Survey: How fast do you expect a response to email?

Email is still big.

Many of us use email constantly throughout the day. It's accessible on our laptops, tablets, and phones. And, according to ICMI's latest research, email is the second most popular way to contact customer service after phone.

So, how quickly do you expect a response to all those emails?

My annual email response time survey is designed to find out. You can complete the short survey below or click here to access the survey if it doesn't appear on your screen.

  • The survey is open now through April 13
  • You'll see the current results instantly
  • I'll post the full results on this blog April 14


**Update 4/14/15** The survey is now closed, but you can review the final results and analysis here.

Special Event

Join me on Thursday, April 17 for a live Google Hangout interview with customer service writing expert Leslie O'Flahavan of E-WRITE

We'll discuss the latest survey results and I'll ask Leslie for her tips on improving email response time.

Customers and Co-workers Expect Faster Email Responses

Note: 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.

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).



If you missed the webinar, you can watch it here plus read a re-cap.

How quickly should you respond to an email?

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.

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.

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?

Note: 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.

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?