Reduce Your First Response Time

People don’t like waiting.

That’s why we have FastPasses, electronic tolls, and moving walkways.

And people really don’t like waiting to have their problems solved.

That’s why customer service teams have live chat, knowledge bases, and community forums.

And it’s why first response time is so important.

What is first response time?

First response time (also called first reply time) is the number of minutes (or hours) elapsed between the time a customer submits a case and the time a customer service rep responds to the customer. It’s best measured in business hours, so you’re not penalized for time off the clock.

How is it calculated?

Average first response time is calculated by — you guessed it — taking the total of all your first response times and dividing it by the number of cases resolved to find the mean. If your data is skewed by anomalous cases, it can be useful to calculate the median instead of the mean.

Why does it matter?

Research from Zendesk has shown that, to no one’s surprise, first response time correlates with customer satisfaction. In other words, the lower your first response time, the more satisfied your customers will be. But if customers have to wait around for you to respond, they’re not going to be so happy. It’s common sense.

Many businesses create SLAs to assure their customers that they will respond to cases within a certain amount of time. This is a way of holding businesses accountable for getting back to customers within a reasonable time frame. It’s critical for customer service teams to hold up their end of the bargain by hitting their SLA. Badly missing your SLA can (and does) result in lost customers.

First response time also reflects your team’s efficiency, like first contact resolution and time to resolution. If you are responding to customers within minutes, keep it up! But if it takes you a day or two to respond to customers, you need to step up your game.

The Ultimate Guide to First Contact Resolution»

How should it be analyzed?

You should analyze the trend of your average first response time to see if it’s increasing or decreasing. Ideally, it should decrease over time, meaning that you’re responding to customers faster.

It’s important to compare your average first response time to your SLA target so you can make sure that you’re regularly hitting your SLA. In the chart below, you can see that the average first response time is well above the SLA target from Aug ‘14 – Oct ‘14. This is a red flag. If you’re not coming close to your SLA target, you need to: (1) know about it, and (2) do something about it.

First Response Time Screenshot

As the chart above shows, your median should always be well below the SLA target. This is because, unlike the mean, it’s not skewed by anomalies. If your median is ever above your SLA target, that’s a sign that you’re struggling to respond to case submissions in a timely fashion.

How can you reduce first response time?

If you’re having trouble hitting your SLA, there are a few ways you can get back on track.

1. Coaching and Training

First, you should break down your average first response time by employee to see which reps take the longest to respond to customers. Maybe everyone on your team is consistently hitting your SLA target except for one rep. In this case, you can fix the problem by coaching the rep who’s struggling to keep up with the rest. Find out what’s slowing them down and suggest ways they can improve their workflow. This is something you might want to bring up during your customer service performance reviews.

If there is a group of reps that seems to be straggling, then you should consider conducting a training session. This will help you get everyone on the same page about how and when to respond to case submissions. It will also remind your reps that first response time is a metric that your team is striving to optimize.

2. Adding Communication Channels

If you really want to put a dent in your first response time, you might need to take somewhat drastic measures. One way to do this is by upgrading your online communication channels. Many customer service teams get by with a phone line, web-based chat, and a simple FAQ section. You can stand out from the crowd — and decrease your first response time, more importantly — by adding other customer service channels on your website to give your customers more options.

Implementing live chat is a surefire way to decrease your first response time. This will empower some of your reps to respond to customer inquiries within seconds.

Creating a detailed public knowledge base will also help you respond to customers more quickly. By writing thorough responses to commonly encountered problems, you’re providing customers with a valuable resource that can resolve their problems even when you’re not around.

Another method to consider is adding a community forum to record and publicize your conversations with customers. Like a public knowledge base, this will create a library where your customers can go to find resolutions to their problems. It also gives your users the opportunity to help out other users, essentially doing your work for you! WordPress is a great example of this.

3. Scheduling

If you have a high volume of cases being submitted during non-business hours and on weekends, you might want to consider rescheduling shifts. This can be especially useful if you have customers in other time zones. You should look at case submissions by time to find out when customers are reaching out to you most frequently.

If there are certain times when customers are submitting a lot of cases, but you’re off the clock, you should make an effort to make your team available. Being available more often will be both noticed and appreciated by your customers.


No matter the size of your customer service team, you need to be tracking your average first response time. Not only is it important for keeping tabs on your SLA, but it will also help you increase customer satisfaction.

Customers don’t want to wait around for you all day. You need to engage with them as soon as you can, or you’ll risk losing their business.

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