email response time

How to Drastically Improve Customer Service Response Times

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Customer service response times are a critical measure of your customer service. The quicker you respond and meet the customer in the moment, the more likely they will become a five-star fan. So how do you improve response times?

The on-demand digital economy and the high standard set by businesses like Amazon have created a new kind of consumer: The NOW Customer. They’re the ones who are always on and expect rapid resolutions and engaged interactions from their brands. 

CX misconceptions

However, there is a huge disconnect between the businesses and customers in how they perceive the level of customer service provided. Bain & Company found that 80% of companies believe they are delivering a superior service. And yet, only 8% of customers believe that they are receiving excellent service. That gap between perception and reality is… alarming.

Perhaps this is because many companies are using “vanity metrics” to measure the success of customer service interactions. In a 2020 Simplr survey of CX leaders, we asked which metric is most actively measured, monitored, and reported on:

  • 74% measure CSAT and NPS on a consistent basis
  • 38% measure resolution time on a consistent basis

While CSAT and NPS are the most popular, they rarely tell the full story and often contribute to (undetected) instances of customer neglect. Resolution time, on the other hand, tells a fuller story, and it’s a metric that more companies need to embrace in order to over exceptional CX.

What Simplr found out about email response

Simpr mystery shopped over 650 ecommerce brands during ”Cyber 5,” the period of time between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The results revealed surprising lapses in response times, ones that cost businesses millions in potential missed revenue. 

brands that took longer than 24 hours to respond to a customer service email were missing out on $2 million a day.

Here’s what we found when it came to email response time:

  • Only 13% of pre-sale emails were answered under one hour
  • 27% of customer service email took longer than 24 hours
How long did it take to get a non-auto email response from the company?

The customer service channel needs improvement

Clearly, customer service response times are an area businesses can make drastic improvements, improve the customer service experience, and stand out from their competitors. Remember, customer satisfaction is now the biggest differentiator of brands, replacing price and product quality. 

In their report “Understanding the Real Expectations of Today’s Connected Customer,” the CMO Council found that the most important attribute of a good CX, according to the customers’ themselves, is a fast response time.

Most important attribute of the customer experience

  • Fast response time: 75%
  • Consistency across channels: 55%
  • Knowledgeable staff: 52%
  • Clear consistent messaging: 46%
  • A person to speak with: 37%
  • Multiple contact points: 28%
  • Easy to use service tools: 23%

Five ways to improve your customer service response times

It’s obvious from the statistics and stories above that there is huge room for improvement in customer service response times. But which tools and strategies will work best in your customer service channels and for your customer service team? Here are five ways that virtually any company can quickly utilize to offer customers a much better customer experience.

1. Use Human Cloud technology to scale support

Flexible, on-demand customer service solutions like Simplr give businesses the opportunity to leverage thousands of on-demand (human) customer service agents. The added bandwidth ensures that every customer can be responded to at best-in-class speed.

2. Start using business software to meet customer expectations

Software (aka ticketing systems) helps run virtually every aspect of a modern company. From inventory to timekeeping, from design to accounting, there is a clever piece of technology helping automate, save time, and streamline virtually any business process you can think of.

But a lot of companies still rely on their ordinary email platform to handle enquiries. That usually means having a single email address for customers that goes to a shared inbox that’s accessible to everyone. This is an utterly chaotic system that often leads to a “black hole” where emails enter never to be heard from again.

Modern help desk software

Software allows you to impose well-organized structures on your enquiries. Emails can be organized according to the email address that 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.

Customer service software enables you to handle all your inbound requests whether it be sales or marketing or support, from one common help desk interface. All your emails Gmail, Outlook, etc. can be converted into actionable tickets, then categorized and prioritized for your support team to either respond to them or assign them to the appropriate team for their action.

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 service by enhancing your agents’ knowledge of the customer.

