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How Does Response Time Influence The Customer Experience?

In this blog post, the focus is on customer service response times, particularly in email channels where a four-hour response is considered acceptable. Setting and surpassing First Reply Time (FRT) targets is emphasized for maintaining customer satisfaction and trust.

The picture shows a stopwatch
Chris Hague
22 February 2024
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What is the typical response time that customers expect when contacting a customer service channel and asking for help? Naturally, this depends on the channel the customer chooses. If the customer has just missed their flight and needs immediate help then they will probably make a voice call, because they want an agent to help them urgently.

But what about email?

In our research, customers are more forgiving with email. A response inside 4 hours is seen as acceptable. However, it is important to note that the first response needs to be both timely and helpful - sending an auto-response email saying ‘your email is important to us’ and then replying to the question three days later is not good enough. The first response needs to help the customer and be timely.

Email offers brands a bit more time to respond than a phone call, but that initial four-hour window is still essential. First Reply Time (FRT) cannot be allowed to go beyond this limit.

What are the effects of allowing FRT to go far beyond what a customer considers to be acceptable? Take email as an example. If a customer sends a comprehensive email question and then does not hear back within four hours it will have the following effect on the customer experience:

▪ There will be a strong loss of confidence in service quality.

▪ The customer will not feel as if the brand takes their request seriously - there is a lack of respect for the customer and their time.

▪ The customer feels neglected and not valued.

▪ This negative experience is almost certainly shared by the customer, e.g. on social media - the complete opposite of the positive recommendations that might occur when great service is delivered.

▪ There will be a negative influence on a potential purchase decision (e.g. in the case of inquiries about the product) - if that customer just needed a question answered before making a purchase then your lack of respect just lost you the sale.

▪ You are creating a disadvantage compared to competing companies - your own actions are causing the customer to look at alternative brands.

▪ There will be a decline in loyalty. The customer will be far more likely to switch to a competitor - especially if a new choice just needs a few clicks.

That is a long series of potential outcomes, but it is far from exaggerated. Think back to the last time you were thinking about buying a product and you just had a few final questions before clicking the ‘purchase’ button.

How would you feel if your questions are ignored? Possibly even worse, how would you feel if you get a response saying ‘we will respond to your email inside the next two days’, or even worse, you get a response saying that they appreciate your email, but if you want questions answered then you need to call a helpline.

Our team works hard to predict volume fluctuations, so the right number of people are available to keep the FRT low and customer satisfaction high. We can demonstrate case studies where email responses are consistently kept at around 90 minutes, by analyzing previous months and estimating volume in advance.

FRT is an important metric. If you offer support on a channel like email then tell the customer about your FRT target - so you set expectations - and then aim to beat that target. Help the customer on the channel they have chosen and do it in a timely way that shows respect for their interest in your products.

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