Response time is defined as the amount of time it takes for your customer service team to first respond to a customer enquiry. The shorter the response time the better.
When measuring response time, we often talk of average response time. Rather than looking at the amount of time it takes you to respond to a single customer, this metric gives you an average for an entire channel, team, or business.
It matters as a metric because speed of response is a key customer concern when deciding which businesses they’ll continue to engage with and whether they’ve received a satisfactory level of customer service. In fact, the CMO Council released a study that suggests customers believe that it’s the most important contributing factor to excellent customer service.
To measure average response time, you’ll need to follow the following steps:
- Decide on a time frame. This can be as short as a single day, although a longer period – a week or a month – will limit the impact of outliers and provide more accurate results.
- Over this period, you’ll measure the amount of time it took to provide the first response to every relevant enquiry you receive, as well as the total number of enquiries you responded to.
- Use the following equation to calculate your average response time:
Average Response Time = The total time it took to provide all of your first responses / the total number of enquiries responded to
Ensuring that your staff have access to the right customer service technology is perhaps the easiest and most effective way of reducing response times. If you’re still using a shared inbox, you’re asking your employees to deal with a chaotic system, in which it’s easy to lose and misplace emails and difficult to impose order.
Modern email software allows you to impose well-organised structures on the enquiries you receive. Emails can be organised according to the customer who sent them, allowing your agents to look back on their entire history, isolate previous problem areas, and immediately catch up on an email train that they’d lost track of.
Not only does this help reduce response times by ordering emails in a manner that makes it infinitely easier and quicker to retrieve information and identify missed emails, it also improves customer service provision by enhancing your agents’ knowledge of the customer.
Rather than having to piece together client information from emails scattered throughout a shared inbox, your agents have access to a complete and comprehensive picture of the customer and their enquiry.
Organisations tend to prioritise certain communication channels over others. This is both natural and necessary – if customers use certain channels more frequently, it makes sense to invest more in these channels to ensure that they’re up to the job. However, this can have a drastic impact on your ability to respond to enquiries received through less popular channels.
Email is a perfect example of this phenomenon. Though it remains an important means of communication, many organisations prioritise investment telephony, chatbots, and instant messaging. While at first this may seem to make sense from a business perspective, it will have an effect on your email response rate.
If so, it’s then a question of balancing the cost of adequately equipping your email team against the damage caused to your reputation by long response times.
In this instance, it’s a good idea to consider the following steps:
- Assess your staffing – is the team responsible for responding to email enquiries large enough?
- Look at your email technology – has investment lagged behind so much that your employees are using woefully outdated tech?
- Examine your support structure – Are you providing your team with the support they need to do the job? Is training offered? Do they have experienced supervisors to reach out to when in difficulty?
If you’re really focused on reducing first-response rates, one of the easiest ways to do so is implementing an automated response system. This is utilised by businesses in three main ways:
- An automated email is sent in response to every enquiry received
- An automated email is sent in response to certain types of enquiry
- An automated email is sent at certain times of day (eg. out of business hours)
Which method you choose will largely depend on how you believe your customers will react to an automated email.
While some companies refuse to use them because they feel automated responses do not go down well with their target audience, others embrace them as a good way of achieving three key goals:
- Acknowledging receipt of an enquiry
- Pointing the sender in the direction of self-service options that may resolve their issue
- Providing the customer with a time-frame in which a reply will be sent
They are particularly useful to businesses that find they receive a large number of out-of-hours enquiries.
Not all enquiries require human intervention. In fact, a relatively high percentage of any organisation’s interactions with their customers typically deal with simple issues that could be easily automated.
Rather than disappointing customers with a long response time, businesses and public sector organisations can deploy a range of powerful automation technologies that will reduce the number of enquiries human agents are forced to handle and improve the customer experience.
Three technologies are key to this process:
- FAQs – though it may be a relatively low-tech solution, your good, old fashioned Frequently Asked Questions page is an excellent means of providing comprehensive automated responses to your… well, most frequently asked questions.
- IVR – Interactive Voice Response systems are a widely deployed means of efficiently routing calls and automating the provision of basic information.
- Chatbots – chatbots are the most powerful of the three technologies listed here and demonstrate the greatest potential for future growth. Today’s bots are already capable of resolving complex enquiries and interacting with individuals in a conversational manner. In the future, with the development of more advanced AI applications, they’ll likely become the customer service tool of choice for the vast majority of businesses.
