Turning around Customer Service Expectations

Michelle Salsberry
November 19, 2014
We live in a day and age of immediacy. We want what we need now because we have been conditioned to get things very quickly. Technology has helped deliver information, correspondence, entertainment and communication in a nanosecond and it has eroded our ability to have patience. I am no exception. In fact, I fear, I am probably one of the worst. It has come to my attention that I may have an unfair expectation of what an acceptable turnaround time for customer service in this day and age.

Response Expectations

My expectation, which I never thought was overly aggressive, is that if someone you are working with, sends you an email, then an appropriate response time is within 24 hours. I do not think this is an unreasonable expectation considering most of us carry our email and phones with us everywhere we go, and are checking it multiple times a day, if not multiple times an hour! If I send an email with questions to someone in a service industry, that either already has my business, or is trying to get my business, I would hope that I would receive a reply within that timeframe, or in the least, an email apologizing for the delay, but that I could expect a reply in the next (enter the promised time here). However, I realize that my expectation has grown from years of experience in the agency business, where we were basically trained to drop everything and respond to a client with lightning response time. So, I admit, my expectations may be a symptom of my twisted past. But then, I came upon this little gem of research: http://www.toistersolutions.com/blog/2014/4/17/customers-and-co-workers-expect-faster-email-responses stating that based on a survey sent by the author, the suggested response times based on expectation is:
  • Responding to a customer = 4 hours
  • Responding to a co-worker = 1 hour
  • Responding to a friend = 4 hours


So, I guess, I’m not alone, nor crazy. So what implication does that have on your business? What, in fact, is an acceptable rate of return on correspondence with a customer? Zappos, Amazon, Nordstrom all pride themselves on great and expedited customer service, offered 24/7—some even offering free overnight shipping to surprise and delight customers waiting for their merchandise and to over-deliver on service. But is it fair to assume that the “little” guys in the service industry from carpenters and contractors, to photographers and freelance creatives have the bandwidth to drop everything and attend to your needs?

Importance of Communication

Maybe what we should grade on, or if in the service industry, hold ourselves accountable for, is better communication, not just a guaranteed turnaround time. I think lack of communication is what is more irksome than a long delay in delivery. What we really need is just to have our expectations managed. A note or phone call that says, I’m sorry we are tied up right now, but you can expect that we will get back to you by…X time/day. That way, even though you do not have time to resolve the issue entirely, you have not jeopardized a client by being MIA! Might I even suggest publishing those expectations or putting them on auto-send during busy times, so even if you can’t afford an admin, your business is not suffering from your workload? While it might not be fair how your customers are judging your response time in relation to the size of your business, it is in fact a reality of doing business in this technologically that time advances.  Like it or not, your customer service turnaround may need turned around.

About the Author

Michelle Salsberry

I'm a marketing consultant with over 18 years experience in brand identity, marketing analysis and planning, awareness, trial and repeat strategy and creative. I am also an entrepreneur with experience in creating business plans for investor pitches and outlining the strategy to go to market for new products and services with expertise in consumer packaged goods, beverages, financial services and mobile apps.

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