9 Easy ways to cut your customer service response times

9 Easy ways to cut your customer service response times
By Diana Potter | On May 09, 2022
14 min read
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It’s universally acknowledged that customers prefer a quick response to their questions. The time-to-response expectation will depend on the channel, as Zendesk’s research shows.

Customer expectations for a response by channel

But, regardless of the channel, no one likes to wait, especially when an issue needs to be resolved, a customer’s patience dwindles. It’s completely understandable.  

On the flip side, though, customer service teams have a lot of competing pressures to deal with that can prevent them from meeting ideal response times. You have:

  • Multiple queries open and waiting for a response at any given time
  • Multiple channels to cover
  • Bugs to troubleshoot
  • Shipping issues to figure out

Not to mention, you’re probably doing it all with a team that’s smaller than you’d like it to be. It’s hard!

Thankfully, there are some tips and tricks you can use to speed up your responses. From the basic to the more advanced, let’s talk about them all.

In this article:

1. Utilize customer service tools or software

If you’re not already using a customer support platform, now is the time. The first step you should take in reducing your response times is making sure you have the correct tools for the job.

How can the right customer service tools help?

A customer service tool is going to help you better organize your tickets, see past history, provide automations, and provide better service. It’s the first step in being able to know what your response times are so you can work towards reducing them. If you’re not already using one we strongly recommend finding a customer support platform today.

Elise Kubicki, Head of Success and Support at Gorgias shares a similar sentiment:

"If a customer support team isn’t using a dedicated platform to monitor and handle customer conversations, that's easily the number one way to speed up first response and total resolution times. Once you gather all of those conversations in one feed, you can handle them more strategically and avoid wasting time tab-shuffling and copy-pasting."

Here are some potential support tools to check out:

  • Dixa: Well suited for companies that want an omni-channel first experience and are looking to leverage advanced analytics on customer interactions. 
  • Freshdesk: Well suited for teams looking for an easy-to-use tool that agents love. Enable your team to unify ticket resolution across channels with highly automated workflows.
  • Gorgias: Well suited for e-commerce focused businesses. Featuring direct Shopify integration that makes handling customers across major channels much easier.
  • Help Scout: Well suited for small, but growing teams without complex workflows. Often the first tool used when moving away from a shared email inbox. All rounder with all your core features. 
  • HubSpot: Well suited for companies already using HubSpot Service Hub for their CRM and want to handle the entire customer journey in a single location.
  • Intercom: Well suited for companies that are live chat first with a built-in messenger. Easy for agents to assist customers in-app, online, and on mobile.
  • Trengo: Well suited for companies that want to automate workflows and place a high value on having the best agent dashboard.
  • Zoho: Well suited for B2B companies that are looking to simplify their agent experience with context-aware language generation assistance. A great option for first-time customer support buyers.
  • Zendesk: The most popular customer support tool that has a plan for just about any company. Well suited for companies that want a high breadth of features with connections to many channels.

Test and compare customer support software before you buy

2. Automate responses using email autoresponders

Once you have a support tool in place, it’s time to start looking at the automation options that you have. Something that can really help your response times—and your customers—is automating responses based on keywords, like “returns” or “refund”. You can also automate simple responses that are sent to everyone like, “We’re experiencing a high volume of conversations right now. We appreciate your patience and will be in touch as soon as we can.”.

What types of response automation should you create?

Let’s start with the basics and talk about a single automated email response example that sends whenever a ticket is submitted. The vast majority of support software has this built in and it’s a quick way to get started with automated responses. 

Example: Zoho Desk pre-defined email templates

For example, let’s say you’re using Zoho Desk and you want to automatically send an email response to every ticket submitted to your team. In other words, acknowledging that you’ve received a customer support ticket. You can use their pre-defined email templates and edit the “Acknowledge on receiving their ticket” template to make it your own.

pe-defined email template example

Going beyond simple email templates:

If you have known issues or common FAQs you can include your support articles in your response. Taking it one step further, you can then ask the customer for feedback on whether or not their problem has been resolved (and as a result, one less ticket for your team to tackle). If the issue hasn’t been resolved, ask them for more specific details to help your team resolve things quickly and effectively. 

