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Radio silence: Why failing to respond will cost you credibility

Customer service journeys of years past were starkly different than today’s behind-the-screen correspondence. Patrons would frequent a storefront, engage with a human behind the counter, and help was more or less immediate. The length of the line set expectations for how soon a customer could expect to be served. Then, when phone support took hold, a welcome convenience, consumers put faith in the voice at the opposite end of the line.

Today, customer service response times are the biggest gears in the many revolving components of a business. Yet the proliferation of channels and direct messaging through social apps has left businesses scrambling, staring wide-eyed down a long rabbit hole of inquiries. Meanwhile, customers are expecting a response as quickly as they can fire off a question.

Often, manpower and resource allocation are behind a company’s inability to keep up with the onslaught of communication, and many are sinking because of it. For others, slow and outdated tools make it impossible to keep up. But your business’ credibility is as much at stake as actual sales—especially if you fail to respond.

But your business' credibility is as much at stake as actual sales-especially if you fail to respond.

Expectations are in the data: Why responses are so important

Brand loyalty is a beautiful thing—until a customer becomes embittered with lacking customer service and decides to share their experience with friends, family, and even the internet.

Take the case of Matt Beckwith, who had an unshakeable love affair with Chick-fil-A. After his first bite into a buttery chicken sandwich in Texas, the writer and contact center representative could hardly contain himself when a store opened near his home in California. He’d go on to frequent the popular fast-food chain, eating out often and even befriending store owners.

[Read also: On being the human behind the chat widget]

Everything changed when Matt tried to contact customer service both over the phone and via Facebook. Phone lines led to a dead end and a messenger reply never materialized, leaving his question about ice unsettled.

The experience not only left a stain on his love affair, but it led him to write a blog post on the International Customer Management Institute (IMCI) site about his plight with Chick-fil-A. Beckwith listed chains with better customer service, and it can be assumed that more than a few readers converted to competition based on his ordeal.

Brand loyalty is a beautiful thing—until a customer becomes embittered with lacking customer service and decides to share their experience with friends, family, and even the internet.

In some areas, huge chunks of entire industries are failing to hit reply. In the case of 51 different VPN services, a whopping 18 percent of providers didn’t respond to emails at all. If you’re an unhappy customer, how long does it take to angrily hit the “cancel account” button?

While many customers won’t sit down to write a seething blog post, they’ll most certainly write reviews—and Beckwith’s experience serves as a benchmark of the dissatisfaction that slow (or no) response times stir in many of us. A Zendesk Benchmark report found a clear correlation between higher customer satisfaction in relation to lower average median response times, and a 2019 Google Consumer Survey found that of 1,500 respondents, only 3 percent believed that contacting customer service by email might lead to no response; more than 80 percent expected a response the same day.

The modern response time: Yesterday

Today’s culture of immediacy has created a shift toward expecting instant gratification. Social sharing apps used by billions and speedy delivery services are changing people’s expectations about how quickly they should expect to receive products and services. Amazon’s same-day dispatches are also an obvious consideration, but even instant connections forged by online dating apps are encouraging a sense of urgency in the domain of love.

This impacts what customers expect from businesses, too. Many years ago, it may have been acceptable for businesses to respond in a day. But a survey run by customer service consultant Jeff Toister in 2015 found that the new standard response time for an email was just one hour. Toister ran the same survey in April of 2018 and found that companies should still target a response within 1-hour to satisfy most customers, but “Companies aiming for world-class customer service should respond within 15 minutes or less.” Imagine a customer expecting a 1-hour response time failing to even get a reply from a business? In a case like this, the damage is beyond done.

The answer lies in automation

Perhaps the most significant transformation of this decade is the way we communicate. It’s hard to cater to the immediacy that consumers expect, but social media, live chat, and other messaging platforms also offer a wealth of potential for businesses—with the right tools and staffing in place.

Many businesses struggle to handle communication over multiple channels. They’ll place too many employees on phones, for example, when social and email bandwidth should be increased, leaving customers that expect immediacy to face a long wait time. This often happens when businesses use different platforms for each channel and don’t have a holistic view into volume trends. The dissatisfaction over a long wait us also one reason why many companies have embraced automation and chatbots.

Often indiscernible from humans, chatbots can offer an immediate response—even just to set expectations that help is on the way, or to suggest a help article that a customer might read. This frees up, or buys back, valuable time for employees. A bot can enable small and growing businesses to engage with more customers without extensive resources. For example, Dailymotion, a premium, curated video content platform, handles a high volume of customer questions with a small team. With the help of a bot on the company's help center, 14 percent of customer questions are resolved without the help of an agent.

Often indiscernible from humans, chatbots can offer an immediate response—even just to set expectations that help is on the way, or to suggest a help article that a customer might read. This frees up, or buys back, valuable time for employees.

Expectations around response times are a pendulum that’s only swinging one way. Customers are embracing the idea—and reality of—immediate assistance en masse, so being a business that responds, and responds quickly, will solidify whether consumers view your business as reliable and able to help when they need it. The good news is that you don’t have to do it alone, and a chatbot might just provide an instant helping hand.

Morgan Sliff is a professional surfer and writer from Hermosa Beach, California. She studied english composition at El Camino College and currently works as a writer for eForms. In addition, she’s the Director of Media Relations at Aura7 Activewear.

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