Article | 5 min read

How’s your first reply time? Not fast enough.

By Andrew Gori

Last updated September 27, 2017

When it comes to first reply time (FRT) and its affect on customer satisfaction, faster is better. Check out the Zendesk research report on customer satisfaction and you’ll see that it’s indisputable—a speedy first reply results in higher customer satisfaction.

You know what also has a big impact on customer satisfaction? One touch resolutions (aka first contact resolution, FCR). Recent studies, which you can read more about in First contact resolution: beacon of good support?, show that even small improvements to first contact resolution can lead to increased customer satisfaction (plus, lowered operational costs and higher employee satisfaction).

So, there’s your challenge. To provide great, customer satisfying support you need only reply as quickly as possible and fix customers’ issues on the first try: FRT + FCR FTW! Not too much to ask?

Clearly, you really can’t focus on one over the other. They’re a package deal. Follow that link above to take a deep dive into FCR. Here, we’ll look at FRT and what you can do to make sure that it’s holding up its side of the equation.

First reply time expectations

First reply time is the amount of time from when a ticket is created to when an agent makes the first reply to the customer. So, what’s the baseline for an acceptable average first reply time? It’s different for different types of support channels, but general times to aim for tend to be:

But, is 12 hours, for example, an amount of time that you or your customers find acceptable these days? Focusing on being better than average is not only a way to keep up, it may become a differentiator for your business.

To get a better gauge on what your FRT target should be, you should look at customer service benchmark data to see how your industry peers are performing.

The Zendesk Benchmark gives you average first reply times across all industries, or for specific industries such as software and retail. In the example above, 4 hrs is the average reply time across all industries for all support tickets. Of course, what your customers find acceptable will vary based on factors like your industry, support channel, region and issue.

Measuring your average first reply time

First reply time is an essential metric for measuring the effectiveness of the support you provide to customers, so it’s featured prominently in the reporting tools in Zendesk Support. You’ll see it as a key metric on the Reporting Overview tab. You can also easily build an FRT report in Zendesk Insights.

Because there are different expectations for different support channels, you can monitor FRT by those channels to ensure that those expectations are being met. You can also measure FRT by product areas, if you use an About field, and also as a measure of team performance (average FRT per team, for example).

Trendspotting and FRT target setting

Review your average FRT over time. Look for trends and spikes and correlate those with ticket volume. A spike may simply be an outlier — a flood of support requests during a new product launch for example, which bogged down the team and increased average FRT. Knowing this helps you prepare a better staffing plan for the next launch.

With a solid understanding of your historical performance, you can set well-informed and realistic performance targets for essential metrics like FRT.

lower first reply time

Tips for a faster first reply time

Okay, so what can you do to lower your average first reply time if it’s not where you want it to be? Here are some tips for lowering your FRT.

  • Train your agents well. Doing so makes them better able to respond quickly because they know your products better and spend less time trying to find solutions to customers’ support issues.
  • Build a robust knowledge base to put detailed product use information at everyone’s fingertips (both agents and customers). When your customers successfully use your self-service channel, there’s no worrying about FRT at all.
  • Consider supporting channels that provide more immediate forms of support (and faster reply times) such as live chat and messaging.
  • Use your customer service metrics to monitor daily ticket volume and tickets by channel. This will help you determine what days of the week and times of the day that you need more or less staff on hand to ensure that you’re hitting your FRT targets. You can read more about the metrics you can use to do this in Customer Service Metrics that Matter.
  • Set up smart routing workflows and business rules to ensure that incoming tickets are getting to the right teams and agents as fast as possible. Don’t leave support requests languishing in one big dumping ground queue.
  • Manage your teams and individual agents to target FRT goals. Set a stretch goal as well to give everyone an outperform target to strive for.

FRT, it’s what you’re made of

First reply time is a really good indicator of the overall efficiency of your team and support processes. When stress tested with a spike in ticket volume, how well does your team respond to the challenge? Keeping up or losing ground? This is why FRT is not only important for customer satisfaction, it’s also a useful gauge of how successfully you’re managing and growing your customer service organization. Keep a close eye on it (and, don’t forget, FCR).

Final thoughts

As we’ve stated before, there’s no single metric to focus on that will tell you the overall health of your customer support. First reply time is an important metric, and one that should be improved. But zeroing in on speed results in a lower quality of support, which leads to lower customer satisfaction and reduced customer loyalty, will you really be glad you minimized that single metric?

The key is to improve metrics like FRT without sacrificing quality.

Anton de Young is a published writer and photographer. As a long-time Zendesk employee, he built the Zendesk customer education and training teams, and then as a Marketing Director launched the Zendesk customer service leadership program and event series, which he then helped to expand into the Relate website and event series. Now a freelancer, Anton is busy exploring the world from his new home in Lisbon, Portugal.