast reply is not helpful if the reply doesn’t add value.

Customer service is a team effort. Cherry-picking the easy requests might help individuals respond quickly, but it doesn’t help achieve the team’s goals.

Share (and develop) knowledge across the team. When the workload spikes, whether due to seasonality, annual leave or sickness, having shared expertise across the team gives you the flexibility to handle an increase customer requests.

By following the tips shared in this article, our customer service team response rates have reduced from an average of 5 hours to now less than 1 hour.

SuperOffice customer response times

Conclusion

Reducing your customer service response time is incredibly important.

Not only can it help you make your customers happy and enhance your brand’s reputation – but when done properly, it can also improve efficiencies throughout your entire organization.

Yet, with the average response taking more than 12 hours, it’s clear that many companies could be doing more to reduce this figure.

If you’re looking to improve customer service, then remember these 5 easy-to-implement techniques to help set your company apart as an organization that values your customers:

  1. Implement customer service software to make your inbox more manageable.
  2. Use email autoresponders to keep your customers in the loop and manage expectations.
  3. Use time-based alerts to make sure no emails go missing or are delayed.
  4. Use templates and text shortcuts to reduce the time it takes to write each email.
  5. Categorize all incoming customer service emails and respond based on priority.

To find out more about our annual customer service benchmark report and how 1,000 companies respond to customer service emails, download the report for free.

Customer service benchmark report link to guide

Customer Service

About Steven MacDonald

Steven MacDonald

Steven Macdonald is a digital marketer based in Tallinn, Estonia. Steven has been creating blog content writing since 2010 and has appeared as a featured writer for Content Marketing Institute, Marketing Profs and Smart Insights. Since working with SuperOffice, he has led the growth from 0 to 2 million visitors per year. You can connect with Steven on LinkedIn and Twitter.

1 Comment

Ripley Watkins

about 7 months ago

Excellent post, Steven. It's amazing how many businesses aren't using time-based auto-generated email responses. Such a powerful method to improve customer service!

Reply

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