Three years ago, 4% of customers said they expected an immediate response from customer support teams. A year later, that number went up to 14.5%. Today, 37% of consumers expect their emails to be answered within the hour.
A fast response time has become a prerequisite for great support.
To meet this expectation, many managers pressure their support reps to fly through message after message. They track their north-star metric of a 20-minute response time, and weigh every decision around making sure that target is met each week. While that might lower your response rate, it’ll compromise the quality of your support. Your reps will feel compelled to cut time by any means possible, neglecting to give customers the kind of attention that’s necessary for excellent support.
Instead of focusing only on average response time, look at the metrics that drive and affect that metric. Additional data can surface challenges or inefficiencies that negatively impact response time and prevent your reps from answering every message quickly. With that knowledge in hand, you can start to address those problems.
Here are three metrics you can use to get more insight into your support workflows, so you can improve response times without compromising the quality of support.
Metric 1: Busiest Day and Time
Customer support reps have a slew of responsibilities in addition to fielding support questions: troubleshooting bugs with engineering, writing documentation and help center articles, providing product feedback, and working on operational projects. On busy support days, these additional (and critical) responsibilities can be detrimental to the quality and speed of your customer support.
Reps are often spread thin and must multi-task to get everything done — something that can be stressful and unproductive. Studies have shown that multi-tasking can lower efficiency by much as 40%, and even interruptions that only last a few minutes can lead to significant mistakes made with customers.
Do you know when your team is the most swamped? To better prepare for high-volume days, start by looking at your team’s busiest time in terms of message volume:
[Front’s analytics dashboard graphs your busiest days and times so you can plan around it.]
Most customer support teams find that they consistently receive a higher volume of messages on certain days or times of day, while at other times, they barely get any. Look at the patterns in the spikes and drops that occur every week to come up with a team-wide schedule that allows your reps to concentrate on support when it matters most and still have the time to get the rest of their work done. Start by:
- Creating “support blocks” for all your reps to be on call during the team’s busiest days and times.
- Rotating individual reps through fast-response shifts during slower periods.
- Scheduling meetings and collaborative projects during your team’s slowest days and times.
Share the schedule with your team by creating a team calendar with calendar invites for each block:
[A sample support team staffing calendar]
By optimizing your team’s schedule, you ensure your reps can make the best use of their time at every hour of the day. You can even choose to adjust your reps’ working hours — perhaps starting earlier or later to accommodate other time zones — to account for higher volume periods.
Metric 2: Reaction Time
“Reaction time” is a metric that shows how quickly your support reps take action on customer problems. This isn’t the same as “response time”, since reps might need to kick off a deeper investigation about the issue before following up. Any action on the message — whether it’s a response, tagging, or re-assigning — will count toward this metric. It seems like an easy metric to keep low, but when you have 10-15 messages coming in of equal importance, messages can start to fall through the cracks.
Studies have shown that the more high-stakes decisions you have to make, the lower the quality of each of those decisions is. When we’re faced with several issues, our brains are hard-wired to pick the easiest ones, not the highest-priority ones. Social Psychologist Baumeister explains “Good decision making is not a trait of the person, in the sense that it’s always there… It’s a state that fluctuates.”
A low reaction time is a red flag that your reps are getting bombarded with too many support messages at once—even during your low volume times. Look at team average and individual reaction times to see if your team is staffed to handle the volume of requests you’re receiving:
[Front’s Team analytics dashboard shows you each individual rep’s average reaction time.]
If you find that several of your team members have high reaction times, it could help to adjust your inbox sorting system so that incoming messages are prioritized and assigned appropriately.
Front’s tagging feature helps you organize your inbox by labeling messages to group them together, assign them to a stage or priority, or flag other important information about the message. Rules can automatically tag messages based on keywords in the body or subject line, time of day the message was received, and more.
Here’s an example of how you could use tags to indicate urgency for a software support team:
- High: if the body or subject line contains bug, glitch, or problem, tag with “high priority”
- Medium: if the body or subject line contains upgrade or switch plans, tag with “medium priority”
- Low-urgency: if body or subject line contains feature request, tag with “low priority”
At first, these tags will catch a limited number of messages, and the remainder of messages will have to be sorted manually. Over time, your team will be able to tweak the priority tags with additional keywords or triggers to sort more of your messages automatically. Team members can then work through customer questions with the right level of urgency — so even in high volume periods, you can feel confident urgent messages are being addressed quickly.
Metric #3: Resolution Time
This metric tells you how long each rep takes to resolve an issue. To count towards this metric, at least one response must be sent before a message is archived.
Resolution time is a great indicator for your team’s ability to solve the variety of problems they’re faced with. If resolution times are long, it could be a sign that your team is lacking the resources or expertise required to find answers quickly.
If the majority of conversations are taking over six hours to resolve, your reps are likely getting caught up with complex issues that require quite a lot of investigation. They might also be responsible for too broad of a range of questions, so they never have the opportunity to gain expertise in a particular area.
Introducing specialization on your team can drastically improve resolution time. Messages can be assigned to reps according to their specific expertise, so they can leverage deeper knowledge to fix complex problems. For a software company like Front, you might have these specialization areas:
- Tagging, rules, and workflow
- API implementation
- Technical backend
By giving each rep a focus, every person on your team will be empowered to “own” a certain kind of problem. When other reps are stuck, they can just @mention the right specialist to get the problem resolved quickly.
Know when to staff up
After analyzing productivity data and equipping your team with a lean process, your team should be ready to handle incoming tickets with relative ease. They won’t need to worry about multi-tasking, prioritizing, or researching, because the system will enable them to spend their time doing what matters most: helping customers.
If the team still seems swamped even with a system like this in place, it might be time to grow your support team. Fast response times and quality support are no longer market differentiators — they’re a necessity for any company competing for consumer attention.