Create automated responses based on keywords or selectable options

If you’re ready for something more advanced—depending on your help desk—you may be able to send automated responses based on keywords or a list of options that your customers choose. 

For an example, let’s say you’re using Gorgias. You can use their Quick Replies feature to set up some automated messaging. You could give customers the option of choosing from a list of common queries when they’re submitting a question and automatically give them the answer. 

This strategy would not only prevent the question from ever needing a real person to respond, but it will also give your customers an instant response—and answer—so they can move on with their day.

When building out automated responses, it’s important that your emails achieve 2 things: 

  1. Consistent with your brand’s tone of voice
  2. Delivers value to customers

3. Use response templates and shortcuts wherever possible

Another classic bit of automation that you can pull out of your support toolbox are templated replies. These may be called templates, macros, saved replies, canned responses or something similar—but no matter the support platform you’re using they’ll likely have this option available. If your support tool doesn’t offer this feature, you can look at tools like TextExpander or FastFox to give your team similar functionality.

These templates let you set up responses to frequently asked questions so when they hit your queue, you can send the response without needing to type it up again and remember the right words.

Elise Kubicki, Head of Success and Support at Gorgias shares her advice on canned responses:

"Set up canned responses for your top inquiries to save your team minutes on each reply. With the time they save, they can reply that much faster to the next customer — and it adds up quickly. If your team works on a sophisticated customer service platform with automations, you can use automation rules or even bulk-reply to tickets to speed this process up further."

Pro-tips for using response templates

These are a few simple tricks that can take your templated responses up another notch and wow your customers.

  1. Look at your customer service data or your help center data to see what customers commonly ask. Then take the time to work with your team to write straight-forwarded responses for each topic.
  2. Personalize your responses before sending. Just because you’re sending a templated reply doesn’t mean you have to send it exactly as-is to every customer. Changing a few words or adding sentences around their exact request makes it look like a response you typed out while still saving your team a significant amount of time.
  3. Delay a minute or two before sending a response. It’s an odd suggestion when we’re talking about how to speed up your response times, but nothing is more obviously a robotic reply than a large amount of text that’s sent too fast for a human to have ever typed it. If you’ve used our other tips to speed things up so much that your response times become unbelievable, take a pause to bring some reality back to the situation.

4. Install a chatbot to provide around-the-clock service

Chatbots are a great way to give your customers an instant response without needing a team member to send it. They’re typically based on machine learning matches or specific scenarios that your team defines. Chatbots are a great way to provide 24/7 service to your customers.

Tips for good chatbot implementation

Chatbots can be tricky to do well, so keep a few tips in mind:

  1. Don’t pretend it’s not a bot. Customers can generally tell if they’re speaking to a human or robot. No matter how well you’ve written the replies, it’ll still give a non-personal feeling and really take away from your customer’s experience. So, be upfront and put bot in the name or write intro text acknowledging that it’s a bot.
  2. Make sure the responses are useful. A bot that just gives a general non-specific response or is there just to make it harder to contact your team isn’t helping your customers. Instead, look at the common queries that you may deal with in self-service or your templated responses and use your bot to present those answers to your customers in a simple way.
  3. Use your bot to direct customers to other resources. Maybe your customer’s question involves tracking an order and you could quickly link them to their order status. Another scenario is if they need to update a payment and you could link them directly to that credit card form. Think about simple ways where you can use a bot to save your customer from needing to search your self-service library or ask your team.

