Modern audiences and customers alike value their time more highly than ever before. Audiences will swiftly bounce from slow websites, and customers cite communication speed as a significant component of their satisfaction. With customer acquisition and retention presenting notable challenges, customer service quality often informs and secures higher customer retention rates.
In this context, the first step toward ensuring impeccable customer service is self-evident; improve your response time. However, this is much harder than it sounds, so here’s how to improve your response time for better customer service:
Response Time Metrics
First, there are multiple response time metrics to consider. In order, the main ones are the following.
1. First Response Time (FRT)
First Response Time gauges the time it takes for your customer support representative to first respond to a query. Some marketers will argue that automated responses do not count toward your FRT, while others will argue they do. In either case, automated responses do come with demonstrable benefits.
2. Average Response Time (ART)
Conversely, your ART can measure one of two things:
1. ART for Individual Queries
The first thing ART can measure is the average response time to an individual customer’s queries. This you may calculate by dividing your total response time by the number of responses. So, if you sent 10 responses over 12 hours, that’s an impressive ART of 12 minutes.
2. ART for All Queries
The second thing you can measure with ART is the average response time to all queries. This you may use to gauge overall service efficiency and deduce if you need to improve your response time. You may calculate this in the same way as above, except across all customer interactions.
3. Average Time to Resolution (ATR)
Finally, a crucial and oft-undervalued metric, ATR gauges how quickly your customer service department resolved a query successfully.
Its value stems from the simple fact that FRT and ART alone don’t fully reveal customer satisfaction; your customers certainly value swift communication, but ultimately seek solutions to their concerns. Of course, better FRTs and ARTs will inform your ATR.
ATR you may calculate by dividing the total duration of resolved queries by their total number. So, if you resolved 100 queries over 72 hours, you have an excellent ATR of 43.2 minutes.
Why it’s Crucial to Improve Your Response Time and Service Quality
With this context in mind, here is why your response time holds enough value to warrant your attention:
1. Call Quality as a Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) Metric
First, customer satisfaction via ATR does suggest that you take a proactive approach with call and interaction quality. CSAT hinges on both speed and efficiency, as the above metrics indicate.
Approaches in this regard will mostly depend on your individual business and query types, but call improvements can typically include:
- Deep dives into analytics such as those of CRM software
- Persistent staff training, evaluations, and appropriate rewards
- Call scripts and tone alignment with your customer journey
2. Great Customer Support as a Customer Retention Booster
CSAT naturally informs final retention rates when retention is significantly more affordable than acquisition. LinkedIn quantifies this difference as a massive 7x, before considering the Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) benefits. Hubspot agrees, citing some illuminating statistics that, among others, include the following:
- “89% of companies say that excellent customer service plays a huge role in customer retention.”
- “Customers who have their complaints resolved promptly have a purchase intention rate of 82%.”
- “Since 2016, customer retention loss has risen by 37% due to poor customer service.”
3. Bridging the Disconnect Between Companies and Customers
Jeff Toister’s research confidently proves this correlation, as it identifies customers’ expectations:
“31.2 percent of customers surveyed want a response in one hour or less.”
He does note that, thankfully, this audience segment has been shrinking over time – at least in the US. Still, few companies adopt this standard, which does highlight a stark divide between company perceptions and customer expectations.
Bain & Company, for example, found that “80% [of surveyed firms} believed they delivered a “superior experience” to their customers”. “[M]ore than 95% of management teams […]surveyed claim to be customer-focused” as well. And yet, only 8% of customers seemed to share this perception – a disconnect that evidently needs to be addressed.
How to Improve Your Response Time and Customer Service
The first step toward doing so lies, naturally, in enhancing customer service, starting with response times. Thankfully, both technology and research can offer solid guidance in this regard.
1. Leverage Live Chat and Chatbots
Initially, you may consider implementing live chat. This customer service channel has slowly become an expected standard and is particularly effective with millennial segments.
Among its practical benefits, consider the following:
- It allows individual agents to service multiple customers at once, while still providing satisfactory response times.
- It allows companies to better leverage omnichannel marketing, as live chat enables customers to remain in control of their interactions.
- Live chat remains particularly effective, as 75% of customers find it the “most satisfying way of communicating with a business”.
As you do, you may leverage the same technology to employ chatbots to improve your response time. Chatbots have also slowly risen in popularity and effectiveness alike:
- Research finds they can deflect up to 70% of recurring, low-priority queries
- 56% of customers now prefer them over calls
- Chatbots can cut down operational costs by up to 30%
Especially in tandem, the two can offer considerable benefits to customer support quality. The former expedites the process, while the latter minimizes the workload for smoother operations.
2. Provide Self-Help
For that matter, you may further ease the strain on your employees and thus enable them to perform better by further reducing support query volume. You may do so through self-help portals and resources, as the above statistics find a staggering 80% of standard questions can be answered by chatbots alone.
To do so, you may consider such options as:
- A polished chatbot fueled by your service interaction analytics
- Extensive FAQ sections
- How-to videos, instruction manuals, and other applicable self-help materials
To illustrate the value of this approach, simply consider that Steven Van Belleghem finds 40% of customers prefer self-help over human contact.
3. Set up Automated Responses and Support Notifications
Of course, such practices will not handle all incoming support queries. Some will require human intervention due to their complexity, and no chatbot or portal can substitute for it. Many customers will also prefer it, and catering to their preference also enhances CSAT.
Once such queries come in, your first way to improve your response time is, of course, “canned” responses. You may leverage these where chatbots cannot take over, such as for emails and social media queries. Typical pre-formatted responses should typically cover the following:
- Acknowledge the query. Not all customers will perceive this as an FRT, but it certainly helps convey that you’re processing their query.
- Ask for required information. Some queries will come with the required information, such as order numbers. Your responses can ask for it before advancing to make human intervention easier.
- Use personal information. Should you be using CRM or otherwise have personal information available, using it can also increase your responses’ effectiveness.
The next step should come with notification automation, so that appropriate support agents can respond as needed. Multiple business software solutions offer this functionality, from email platforms to Operational CRMs, and help save considerable time. You may thus use whichever best suits your operations, and ideally integrate all support outlets into it.
4. Prioritize Queries
Even then, you may find your customer service teams overwhelmed with sheer query volume. In this case, or even as standard practice, you may consider prioritizing queries. Depending on the tools you use, you may do so through such criteria as:
- Expected resolution time
- Severity and impact
- Customer value
You may then tag queries depending on their type, such as:
- General questions
- Technical issues and troubleshooting
- Invoices and payments
And, touching on customer value, even such criteria as:
- Lead status; new, qualified, or lapsed lead
- Customer status; new, existing, or lapsed customer
- Customer Value (CV)
Through all of the above, you may considerably improve your response time for better customer service by delegating each query to appropriate agents. You may, for example, opt for pre-formatted responses for “green” queries, while immediately assigning “red” ones to relevant available agents.
5. Track Your Response Times and Customer Service Quality
Finally, as with all business endeavors, you may solidify your course by consistently monitoring your efficiency. Consider such metrics as:
- FRT and ART; how quickly are customers hearing back from you?
- ATR; how many queries do you resolve successfully, and how quickly do you do so?
- Unresolved queries; how many queries could you not resolve, and why?
With these insights in hand, you may then inform subsequent actions such as agent training, solution investments, and so forth. You may also extrapolate your efforts’ results as regards customer retention this way, especially in tandem with direct feedback.
The right combination of these methods can help you improve your response time for better customer service, increase customer retention rates and brand loyalty, and increase your bottom line.