What Is Customer Response Time? | Busines Suit Runner on Track

What Is Your Customer Response Time?

I’ve been thinking about response time lately.

In my non-virtual businesses, I have specific response times that our team is expected to follow. Whether it be 12 hours or one business day, we have set times in which team members should respond to customer inquiries. Of course, we expect discretion to be used. Some issues are critical or time sensitive and demand response times far shorter than the standard.

On this blog, however, we have no set standards for responding to inquiries. And it is time we set some. We receive numerous inquiries each week about guest posts, advertising, and other miscellany. And, to be frank, we respond haphazardly at best.

We are going to be remedying that here by the end of this month; however, in the meantime, let’s talk a little bit about response time and its importance to organizations.

What Is Response Time?*

What Is Customer Response Time? | Busines Suit Runner on TrackResponse time is simply the time between when a customer inquiry or contact is received and when it is responded to. Response time can be looked at in two ways.

Actual response time is the real, calculable time between contact and response; perceived response time is the view the customer has of the actual response time.

Perceived response time is ultimately how our performance is judged.

You might have responded to the customer’s tweet within an hour, but the customer expected a response in five minutes. You might have gotten back to them in 48 hours, but the competitor they were with previously used to respond in 24 hours.

In the last example, your real response time might be fine for your industry, but the customer has an expectation that is greater and perceives your response time to be indicative of bad customer service.

How Important Is Response Time?

An important aspect of response time is that it is not only subjective to the individual, but it is industry and context sensitive. Take a look at a few research facts that show the differences in consumer’s expectations and views about response.

  • “On average, consumers are willing to wait a maximum of 13 minutes on hold when they contact a customer service center by telephone.” AmEx 2012 Global CS Barometer (pdf)
  • “In person, consumers are willing to wait an average of 12 minutes for customer service help.” AmEx 2012 Global CS Barometer (pdf)
  • Researchers studying wait times at a bank in 1988 found “that customers overestimated their wait times by 23%.” Wall Street Journal
  • Social consumer research from Lithium Technologies Inc. indicates “35% say after “liking” a brand on Facebook, they expect to hear from the company — yet 58% say that they have never received a response from company after “liking” it.” TechJournal
  • “Ifbyphone® research finds 59 percent of consumers more likely to buy when brands answer the phone in under a minute.” Ifbyphone (pdf)

As you can tell by this quick sampling of research points, response time has no hard and fast rules.

Each organization needs to know what the optimal response time is to deliver an exceptional customer experience to its customers.

A Quick and Dirty Guide to Response Time

The first rule is simple: figure out what you customers expect and want. If your CRM system and your operational abilities will allow you to customize response time on an individual basis, that, of course, is pure gold.

However, response time will generally have to be based on your customer base as a whole, not on individual preferences.

Begin by speaking with your team members to get a sense of what types of feedback they have received from customers. Then, actually speak with your customers.

Whether through survey, focus group, or simple “while I have you on the phone…” conversations, ask what type of response time they expect. Once you have a sense of what the customer wants, evaluate your operational capabilities and decide what level of response time is feasible.

The next step is simple in theory, but a bit more complicated in application: figure out the response time that gives you the level of service you are hoping to achieve.

At some point, you will have to address the idea of diminishing returns. For instance, taking your response time from an hour to a half hour (a 50% decrease) might only net you 3% more in customer satisfaction. Will the benefits justify the costs?

Calculating a truly effective response time that delivers excellent service to the great majority of your customers is no easy task. Hopefully, this short discussion will stimulate your thinking on the subject.

*Please note that some volume service industries, like the Call Center industry, have detailed views and approaches to the concept of response time.

What is the response time at your business or job? Is it set by policy or simply accepted best practice?


By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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