Establishing a Starting Target – Voice Channel

Typically, the topic of email turnaround time comes up with our clients when we are deep in the process of determining the service level of their voice channel. This process is characterized by diligent analysis of abandon rates, average speed of answer, the cost of an abandoned call to the business, and customer satisfaction data.

All of the above said, EPIC does start from a commonly used service level, which is “80/20”, or eighty percent of calls are answered in 20 seconds. This is by far the most common service level applied to the voice channel and has been for decades. While no one knows the exact origins of this commonly used target, it seems to generally strike a good balance between the expense customer care organizations expend on staffing, and meeting customer expectations for answering their call in a timely fashion. As mentioned previously, this does differ based on the organization. For example, the service level for a municipal call center handling the “911” emergency line is going to differ from a retail organization responding to customer inquiries about their fall line for Women’s sportswear.

Establishing a Starting Target – Email

What is the common place to start with the email channel? Is there an equivalent “80/20” for the email channel?

The International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) conducted a survey on the response time for email channels.  A graph describing the results is shown below.


What can we conclude from the survey responses above? The conclusion EPIC draws from this survey is that response rates are significantly more variable than the phone channel. We can also conclude that these numbers reflect more variability in customer expectations for email response times. In working with our clients, EPIC also sees a lot of variability with email response targets. In most cases, we see a 24-hour turnaround time as the most common response target.

While it is important to establish an email response target, it is only one element of the broader email response management approach.

The EPIC Approach

When advising clients around managing their email response times, we typically suggest that responding within a 24-hour target is a good place to start. While establishing this response time is important, EPIC feels it is equally important to clearly communicate expectations with the customer when they interact in the email channel. Listed below are key steps an organization should take in managing customer expectations in the email channel.

  • Establish the baseline response time (24 hours is fine, but rely on customer feedback to help guide this over time and adjust to meet their expectations).
  • Send an instant auto-reply email to the customer when they contact you via email. This lets the customer know your organization received their email inquiry.
  • In the automatic email response, clearly define a timeframe the customer can expect you will respond (“…we will respond within 24 hours”, “we will respond in two business days…”).
  • Provide alternative interaction channels in the auto-reply message to further emphasize that there are channels where the customer can have their inquiry addressed in a more immediate fashion (…” for a more immediate response to your inquiry, feel free to speak with one of our agents via phone or chat at…”).

If the above elements are in place, your organization has a strong foundation for providing support through the email channel. The response time initial target is established. Through the automated response, customers know they have reached you, have a clear understanding of when they should hear back, and have been provided alternative options to reaching your organization more quickly if they need to.

EPIC Consultant’s Insights is a regular, first-hand look at key industry challenges.  For more information from a leading provider of contact center consulting and outsourcing services, contact EPIC at 402-884-4700.  This month’s insights are provided by Lee Cooper, Senior Consultant/WFM Practice Director at EPIC Connections.

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