customer support response times

How Fast Do Your Agents Really Need to Be in Digital CX?


When it comes to live chat, speed of response is make-or-break for customers. With email, it’s an opportunity to knock their socks off.

Nobody’s ever complained about a company answering a customer service email too quickly. Nor has a customer ever publicly disparaged a brand for having “freakishly fast” live chat support.

It just doesn’t happen, and for good reason: speed of customer service responses is the foundation of a great online experience. Without it, businesses put satisfaction, loyalty, and, ultimately, dollars on the line.

We’re in a new phase of digital CX. The online consumer expectations for simple and enjoyable experiences have grown steadily over the past few years, an upward trend that was thrown into overdrive at the onset of COVID-19. With more people flocking to ecommerce sites and potentially permanently changing their shopping behaviors, delivering exceptional online CX must be a top priority for companies and brands.

In Simplr’s latest State of Online CX report, over 750 ecommerce brands were mystery shopped to find out how the pandemic has affected businesses’ abilities to excel in the following categories: responsiveness, reliability, and relatability.

When it comes to speed, Simplr found that 72% of online shoppers said that response time was just as important or more important than before the pandemic. As businesses navigate digital CX staffing and strategy in an unpredictable economy, speed should be at the forefront of the discussion.

Why is speed important in customer service?

Overall, speed makes customers happier, and therefore more loyal to your brand.

What happens if you move too slowly? Shoppers are likely to look elsewhere. Forrester research found that over half of shoppers will abandon a purchase if they don’t get quick answers to questions. And 73% of people say that valuing their time is the most important thing a business can do.

When a company is able to respond to a customer’s digital inquiry in a timely manner, wonderful things can happen:

  • The customer has less time to jump to a competitor’s site, where they may be able to find a quicker answer.
  • In the case of pre-sale inquiries, a quick resolution pushes the customer closer to checkout. Cha ching!
  • Customers are often super impressed by rapid-fire customer service support. The “surprise and delight” aspect of these moments can help to cement loyalty and increase referrals.

So, what is considered “fast” when it comes to live chat and email? Let’s take a closer look.

How quickly do you have to respond to customer service chats?

Based on our most recent study, ecommerce companies with the highest customer satisfaction scores responded to chats in 30 seconds or less.

(Click here for a list of the top performing brands!)

While a customer may not be sitting there with a stopwatch, the overall expectation is that chats, like phones, get picked up right away. Unlike other digital channels, speed is tied directly to the satisfaction of the experience.

  • For instance, 61% of chat interactions that were rated as “Very Good” had a response rate of under 30 seconds.
  • Conversely, 92% of the chat interactions that were rated as “Very Poor,” had wait times that exceeded 5 minutes.

Quite simply, speed of response is the #1 factor for success in live chat. Your agents could nail relatability and reliability, but if the response comes too late, they might as well be shouting (albeit empathetically, and with the right answers!) into the void.

It’s important to remember that live chat must be just that: a chat. Not a redirect for email, not a “come back tomorrow” sign for your website, and not a self-selection of endless options. When you deploy chat-based solutions, know that you’re setting an expectation that rapid-fire support is waiting on the other side of the chat bubble.

We’ve all gotten accustomed to reaching others by chat or messaging right away. Be sure to bring those expectations to your online CX (or consider removing the chat bubble to avoid frustration).

Speed is email’s magic power

Naturally, customers are more patient when it comes to email responses. Our research found that the average response time for online companies was 48 hours. For the companies that had a satisfaction rating above 4.5/5, that time dropped significantly down to 25 hours.

Clearly, there’s a correlation between satisfaction and email response time. But it doesn’t tell the entire story. While a customer will gladly accept a one-day turnaround for a response, companies shouldn’t settle for that benchmark. In fact, the top scorers in our study answered emails in 15 minutes or less!

Let’s be honest: a customer is not expecting an email response in under 15 minutes (and that’s the point). By bringing speed to the next level, companies are cracking open an opportunity to surprise and delight customers and crush competitors. Better yet, a customer who’s been thoroughly dazzled is more likely to stay loyal and praise the company to friends and on review sites.

For example, our client, Austin-based startup Made In Cookware received the following response from a customer when that person’s email had been answered swiftly:

“Very impressed with a personal email. I emailed another business about the same time as Made In, and got an automated reply with a promise to get back to me in 48 hours. Haven’t heard from them yet. Keep it real, Made In! We will be repeat customers!”

Putting in the extra effort to bring down email response time is clearly worth the investment.

Your online customers are waiting

If you thought your customers were willing to cut you some CX slack due to the pandemic, you were wrong. Customers are less forgiving of brands’ delays and wait times, and there’s even a risk of them walking away completely—at a time when you need loyal, consistent customers more than ever.

The faster you can respond to your customers when they show they need you, the better your chances of delivering a positive experience. If you aren’t set up to respond in near real-time, you might be selling yourself short.