Get Ready to Respond to Customer Email Within One Hour

Update: This study was repeated in April, 2018. The new study includes response time expectations for Twitter and Facebook messages. You can read the latest results here.

There’s a new standard for email response time.

You can toss out the old school one business day standard. That's so 1999. Even 2014’s four hour response time standard is old news.

The Toister Performance Solutions 2015 email response time survey revealed that customers now expect businesses to respond to their emails in just one hour.

Over 1,000 adults in the U.S. ages 18+ participated in the survey.

Here’s the breakdown of the survey results along with an invitation to tune in to an exclusive interview with customer service writing expert Leslie O'Flahavan.


A Big Challenge for Business

This isn't good news for most companies.

A separate 2014 Toister Performance Solutions survey revealed that 66 percent of companies currently take 1 day or more to respond. (Take the survey yourself and see how you stack up.)

One business day is still favored by many customers, with 43.4 percent of survey respondents selecting this option. The problem with this standard is 43.9 percent of customers expect a faster response.

That means the one business day standard could be alienating nearly half of your customers.

The new one hour standard reflects the longest response time that will meet at least 80 percent of customers’ expectations.


The survey looked at response time expectations by age, but found no significant difference between generations. It seems we all want it now.

More bad news?

In 2014, just 4 percent of survey respondents said they expected businesses to respond within 15 minutes. That jumped up to 14.5 percent this year.

You can see where this is going.


High Expectations for Co-Workers

The survey also revealed that people expect their co-workers to respond quickly too.

The most popular selection on the survey was four hours, but nearly as many people responded “one hour” as did “one day.”

Using the 80 percent rule, the new expectation for co-worker response time is just one hour too.

This is really bad news for workplaces already beleaguered by email overload. 


Learn How to Respond Faster

Check out my Google Hangout On Air interview with customer service writing expert Leslie O’Flahavan. 

Leslie and I discussed ways that companies and customers service agents can respond faster without compromising quality.

Image courtesy of Leslie O'Flahavan

Image courtesy of Leslie O'Flahavan

Leslie O’Flahavan is principle of E-WRITE, a company that helps customer care organizations write well in any channel: email, chat, social media, and SMS.

You can connect with Leslie on Twitter, the E-WRITE website, and of course via email.

You can also watch a video of the interview here.


Extra: Some Good News

The survey did reveal some good news.

We still give our friends a bit of leeway when it comes to response times. The standard is unchanged from 2014. It’s still one business day.

Why people don't respond to email

We all know how annoying it is to send an email to a co-worker, vendor, or even a client and not receive a response. If this happens to you, it may be helpful to know why you aren’t getting a response. Here are my top three reasons why this happens. Please leave a comment and let me know yours.

Reason #1: Your Email is Hard to Read
The sender is often to blame for a lack of responsiveness. Unsolicited emails aside, some emails just aren’t written with our busy lifestyles in mind. They contain run-on paragraphs or it’s hard to quickly decipher what the person is asking you to do. One person I know averages over 500 words per email, which is longer than this blog post!

I’ve compiled a short list of tips for writing more effective emails, but the biggest one of all is to make your email easy to read and respond to.

Reason #2: Your Email is Not Important
We all lead busy lives and are constantly reprioritizing our tasks, but most people agree that a timely response to business email is a professional courtesy. According to a survey I conducted earlier this year, 68 percent of us expect co-workers to respond to an email within four hours or less and 63 percent of us expect businesses to respond within one business day. When people don’t respond because they’re too busy, they’ve opted to do other tasks instead of replying to the sender.

I recently came across a post on a blog about business writing where the writer described a follow-up message she had received from her graphic designer. The graphic designer had emailed nearly two weeks prior, hadn't gotten a response, and so she sent another message. The blog writer felt it was a professional and thoughtful way to handle the situation. Interestingly, the writer wrote the blog post before responding to the email. 

Reason #3: They Can't Handle Their Business
Many people fail to respond quickly to email because they simply don't know how to properly manage the avalanche of email they receive each day. It becomes overwhelming and email messages simply get lost in the shuffle.

The skills required to effectively manage email are well-documented, but that doesn’t mean they’re well-practiced! Here are some of my favorites that are simple and effective:

  1. Use an out of office message when you will be unable to respond to email within one business day. (Don’t forget to turn it off!)
  2. Clean out your inbox daily. Messages often get lost in cluttered inboxes. (See Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity for more fabulous tips on inbox management.)
  3. Dedicate several blocks of time per day to focus on email rather than constantly scanning and skimming messages. (A terrific tip from The Four Hour Workweek.)

Why else do you think people fail to respond to emails?