Consumer expectations: how slow is too slow for online support?

Spoken | August 9, 2016

How long is too long to wait for a response from customer service? Does it matter whether the inquiry is over the phone, through email or web chat?

Fuze Digital teamed up with GetHuman to survey 978 consumers seeking to communicate with 800 different companies. The focus of the survey was to gauge how long consumers would wait for a response to a chat message or email request before picking up the phone, getting a negative perception of the responding organization, or taking their business elsewhere.

The results were fascinating.

Customers do know what they expect and will quickly turn to other support channels, or worse yet to other companies, if their expectations are not met.

Key insights:

  • Screen shot 2011-01-24 at 10.50.35 AM Speed of response was the key factor in choosing a communication channel. The vast majority of survey respondents want to know what the service level will be before contacting customer support. That is, they want to know how long they will have to wait for a response before committing to a communication channel. The majority of people of all ages rated the desire to know what service level was beforehand as 9 or 10 and on average 90% of all respondents rated it at 7 or higher. This is a remarkable insight, showing that speed of response by channel outweighs other factors in communication, including channel preference.
  • Urgency was the second factor in choosing a communication channel. Phone customers have the most urgent requests and are seeking immediate resolution. Conclusion: if companies speed up the response rate for email, from say 24 hours to 4 hours, they can decrease the dependency on the call center. Even so, 60% of all respondents indicated that they expect to have an email response to a support incident within 4 business hours and only 22% will accept more than one business day. Translation: answer now, or the customer will walk.
  • Expectations for level of service didn’t vary by age. The old and the young had the same expectations for immediate responses via phone, email and chat. “Expectations remain pretty consistent regardless of Web usage.”
  •   Screen shot 2011-01-24 at 10.59.44 AM Consumer expectations are greatest for support-related inquiries, pre-sales comes in next and responses to feedback have the lowest expectations. This seems to run counter to basic call center operation, which tends to overfund the sales functionality and seek cost-cutting measures for the support functionality. It turns out that a speedy response to an urgent support question is a high expectation of consumers and a big factor in customer loyalty.
  • Consumers expect a quick response if they engage in an online chat channel with a company. Although expectations do vary some by the age of the consumer, on average 40% of consumers expect to get a response within 30 seconds and 70% within 1 minute.

The survey is quite useful in providing service level expectations for customers. A few tips and takeaways from the study:

  1. Respond to email inquiries within four hours.
  2. Respond to online chat inquiries within 30 seconds, 60 seconds at the latest.
  3. Instead of using vague terms such as “faster,” specify your standard response times online. Commit publicly to average response times (barring natural disasters and outages, of course).

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