March 5, 2014

Support Teams: Stop Being Blinded by Faster Response Times

Support Teams: Stop Being Blinded by Faster Response Times

"Get em' in and get em' out" is likely the unspoken motto of many customer support departments, but should we as consumers really complain? After all, we do want to minimize our time in the service queue, right?

On the surface this may seem to be the case, but when we look at the reactions of consumers in relation to support, we see a very different story unfold—while speed is certainly important, it is generally not a customer’s biggest concern when communicating with the service team.

In fact, consumer research makes a strong argument that spending a little more time with customers is the way to go.

Many notable entrepreneurs have already stated their case for slowing down service through how they run their companies. Zappos is the obvious example here, as CEO Tony Hsieh's philosophy is always focused on the happiness of the customer and the community built both in and around the Zappos brand.

Derek Sivers, founder of CDBaby (which he later sold for $22 million), holds similar opinions on service. His stance is that the kind of service that keeps people coming back simply cannot be rushed. He was so concerned about this aspect of the customer experience for his company that he coached employees on taking their time with customers, as he explains in this interview:

I used to request all my employees to intentionally take a little longer on customers calls.

I would ask them to pull up customers’ albums and catalogs; have a look at their pictures and gears--to learn a bit about them.

Imagine how powerful it is for a customer to know that he is listening to somebody who is a musician that gets him, rather than something like, Thank you customer 4325. How may I quickly handle your problem?"

It's a great sentiment, but as any entrepreneur knows, long-term strategy also needs to be dictated by results. Is there any data to show that slowing things down with customer service is the right move to make?

There are certainly a few noteworthy pieces of consumer research that entrepreneurs should know about. Consider, for instance, this Gallup analysis on a study that examined customer engagement with a bank. The Gallup researchers wanted to find out which elements of the service experience affected engagement ratings, and their results will likely surprise those obsessed with service efficiency:

Gallup consultants found that the level of engagement felt by the bank's customers was affected by the speed with which these customers were served--a finding the company expected.

However, customer perceptions of the tellers' courtesy and their apparent willingness to help were far more important than speed of service in generating customer engagement. Customers who gave the bank high ratings on those "people" attributes were nine times more likely to be fully engaged--Gallup's definition of an emotionally engaged customer.

Author William J. McEwen, Ph.D., notes in this analysis that despite this evidence, many companies tend to solely focus on the speed of their service because, "Speed is easy to measure, and it seems easy to manage."

Companies often equate the fastest service with the best service, but ticket times do not show how well customers are being treated or if the interactions are creating any sort of goodwill and loyalty.

Similar findings are apparent when we examine why a customer might leave a business for a competitor. According to RightNow's Customer Experience Impact study, consumers cited "rude, incompetent staff" as the No. 1 reason why they would abandon a business, 18% more often than "issues weren't resolved in a timely manner."

Rushed service translates to rude behavior, so what’s the real cost for aggressively cutting down time-per-ticket?

With support, 15 minutes in Heaven is always better than 5 minutes in Hell.

As these studies shows, there is definitely a connection between quality and speed, in that quality service cannot be slow or inefficient. However, correlation does not equal causation—just because service is fast doesn't mean it is good, as it overlooks customers’ feelings on how well they were cared for.

In addition, the Jim Moran Institute published data from Lee Resources in 2010 that stated the following:

Seventy percent of complaining customers will continue to do business with you if you resolve their complaint. Ninety-five percent will continue to do business with you if you resolve the problem immediately.

The marriage between speed and service quality is apparent here as well. Customers are forgiving, but they care deeply about your ability to get issues resolved the first time around. When speed is placed as a priority, can you really be sure that your support team cares about competent service and first contact resolution over ticket times?

While company efficacy measurements may label a ticket time that's less than a minute as "excellent" service, customers don't always agree. Although they certainly care about an efficient process, the research shows that customers care far more about feeling welcomed and being treated well by competent, friendly employees.

