What is a First Response Time (FRT)? How to Calculate and How to Optimize

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Your first response time is the average time it takes for a support agent to respond to a customer. Find out why it matters to customers and how you can use it to improve your customer service. 

When a NOW Customer comes calling, how long do your agents take to make the first reply on a case? This first response time is even more important than your overall response or reply times because it lets the customer know that you are looking into their issue. It also shows how quickly your team is addressing new support cases and helps you gauge whether you have an appropriate number of customer service team members working. 

Voice calls, inbound email, live chat, SMS, and other customer service channels have different expectations for FRTs. But regardless of channel, a high FRT means that customers don’t know whether you are working on their case (and may feel neglected). Your goal is to keep your FRT as low as possible because a speedy first response shows customers that you’re taking them seriously.

Best-in-Class for average first response time in different channels:

The expectations of the NOW Customer are higher than ever, thanks to the nearly impossibly high standards set by major brands like Amazon and Netflix. According to Simplr research, companies that deliver “exceptional” experiences have the following FRTs:

  • Email  – 30 minutes or less
  • Live chat – 15 seconds or less

How to calculate your first response time

Fortunately, your first response time is easy to calculate:

Add up all your FRTs in a set period of time (say one month) and divide it by the total number of resolved tickets in that time.

For example:

64,000 seconds ÷ 800 resolved tickets = 80 seconds 

To get an accurate calculation that gives you a clear picture of your team’s performance in real world conditions, you should exclude automated responses (like those from chatbots or virtual assistants) and tickets that arrive outside of your stated business hours.

Once you have this number, you can start to compare it against other times to see if you are consistently answering your customers’ requests. You can compare it against averages for your industry or see how your staffing levels affect your FRT.

Is your first response time competitive in your channel?

As I stated before, FRTs vary wildly between channels. And customer expectations do too. Here are some basic benchmarks:

Email

Good: 12 hours or less

Better: Four hours or less

Best: One hour or less

Social media

Good: Two hours or less

Better: One hour or less

Best: 15 minutes or less

Live chat

Good: One minute or less

Better: 30 seconds or less

Best: 15 seconds or less

Source

Source

Is your first response time competitive in your industry?

Competitive FRT numbers are difficult to find as a lot of companies wish to keep this information private. However, after a little digging, I was able to find some benchmark FRTs for various industries from some reputable sources:  

Email first response times 

But how does this stack up against the needs of the customer? What first response times were they expecting?

How to optimize your first response time

Now you know your FRTs. The next step is to set targets and keep beating them. Here are the best ways to drive down your FRTs and boost your CSAT scores.

Train your agents

Agent training is crucial to your FRTs. When your agents know your product inside and out, and are familiar with company policies and best practices around support, they don’t need to spend as much time searching for answers. They can be much quicker to answer customer questions.

Reduce multitasking and increase agent focus

In this multi-channel world it’s very tempting to overload your agents and expect them to jump from channel to channel helping customers however they contact you. However, this can be overwhelming for even the best agents and a more structured approach realizes better results. Try focusing your agents on a single channel for a few hours at a time. This can increase accuracy and quality, resulting in fewer touches and faster issue resolution for customers.

Build a comprehensive knowledge base

Make sure your agents have the information they need right at their fingertips so they can search and find relevant information for customers. A knowledge base should be educational, motivational, and organized. It must answer common questions efficiently to save time and confusion. 

Utilize the fastest channels

Offer and prioritize live chat and messaging. More and more customers have been relying on messaging for a more immediate response for urgent questions. In fact, according to Microsoft, 66% of consumers have used at least three different communication channels to contact customer service.

Improve the agent experience

Agents’ biggest pain point is navigating among the hard-to-use systems in the average customer service technology stack. Choose a support solution that streamlines your agent experience and allows them to go their jobs without toggling between multiple tools and systems. 

Prevent burnout

When a customer service rep is burned out, they can feel a lack of motivation to hit their benchmarks, even if they are normally a top performer. You can help with burnout by showing gratitude for your agents’ hard work. By keeping an eye on metrics like FRTs you can see who is performing well and reward them accordingly.