What is a First Response Time (FRT)? How to Calculate and How to Optimize
First response time is a measurement of the average time it takes for customer support agents to respond to the company’s customer issues. It can be seconds, minutes, hours or even multiple business days! Find out why FRT matters to customers and how you can leverage this data to improve your customer service.
When a NOW Customer comes calling, how long do your agents take to make the first reply on a query? 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 or means of reporting, 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. Be careful not to make the customer feel like they are waiting on a message in a bottle or snail-mail levels of FRT. Customers don’t like to wait in the queue, ever!
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. It’s been proven time and time again that awesome FRT and great customer service equals ever growing brand loyalty. If you’re wondering, according to Simplr research, companies that deliver “exceptional” experiences have the following measurements:
- Email FRT – 30 minutes or less
- Live chat FRT – 15 seconds or less
Pretty intense right? Continue reading this article to see how it’s not as difficult as it seems to meet these ambitious benchmarks.
How to calculate your first response time
A first response time is easy to measure and calculate: Simply 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 FRT
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 customer satisfaction benchmarks in a list/chart format:
Good: 12 hours or less
Better: Four hours or less
Best: One hour or less
Good: Two hours or less
Better: One hour or less
Best: 15 minutes or less
Good: One minute or less
Better: 30 seconds or less
Best: 15 seconds or less
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 reports with measurements and benchmark FRTs for various industries from some reputable sources:
Email inquiry first response times:
- Real Estate: 15 hours
- Corporate Travel: 36 hours
- Logistics: 12 hours
- Financial Sector: 14 hours
- Retail: 17 hours
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
The agent training process is crucial to your FRTs. When your agents learn 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. This is a good sign that your team is performing well, plus Tthey can be much quicker to answer customer questions.
One great option is to create SLAs or time frames for varying cases. This will hold agents accountable for getting back to customers within a reasonable amount of time. SLAs can assist Managers calculate the performance of individual customer service reps. Then, managers can focus on agents performing behind the SLAs and provide flexible training classes or live demos depending on the skills required to improve their workflow.
Employment of only experienced customer support agents may be a good thing but with an organized onboarding process and always updated knowledge base, gaining employment of a customer-support “newbie” is not going to be an issue.
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 message to message and from 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.
Communication is vital in order to assign agents effectively. Some good agents will take as much as they can until they are in the brink of a burn out which leads to poor performance, and worse, resignation. Make sure to talk to your agents, show them a chart of their performance over the month, your suggested assignment and listen to their response as well as their actions towards the task change.
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 ideally contain the entire family of products or services of your company, and it should be educational, motivational, and organized. It must answer common questions efficiently to save time and confusion.
Proactively researching the buying behavior and latest trends being followed in the market can help agents design their service strategies, predict the needs and wants of the customers. Easy access to past history of the customer recorded in the CRM should also be readily available. This way customer service representatives can upsell and cross-sell on the basis of their own analysis done before the call.
Simple questions such as product pricing are very easy to look up in an FAQ section, whereas more complex information such as product compatibility with a certain other product may take much more of your agents’ time, but regardless there should be a knowledge base entry that can provide guidance for all foreseen questions. It would also be beneficial for everyone to have an access or some sort of training to the market research. If you can produce product differentiation materials, this will help your agents provide resolution and build rapport that will increase customer satisfaction.
This is especially necessary if you are working with technical support. If you are handling a computer manufacturer’s customer support for example, allow your agents to have access to the entire software documentation if possible. Also, some inquiries will always be different and unique, so you need to have the team engaged in contributing to the knowledge base over time (Did you know that Simplr makes this easy and helps build your knowledge base automatically?)
Utilize the fastest channels and improve the slowest ones
Offer and prioritize live chat and messaging. SaaS help desk providers such as Zendesk, Kayako, Help Scout and others make this very easy and offer a multitude of features. More and more customers have been relying on messaging platforms 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 (this can include chat within web browsers as well as direct messages on social media apps).
Comment sections on a page or blog is one of the most rejected avenue for support, but this doesn’t have to stay this way. Utilize automation and, ensure you are sending a message that is generally acceptable in every type of comment. After setting it up, advise your agents to attend to these inquiries in a timely manner as they do on all other channels. Do not rely solely on chatbots, but give your agents time to respond as this will provide personalization.
Even better, engage with your customers on lesser-known support channels like Discord or Whatsapp and see how it improves your FRT. The world wide web is filled with information regarding support channels that are yet to be discovered by big brands, so try to be one step ahead of the game and start learning about the hidden gems of the internet.
Improve the agent experience
Agents’ biggest pain point typically is navigating among the hard-to-use systems and APIs 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.
Your agent’s happiness should be just as crucial as your customers’. It would cost you far greater money on training new agents than simply listening to your existing agents, tending to their needs and hearing their suggestions on what will make the process go smoother. Agents have first-hand experience on your tools and they’re the ones dealing with customers all day, so you can be sure that they know some things you don’t regarding providing customer satisfaction.
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. A simple letter of gratitude, or a token of appreciation can go a long way in boosting your agent’s morale. By keeping an eye on metrics like FRTs you can see who is performing well and reward them accordingly.
It’s important to remember that an old/existing customer service rep will be interacting with both old and new customers. A burned out agent will likely have poor Customer Relationship Management (CRM) navigation, which in turn, will affect their FRT. Be attentive to your rep’s overall performance and try to make the workplace as enjoyable and the workload manageable as possible.
In order to meet customers increasing expectations, provide customer satisfaction and avoid negative reviews as well as forum conversations about your brand, we feel it’s vital to utilize not only the latest software and AI-driven tools, but also follow common sense and avoid creating a situation that your CX team struggles with.
Create bespoke options for your agents regarding the matter of FRT. Speed is something that impresses customers, and you need to coordinate with your customer service team to reach your desired FRT without sacrificing the quality of support. Business reporting with your customer support agents would be a good start for them to grasp the importance of FRT in the future of your business.
Your page, website, ads and content marketing may all be well-converting but keep in mind that FRT plays a huge role in retaining customers who actually buy. So allow your customer service agents to voice out their suggestions, avoid jumping from one marketing fad to another and make sure to take data analysis seriously. Customer Management cost is decreased and happiness is achieved when your agents feel heard and valued
We Hoped this Guide…
- Helped you improve your customer service by knowing what to focus on in order to perfect your FRT
- Inspired you to overcome any difficulties and continue providing excellent customer support
- And lastly, reminded you that sometimes the simplest of things can go a long way.
All in all, customer service initiatives and strategic management are worthy investments to make as they result in profitable relationships with your customers. To take it up a notch, check out our online community of customer service agents to dig deeper on their concerns. And most importantly, do not forget to follow up on FRT every month to ensure it is always at its best.
Never stop progressing or adapting to new methods to improve your First Response Time which results in better customer lifetime value.
If you have any questions regarding this guide or how Simplr can optimize your customer experience, we’d recommend starting here!