Customers expect responsive customer service. A 2012 Oracle study found that customers expect responses to Facebook and Twitter inquiries within two hours. My own 2013 study revealed customers expect a response to email within one business day. Customers often expect an immediate resolution via other channels such as chat, phone, and in-person and define customer service excellence through the response rate.
Not responding quickly can be bad for business. It irritates customers, wastes time, and can ultimately lead to lost business. A 2013 Zendesk whitepaper estimated the cost of waiting one extra day to respond to a customer can increase the cost of resolving that problem by 66 percent. It’s a busy world out there, and responding to customers quickly isn’t always easy. Here are seven things you can do to respond faster.
Stop making excuses. It’s easy to excuse a delayed response because you were buried under an avalanche of work or something unexpected came up. Making excuses can also make being unresponsive a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you want to find ways to respond faster, don’t try to convince yourself that a delayed response is okay.
Get a system (and use it). Our memories are notoriously poor at reminding us to return a call or send an email. (Little sticky notes on your computer are equally bad.) Get a system to organize and track customer communication, such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, Microsoft Outlook, even an old-fashioned memo pad.
Keep your email inbox clean. The typical email inbox is overflowing with messages. Important emails get overlooked and ultimately forgotten because the inbox is so crowded. Keep your inbox clean by making decisions about each message you receive. Respond immediately to simple inquires and create various folders to file away other messages for future reference.
Manage expectations. Customers expect a rapid response, but they’re often very forgiving if they know up front it can take a little longer than normal. When things get busy, set up an automatic response to incoming email send a quick note to let people know when you’ll get back to them.
Monitor all channels. Customers will often contact a company via multiple channels if one channel is unresponsive. For instance, they might Tweet about their problem if they don’t get a quick response to an email. You can avoid this by making sure you monitor all of your customer service channels on a regular basis. There are even software programs like Hootsuite that can make it easy to monitor and respond to multiple social media streams all in one place.
Choose the right channel. Each of communication has distinct advantages and disadvantages, so choosing the right channel can speed things up. For example, it may be easier to schedule a phone call or a video chat with customers experiencing difficult problems rather than go back and forth via email.
Align your schedule. Responsiveness often comes down adjusting your schedule to peak times. Keep track of when you receive the most phone calls, emails, and other messages? Adjust your schedule accordingly so you can put aside less urgent work during those times and respond faster.
Bonus Tip: Keep in mind that customers don’t just want a fast response – they want their problem solved as they expect responsive customer service. Try to help each customer on the first contact and you’ll gain two benefits. First, your customers will be much happier since they won’t have to contact you a second time. Second, reducing unnecessary contacts translates to a lighter workload so you can respond to people even faster.
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Jeff Toister is the author of Service Failure: The Real Reasons Employees Struggle with Customer Service and What You Can Do About It (www.servicefailurebook.com), a book that reveals hidden obstacles to outstanding service. His company, Toister Performance Solutions, Inc. helps clients identify these obstacles so they can improve customer service.
Jeff is a nationally recognized employee training expert and one of the first people to receive the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) credential from the American Society for Training and Development. In 2013, he joined the #CustomerService100, a list of the Top 100 customer service thought leaders on Twitter.
What managers do is respond to daily crises, take on too much work, operate with continuous interruptions and make instant decisions. As a consequence, “fire prevention” doesn’t get the time and attention required.