Chatbot software options

  • Intercom: Intercom has a support bot built in called Operator which can be a great tool if you use their service. The majority of your chat bot needs would be solved by their Resolution Operator and you can set it up to answer common questions that your customers have.
  • Dixa: Dixa has a built in tool called Dixa Bot that allows you to set up helpful self-service all within their live chat. It can greet, clarify, and ask important questions to guide your customers through the fastest and most pleasant resolution journey.
  • ChatBot: ChatBot is an all-in-one platform to build and launch conversational chatbots without coding. If your support platform doesn’t have a bot option built in, they’ll integrate with numerous platforms including Freshdesk and Zendesk.

Test and compare customer support software before you buy

5. Create a useful self-service page

A self-service page is a key way to help your customers help themselves. If you have common questions that come up frequently, make sure you’ve answered them on a help center and direct your customers to it so they can find answers quickly. And if you haven’t set up a knowledge center yet, use TestBox to find the best knowledge base software for your needs.

How does knowledge base software help?

By encouraging your customers to look at your FAQs, you’ll be able to answer more customer inquiries instantaneously (and asynchronously). Response times aren’t all about your team actually responding. To your customers it all comes down to how long it takes to resolve their issue or question. The goal is to reduce time-to-resolution. Self-service pages are a great and scalable way to speed things up.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are some of our favorite self-service page examples:

  • Dashlane: Featuring multi-language and step-by-step guides for their most frequent support issues.
  • Slack: A great example for organizing an abundant amount of information in a way that's easy for users to navigate.
  • Yousign: Includes interactive guides that use animated gifs to easily demonstrate the steps for resolving an issue or accomplishing a specific task.

6. Tag tickets to stay organized

Tagging tickets is another way to speed up your team’s ability to get answers to your customers, fast. Tagging allows you to sort tickets by specific question types or flag tickets that require a quicker response. Tags are also valuable over time because it gives your team a treasure trove of valuable data. This type of customer service data will help you:

  • Improve your service
  • Set up a better self-service library
  • Influence the product roadmap
  • Improve your product, from uncovering bugs to improving the UX
  • Understand what benefits your company provides customers (and what problems you’re helping them solve.

When it comes to the value of ticket tagging, OpenPhone's Phillip Paquette shares:

"I would recommend tagging cases because you may find resources that you're not giving enough visibility to on your website or need to be more clearly explained in your support content. After tagging, you'll likely even discover these need to be surfaced in your FAQ and even the internal SOP for your team."

Gorgias's Head of Success and Support, Elise Kubicki also shares:

"By setting up a tagging or system that categorizes your tickets, you can quickly understand why customers are contacting support. From there, you can quickly figure out where you need proactive communication to improve the customer experience and reduce inquiries. That way, your team can reply quickly to inquiries that actually need a human response."

How to set up tagging

Regardless of the platform you’re using, one thing that’s universal is that you should sit down as a team and consciously set up a list of tags. Talk to your team, look at common questions, and think about what you’d find valuable. 

Make a list of all of your tags as well as definitions. If you can’t define exactly when someone would use it and what use you’d get from it, the tag isn’t something your team can correctly use. Once you’ve done that, go through some past tickets and apply your tags. Test your definitions and see if the data and insights you get from those tags is valuable. 

Tags aren’t a one and done solution. This is something you’ll refine on a regular basis.

Once you have your list of tags, the way you go about implementing them will depend on the actual tools you’re using. Let’s talk about a couple of common support platforms and how you’d tag tickets within them.

Set up tags in Help Scout

Within Help Scout you’ll define your tags in your conversations themselves.

set up conversation tagging in help scout

After they’ve been applied once, they’ll be available for future use. If you have a larger team, a shortcut for adding new tags is to send in a fake conversation and apply all of the tags to it. That way they’ll exist in your library when an applicable conversation comes up.

You can also automatically apply tags using workflows. Look for keywords in the body or subject of your conversations and use those words to automatically apply a tag.

create tagging workflows in help scout

Set up tags with Dixa

Within Dixa, head to Settings > Tags and add a new tag from there.

how to add a new tag in dixa

You’ll be able to edit, manage, and delete your tags from the same place.

