Customers and Co-workers Expect Faster Email Responses

The results of my 2014 email response time survey reveal it may be time to re-think our response time standards. Customers, co-workers, and even our friends expect faster responses to email than ever before.

Previous years’ surveys have indicated these email response times are acceptable:

At first glance, the 2014 results seem similar to the 2013 survey. For example, 78 percent of respondents expect co-workers to respond to an email within 4 hours or less, up slightly from 74 percent in 2013.

A small problem appears when you look at the distribution of responses. While a majority of people (59 percent) are happy with a 1 day response time from a business, there's still a large portion of people (41 percent) that expect a faster response.

In a new wrinkle, I decided to see what response times would meet at least 80% of the respondents’ expectations. This seems like a fairly reasonable benchmark to use when establishing response-time standards. 

This new perspective suggest some new response time standards may be in order:

This chart suggests the following response time standards are now appropriate:

  • Responding to a customer = 4 hours
  • Responding to a co-worker = 1 hour
  • Responding to a friend = 4 hours

The survey also looked to see whether there were significant differences between response time expectations for different generations. The short answer is there weren’t. Millenials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers all have similar response time expectations. 

This data does bring up several important issues:

  • How can we meet demand for increasingly fast email responses?
  • Are there strategies to reduce the volume of email we receive?
  • Are our co-workers insane?

I will be attempting to answer these questions in a webinar I’m hosting next week called Seven Ways to Improve Email Response Times

The complimentary webinar is next Tuesday, April 22 at 10am (Pacific).

Re-cap of Customer Service Meet-up at Phone.com

Last night, Jeremy Watkin and I co-hosted a customer service meet-up at Phone.com. It was a small, informal gathering of customer service professionals from various industries within San Diego. 

Our goal was to facilitate dialogue and the exchange of ideas around the types of customer service challenges we have in common.

Jeremy’s the Director of Customer Service at Phone.com, so he and his team were kind enough to host us. They even provided pizza, beer, and wine!

The evening kicked off with Jeremy sharing a little bit about Phone.com’s approach to customer service. He told us that everything ultimately boiled down to one philosophy: communicate better.

Jeremy Watkin providing an overview of Phone.com's awesome customer service philosophies.

Jeremy Watkin providing an overview of Phone.com's awesome customer service philosophies.

This works for them on a few levels.

  • On a product level, because they’re a telecommunications company. 
  • On a service level because they’re constantly striving to improve customer service.
  • On an internal level, because they rely on teamwork to get things done.

Of course, Communicate Better is also the name of the blog that Jeremy co-authors with Phone.com’s Jenny Dempsey.

Jeremy also gave us a brief tour of their contact center before we re-convened for some open discussion. 

Here were a few of the big topics we discussed.

 

Voice of Customer Data

It seems like every organization struggles with this on some level. Here are some of the challenges we discussed:

  • Combating negative reviews on external sites like Yelp and Angie’s list
  • Using customer service data to generate actionable insights
  • Getting executives to worry less about the number and more about improvement

Jeremy mentioned I recently facilitated two webinars on this topic. One was on designing customer service surveys and the other was on analyzing and acting on survey data.

 

Service Standards

The concept of customer service standards generated a lot of great discussion. There’s a delicate balance between consistency, authenticity, and flexibility. 

We all agreed that it’s a bad idea to make customer service standards that are too rigid and scripted. This takes away the employee’s ability to adapt their service to each individual customer. 

Check out my recent post on the Zendesk blog if you’d like to read more about the potential downfalls of service standards.

 

Balancing Quality and Efficiency

This was another interesting discussion. Customer service leaders are constantly feeling pressure to increase productivity while still creating amazing customer service experiences.

We did an impromptu networking activity where people had to introduce themselves to three people in three minutes and learn three things about each person. This simple exercise turned out to be very difficult and only one person was able to successfully complete it AND remember the three facts about three people.

The challenge is we’re just not naturally great at being both fast and engaging with customers. We can learn it, but it takes time and practice. 

The top customer service organizations value both quality and efficiency, but they prioritize quality. In other words, helping the customer is more important than serving the customer quickly.

 

Will there be another meet-up?

It all depends on interest and volunteers. Is there an audience for this sort of event? A few people suggested their organizations might be willing to host the next event, so we may have the volunteer side covered.

If you’d like to learn about future customer service meet-ups in San Diego, please take a moment to add your name to the interest list below:

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The Fight or Flight Response in Customer Service

Human beings are hardwired to deal with danger.

Our defense mechanisms automatically kick in when we’re confronted with a physical or psychological threat. We instinctively fight off the threat or flee it.

This instinct is known as the fight or flight response and it comes in handy in many situations. 

For example, let’s say you’re accosted by a growling, barking dog. There’s no time to take a rational inventory of your various options before deciding how to react. You make an instant assessment of the situation and then make your move purely on instinct.

Customer service is one place where this instinct doesn’t serve us well. A physical or verbal altercation with a customer is never a good idea. Fleeing isn't acceptable either since our job is to try to make the customer feel better.

Here are few examples of what a customer might do to trigger this instinct:

  • Yelling at you
  • Making derisive comments about you or your company.
  • Accusing you or your company of wrongdoing.

The infographic below illustrations our physiological reactions to a “fight or flight” situation. You can also watch a short video (<6 minutes) that explains this reaction in greater details. 

Source: Jvnkfood

Source: Jvnkfood

Recognize that this is a powerful instinct. Pithy advice like “don’t take it personally” isn’t enough to handle it. Customer service employees need something more.

I have two suggestions for overcoming this challenge:

  1. Learn from experience.  Every experience that triggers the fight or flight response can be a powerful teacher if you stop and reflect. The experiential learning model can help.
  2. Prime yourself for success by establishing a positive vision. You can read more about this concept in my post on why priming is essential to outstanding customer service