If you’re aiming to respond to emails within a certain amount of time, you need a mechanism that helps you to manage that target by alerting you to upcoming deadlines. In a busy inbox, it’s very easy to lose track of which emails require a response and to miss enquiries that get buried when things heat up.
To avoid this, many organisations implement an alarm system. Upon receiving an enquiry, the staff member processing the communication decides when it’s necessary to return to the email to check in on its progress or formulate a response. They then set an alarm that acts as a reminder.
This simple alarm system boasts several benefits. They include:
- Allowing busy human agents to read an email and return to it later, should it not require an immediate response
- Giving agents an opportunity to go away and research the correct solution.
- Ensuring unopened or ‘unclaimed’ emails are picked up before the deadline for response
While human agents in your contact centre can be highly knowledgeable when it comes to your products and services, there will always be gaps in their understanding. This certainly isn’t a fault, it’s a natural result of the complex technological and business environments in which they’re operating.
Fortunately, one of the key strengths of modern digital technology is its ability to retain and retrieve data. Rather than expecting your human agents to remember the solution to every customer problem (an impossibility), or demanding that they carry out their own research (which is inefficient), organisations should provide their staff with a single, easy-to-use tool that will help them quickly come to the right conclusion.
In this instance, we’re talking about your knowledge base. Ensuring your knowledge base is up-to-date and contains all the information they require to resolve high-volume enquiries is one of the simplest ways of reducing response times. Rather than wasting valuable staff time searching for an answer, you can put the solution at their fingertips.
Not only does this reduce response rates, but it also increases the number of enquiries your agents can process.
It’s highly likely that a large percentage of your email communications will pertain to similar, if not identical, problems. Having your employees craft individual and unique responses to each of these enquiries is remarkably time-consuming. While you may value the ‘human touch’ it gives each of your emails, this can be achieved in far more efficient ways.
Rather than drafting a new email for each and every customer enquiry, employees should have access to a number of email templates covering the most common topics of enquiry. This allows them to pull up the template, input the relevant personal details, and add a casual and conversational ‘extra,’ if it suits your brand’s tone of voice.
Not all emails are alike. Some are simply more important than others and should be treated as such.
For instance, if you receive an email from a customer detailing the reemergence of an issue that was supposed to have been resolved, it’s a good idea to prioritise a response. As this is the second time contact has been made regarding the same problem, the response must be more urgent.
This may also be the case with particularly important customers or with those enquiries that require more time to resolve. Rather than leaving a complex enquiry sitting in your inbox, where it will gather dust until you return to it and realise that finding a solution may take a considerable amount of time, it’s often better to tag the communication as high priority.
This way, you’ll know that a response needs to be formulated as quickly as possible, reassuring the sender that their email has been read and that, due to the complex nature of an enquiry, a resolution may be slightly delayed.
While a range of tagging systems can be utilised to prioritise email communications, the quickest and easiest is the traffic light system. Red for high priority, amber for less urgent emails, and green for those that don’t require an immediate response.
Customers don’t just want a speedy first response, they also want their enquiry resolved within a reasonable timeframe. If you’re so focused on reducing response times that you begin to neglect enquiry resolution, you’re going backwards and you’ll alienate customers. After all, what does it matter if you fire back an immediate response if it takes you a week to bring the enquiry to a full conclusion?
With this in mind, it’s a good idea to balance your attempts to reduce response times with an awareness of other important factors.
- How long it takes you on average to resolve an enquiry
- How many emails it typically takes you to resolve an enquiry
- How satisfied the customer is with the resolution
Essentially, we’re saying that’s a good idea to keep in mind that customer service departments often have to balance two seemingly contradictory elements – speed and quality.
While reducing response times is key to enhancing your customer service provision, it should never be at the expense of the quality of your response. To do so, is to conceive of customer service in its narrowest form and to prioritise quantitative results over qualitative customer judgement.
By following the steps listed above, you’ll be able to drastically reduce your response time and improve your customer service. In this article, we’ve attempted to approach the topic from a range of angles, providing you with a diverse array of actionable steps. For further assistance on how to deliver enhanced customer service, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our experienced advisors.