You can also use their Automations feature to run specific steps once a tag has been added. For example you could apply an automation if a tag is added and a ticket then waits for 2+ days without a response. You could have a notification sent to your team to escalate the ticket.

Dixa automations feature

7. Triage to speed up replies

Not all questions are created equal. Sometimes giving certain questions priority can help your customers feel like your response times are quick, even if you can’t bring down the response time for every query. Triaging is a great tactic when your queue is overflowing and you just need to get those open tickets down and out of the red zone of violating your SLAs. 

Best practices for triaging support tickets

To triage there are a few different tactics you can take.

Group questions by type

Have a team member go through your queue and group questions by type so that another team member can respond to them in one big batch. This lets them stay in the mindset of that question type which just naturally speeds up the responses.

Sort tickets by priority

Go through and pull out the highest priority questions. Upset customers, lost passwords, billing questions, etc. Think about the types of questions where your customer may be more on edge or anxiously awaiting an answer. By speeding up a response to those questions you can lower the tension in your queue and relieve customer anxiety faster.

Triage tickets that can be resolved with a templated response

You can have a team member go through your queue for any questions you can send a templated response to (see above). You would be able to get out quicker responses to those customers and also help the rest of your team work on tickets that require a longer reply.

8. Ask questions up front

One of the perks of a support platform is access to ticket forms or other contact methods that you can customize. That enables you to give your customers fields to define the types or questions they have or provide additional details.

For example, if your customers can select from a drop down that they have a billing question, you could then have follow up questions asking for order numbers or verifying specific details to help your team reply quicker. Or, if they select that they’ve run into an error, you can follow up asking for the exact error, where they saw it, and any screenshots, or other helpful information.

The overall trick here is ensuring you don’t have to do additional research or reply back to a customer asking for more details. You may even be able to achieve a coveted one touch resolution in your ticket metrics.

9. Staff appropriately

While the previous tips focus more on speeding up responses with your existing team, nothing trumps having the correct size team. When you see your response times slipping over an extended amount of time, it’s definitely a sign that you should be looking to add more reps to your team. 

It's also important to ensure that your existing team feels well-equipped and confident in their knowledge, says Ganindu Porage, Customer Experience Specialist at Hypercontext:

Firstly, the team on front end of customer support must understand the platform inside-out.  When a customer reports an issue/bug, even if it might take some time to resolve, it’s important to acknowledge the request after verification and respond to them with an ETA and/or when it’s resolved. Plus, make sure to clearly highlight any out of offices and business hours, so the customer's aware of the expected turn around time.

You can also make sure you’re planning ahead of time for the busy times like the holiday season. Look for seasonal help or hire ahead of the need to make sure you’re ready to go when your queue starts overflowing.

Compare solutions to reduce your customer service response time

Are you ready to implement some of our suggestions and really wow your customers with quick responses? We’d love to know what tips you’re implementing or whatever suggestions you have! 

As you’re implementing new tactics, make sure that response times aren’t all about the actual time it takes your team to reply. From the customer’s perspective self-service responses or even not needing help—these are just as valuable. Make sure you focus on tips that allow you to do both.

And if you’re looking for new software to help your team respond quicker, TestBox is here for you. We suggest taking a look at our articles on the best platforms for software and SaaS companies and the best platforms for ecommerce companies to help you in your search.

And when you’re ready to find the best services that fit your business needs—dive into TestBox to test support software out side-by-side!

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Diana Potter

Diana is a support, success, and experience leader. She’s currently the Head of Customer Experience for Qwilr and previously led customer departments for a number of leading companies. When she’s not writing or helping customers you’ll find her off in the woods taking photos or curled up with a book.

TestBox empowers you to have a self-serve, customer-led experience so you can buy new software and feel confident that you made the right choice. Currently focused on Customer Support, TestBox allows you to test out Zendesk, Freshdesk, HubSpot, Dixa, and other products side-by-side. It takes a matter of minutes to sign up and take these products for a test drive. Find out more at TestBox.com or follow on LinkedIn.