Tunnel vision around reducing the ‘time per ticket’ metric leads to poor decisions. If you pressure your employees to get customers out the door as fast as possible, you lose assurance that accuracy and quality aren’t being sacrificed in the name of an impending time limit.

As McEwen would so elegantly put it:

What builds a stronger tie to Arby's may not be whether a customer receives a sandwich in less than three minutes. Speed won't compensate for a cold, tasteless sandwich or for rude and incompetent service."

Make sure your service isn't leaving a bad taste in customers' mouths, either.

What do you think?

Speedy, exceptional service seems like a “have your cake and eat it too” situation, but this ideal can be achieved with the correct balance.

How do you encourage your support team to move briskly, but keep the customer’s overall experience in mind? How do you coach them into utilizing metrics, but not becoming blinded by them?

I would love to hear your thoughts!


Written by Gregory Ciotti Greg ciotti

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Reuben Mar 5

First, great article as always and I appreciate the links to the other studies/articles.

Second, are you aware of any research in applying this concept to healthcare settings? A big focus in our industry is productivity, or how many patients can be seen in an hour. I believe this article does apply to healthcare, but am curious as to any studies done.

Thank you.

Francis Mar 5

I used to work as a call center quality assurance specialist and I would really agree with the things that you have pointed out here. some agents will just end the call as they are more focused on their stats, so where does quality and efficiency goes? I would agree that putting enough balance between average handling time and efficiency in providing the resolution would result to a better quality of service.

Jeff Toister Mar 5

This is right on target.

One of the best places to look for data is your First Contact Resolution (FCR) rate. Emphasizing speed almost always hurts FCR. If your average handle time is 5 minutes, but a customer has to call back a second time, the handle time per problem is 10 minutes. In this case, going fast is really going slow.

Here's a blog post with some additional data:

James Stinson Mar 5

Great article.. we are looking at using Helpscout to power our customer service wowsourcing we offer clients through .

This just adds weight to the idea that there's no short cut or efficient path to building human relationships

Alex Flores Mar 5

Great article, I fully agree with it. I recently had the opportunity to lead a service department as part of other responsabilities in a Logistics department and we usually surveyed customer sstisfaction for technical service and what we always heard from customers, speed is not first criteria to evaluate but the quality. My organization fell down in the mistake to follow the time KPIs only but this wasn´t considered by CEO when we increased customer satisfaction from 75 to 88% in 1 year time period having similar ticket time.

Francisco Zapata Mar 6

Excellente point of view. I think this subject is already supported by many professionals, but in day-to-day life this point of view is always blocked by high executives that simply do not believe - deep in their hearts - that investing in customer service pays off. Can you guide me to a post, or write a new post, on how to convince C-level executives of this investment on CS? I mean, real, practical ways to convince them, not theoretical argumentation that just do not work for them.

Chase Livingston Mar 7

I couldn't agree more with this. Many people seem to be focused on this idea of super-fast response times, but spending a bit more time with the customer makes a big difference. Live chat is a big thing we're focusing on at Automattic, and that allows us to spend some quality time with our customers walking them through the problem(s) they're having.

Aaron Miller Mar 10


I'm intrigued by your question. I'm not in the healthcare space, but have read about studies that show that doctors who spend more time with patients and show a genuine interest in their health (as opposed to the "get 'em in, get 'em out" mentality) both helps them get better info from the patients to better diagnose issues, but also minimizes the likelihood that patients will sue the doctor, in the case of a subsequent doctor mistake.

Is this what you're getting at?

Anyway, thanks for the great article!

Lotta Jönerhollm Mar 16

Really good article and subject. I prefer to wait a bit longer if I understand that the support-representative have put some effort in actually trying to investigate my issue rather than just answer quickly. I also understand that it isn't always the support-persons fault or lack of knowledge that make them answer and close my case quickly - it is the way they are measured! Quantity instead of quality - No thanks...

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