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Next Level Customer Service Blog

News, tips, and trends to help you reach that next level of customer service.

Entries in customer service email (6)


How quickly should you respond to an email?

Nearly 75 percent of us expect co-workers to respond to emails within four hours or less, according to a recent email response time survey. This is a slight increase from 2012’s results, where 68 percent of respondents expected a response within the same time frame.

One surprise in this year’s survey was respondents belonging to Generation Y (born 1977 or later) didn’t skew the results with their high expectations for quick responses. In 2012, 43 percent of Generation Y respondents expected co-workers to respond to email within 1 hour, but that number was down to 29 percent in 2013.

People have a little more patience when it comes to receiving a response to emails sent to a business, but 90 percent of us still expect a response within one day.

The survey also asked how quickly we expect our friends to respond to email. Here, we are a bit more lenient with an average expected response time of 1.25 days.

What does all this mean?

Businesses should respond to customer emails within at least one day. A future target should be four hours since nearly 90 percent of customers expect a response within that time frame. The caveat is a quick response does nothing for a customer if it’s not a good response. Several months ago, I documented an email service failure where the company was responding in less than 20 minutes.

Co-workers must also be careful with their high expectations for response times. Constantly checking email can be unproductive and lead to more errors. In many cases, the rush to respond quickly generates more email than necessary to answer a question or provide the requested information.

You can find some additional resources from a few of my previous posts on managing customer service email and my top 10 ways to avoid email overload.


Survey: How quickly should people respond to email?

It's time once again for my annual email response time survey. Click this link to access the survey if don't see it on your screen.  


A deeper dive into an email service failure

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post detailing a service failure I experienced via email. I had contacted the office that runs the indoor soccer league I play in to get my team’s schedule for the upcoming season. My blog post summarized the exchange and offered an analysis of what went wrong along with some tips for improving responses to customer service email.

What happened next was an unexpected surprise. A colleague emailed to point out what I could have done as a customer to receive better service. Over the next few weeks, I showed it to participants in several of my customer service classes and they had similar observations. (You can read the original post here and see if you can spot what I could have done better.)

A small misunderstanding
Many email service failures start with a small misunderstanding. The customer doesn’t provide enough detail in their email or perhaps explains the problem poorly and then the customer service rep misinterprets what the customer is looking for.

Of course, you can’t put the onus on your customers to improve their communication. What you can do is take the time to read each email and ensure you fully understand what’s being asked before responding.

Unseen pressures that lead to poor emailing
The big question then is why don’t people take more time to read and understand emails before responding? We know that these small misunderstandings can lead to unnecessary back and forth, wasted time, and ultimately customer aggravation. So why don’t companies do more to fix it?

With the help of several participants in my training classes, I was able to put together a list of possible reasons why people don’t take enough time to properly respond to customer service emails.

  • Yabba Dabba Do. It’s late in the day and their brain has already clocked out.
  • Time crunch. They are rushing to get through a mountain of email.
  • Text happy. They learned all their emailing skills from text messaging.
  • Distractions. They are too distracted to give the email their full attention.
  • Reading skills. Their reading comprehension is less than what it needs to be.

I’m sure this is only a partial list of reasons why customer service reps don’t often take the time to see past small misunderstands and figure out what their customers really want. What other reasons would you add to the list?


How quickly should you respond to an email?

More than two thirds of us expect co-workers to respond to emails within four hours or less, according to a recent email response time survey. Perhaps its no wonder that so many workers can't go five minutes without typing away on their smart phone or losing focus on an important task to answer another message in an endless series of email exchanges.

Of course, the results are a bit skewed by Generation Y (born 1977 or later). Members of this generation aparently do their best Veruca Salt impersonation when it comes to receiving email, since 43% of them expect a response within one hour.

People have a little more patience when it comes to receiving a response to emails sent to a business. Companies should always try to respond to customer emails as quickly as possible, but 75% of us are willing to wait at least a day:

The survey also asked how quickly we expect our friends to respond to email. Here, we're a bit more lenient, with 88% of survey participants saying they thought they should receive a reply within 1 or more days.

I conducted the same survey last year (see the 2011 results), so have there been any changes? The short answer is no, not really. The only thing noticeable was members of Generation Y have grown slightly more impatient, since 35% of them expected co-workers to reply to email within one hour in 2011, but that number has risen to 43% in 2012. 

What does all this mean?

Service, whether it's external to your customers or internal to your co-workers, is all about expectations. Should our co-workers be more patient? Certainly, but the reality is right now they're not. Do people misuse email? Yes, but screaming at your computer won't change that.

While we can't change others, we can lead by example. For businesses, I wrote a short post on managing customer service email three years ago that still feels relevant today. The top tip? Track email response times and set a goal of 1 business day for everything. (You can read it here.) For individuals, I wrote a post on 10 ways to avoid email overload. (Read that one here.) Perhaps the most important lesson there is to have the discipline to use email correctly rather getting sucked in to becoming part of the problem. 


Should you get rid of your customer service email address?

How long does it take your company to respond to customer service emails?

If it is longer than one day, you may want to consider dumping your customer service email address. Why leave the door open for disappointment when you can stick with technology you're more comfortable using like the telephone, the fax, or even the telegram. 

I’ve lost count of how many companies have done a poor job of responding to a problem or even a sales inquiry via email in recent months. 

Here are a few examples:

I recently emailed three wine shops looking for a particular bottle of wine. One responded quickly and let me know they'd search for it, but it may take a few days (great response). One took a week to get back to me before replying, "Sorry it took so long, but we're looking for it." (Eh.) One didn't respond at all (fail). When the first two found the wine I was looking for, guess who I bought it from?

In another example, I emailed my frequent guest number to a hotel so they would have it on file when I arrived. They never responded to my email and of course didn't have it on my reservation when I checked in. Here was an easy opportunity to perform a simple service for a frequent traveler and they blew it.

Most customers expect a response to email within one business day or less (see my research here). My question is why do so many companies fall short in this area?