Response time is one of the core attributes of customer service. When customers bring issues or concerns to a company expecting a response, they want that response to be accurate and efficient. Considerations in assessing response-time performance include comparisons to communicated standards and the format of the response (in person, on the phone or via email).


Response time is a major contributor to a company's ability to retain top customers. The actual time frame in which you must respond to keep customers happy varies by format and other factors. To understand your customers' expectations, you must perform research and conduct surveys. The next step is to get your customer service employees to deliver on the expected result. This includes establishing standards, training and motivating employees to reach that level of performance.

In Store

Multichannel retailing is pervasive in the 21st century. This is companies selling products and services through multiple retail channels, including stores, catalogs and the Internet. With the availability of telephone support and email support, customers are often turning to phone and emails expecting a quicker response. However, certain service components like exchanges and returns are still most convenient in stores. The key to store-based service response is a measure of how long it takes from the time the customer enters the service process (standing in line, asking for assistance) to the time his service problem is resolved.


Internet marketing author Dave Chaffey shares on his website that 53 percent of customers in a 2008 UK consumer study by Upton preferred telephone service access over email support. This is because they found telephone service easier to find and engaging quickly with a customer support representative more feasible. Chaffey also indicates that 53 percent of survey respondents thought three minutes is a reasonable response time while waiting for a service agent. Some company phone support systems allow for upfront communication to customers on expected wait time. This allows the customer to decide whether to wait.


Email response-time expectations have become much more stringent over time. In the early stages of the 21st century, companies commonly responded to email inquiries by noting that you should receive a response within 24 to 48 hours. While this is still the case for some companies, others have ramped up their expectations and promise a response in four to eight hours, or less. The Upton report indicates customers believe up to 24 hours is reasonable for an email response. However, a quicker response is a good way to stand out from competition on this important service attribute.