Rather than having to piece together client information from emails scattered throughout a shared inbox, your support team has access to a complete and comprehensive picture of the customer and their inquiry.

3. Automate your responses

Often a customer only needs to know they’ve been heard. They have a simple question and need a simple, fast response. In addition, more times than not, the majority of inbound emails and SMS messages are about the same subject. You do not need a customer support agent to handle these and repeat the same answer over and over again. And the customer does not need to wait!

This is where automated responses can serve the customer best and elevate your customer service. Less than 10% of companies use autoresponders, but this simple technology can be used to let a customer know you have received their email and what they should expect to happen next.

If you’re focused on reducing first-response rates, automated responses can be used in three main ways:

  • An immediate automated email for every inquiry received
  • Certain types of common inquiries receive an automated response
  • An automated email is used for messages received out of business hours

You may feel that an automated response is impersonal and will alienate your customers. But as I said, often all a customer wants is to be acknowledged and an automatic response is a excellent way to: 

  • Thank them for their message so the customer knows you’re taking their communication seriously
  • Remind the sender of the opening hours of your customer service department and how it might take several hours until their email is seen by someone
  • Set expectations upfront and Inform the customer of your average response times
  • Provide links to FAQs and other self service tools that they might not have been able to find on your company website 

4. Implement an alarm system

No, this doesn’t mean you have to install flashing lights and sirens to keep your customer service teams constantly on edge. If you’re aiming to respond to emails within a certain amount of time, you need a simple way to manage that target and ensure deadlines are met. It’s very easy to lose track of which emails require a response and to miss enquiries that get buried during busy times.

It works like this: Upon receiving an enquiry, a customer service agent decides when it’s necessary to return to the email. They then set an alarm that acts as a reminder. This allows busy human agents to read an email and return to it later, should it not require an immediate response. It gives agents an opportunity to go away and research the correct solution and it ensures unopened or unclaimed emails are picked up before the deadline for response

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.

5. Use templates and text shortcuts

As I mentioned before, in a lot of cases it’s highly likely that a large percentage of your email communications will be about similar, if not identical, problems. Having your customer service agents craft individual and unique responses to each of these inquiries is remarkably time-consuming. While you may value the human touch, the same level of customer support can be achieved in far more efficient ways.

Rather than drafting a new email for each and every customer inquiry, your support team should have access to a number of email templates covering the most common topics of inquiry. 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.

Use the experience of your agents to build a library of responses. Experienced agents know what type of questions their customers ask time after time. Use this information to better prepare your customer service team.

Not only will messaging templates speed up your response time, but they’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. 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.

6. Categorize, prioritize, and tag the emails you receive

As you know, not all customer inquiries are the same. Some are simply more important than others and should be treated as such.

For instance, it’s a good idea to prioritize responses from customers who are experiencing a recurring issue. As this is maybe the second or third 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 inquiries that require more time to resolve.

It is very tempting for agents to leave more complex issues for later and tackle the easy ones first. But if these are tagged as high-priority, they are more likely to be resolved in a time the customer finds acceptable. You can reassure the sender that their email has been read and that, due to the complex nature of an inquiry, a resolution may be slightly delayed.

While a range of tagging systems can be utilized to prioritize email communications, try using a system everyone understands. One of the quickest and easiest is the traffic light system: 

  • Red for high priority
  • Amber for less urgent emails
  • Green for those that don’t require an immediate response

You can prioritize your inbound communications through a triage system, just like an emergency room. You can assess an email based on its subject or theme and assign it a tag accordingly. 

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.

Improving customer service response time benefits everyone

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:

  • Use Human Cloud technology to scale customer support
  • Implement customer service software to make your inbox more manageable
  • Use email autoresponders to keep your customers in the loop and manage expectations
  • Use time-based alerts to make sure no emails go missing or are delayed
  • Use templates and text shortcuts to reduce the time it takes to write each email
  • Categorize all incoming customer service emails and respond based on priority