What Is “Time To Reply” and Why Does It Matter?

Barry Blassoples

The following isa guest blog post written by Barry Blassoples, Head of Sales and Success at TimetoReply.

The world of work has changed. 82% of companies are encouraging or requiring employees to work from home.

The way information flows through a company between your team, your customers, and sales leads has changed as well. We’re spending less time together in-person, less time in meetings, and more time inside our inboxes.

Without in-person meetings, information transfer is often slower – but it doesn't have to be. If you've ever been on the receiving end of slow responses, you know it can be painful.

When your sales leads don’t get key information they ask for, they're likely to start talking to your competitors. If your existing customers have to wait all day for a simple question to be answered, they won't feel valued.

That's why your “time to reply” is a key metric to start understanding and tracking.

What is “time to reply” and why does it matter?

Your time to reply is, in essence, how long it takes your team to reply to emails. This could be to team members, customers, or leads.

It's an overlooked, but vital metric.

For example, if your sales team isn't closing as many deals as they used to, it's likely not because your value proposition has changed. Now that they're working at home, chances are, it's taking longer to send leads relevant information they're asking for, and your leads don't want to wait that long for a response.

A slow time to reply results in missed opportunities. A fast time to reply results in more leads, conversions, and a better reputation.

Close more sales opportunities

A study by Drift found that only 7% of companies respond to sales leads within 5 minutes. If you can build a sales system that prioritizes speed, you'll close more deals and stand out in a sea of unresponsive sales teams.

Motivating your team to respond quickly, even when they're working from home, will have a massive positive impact on your sales numbers at the end of the quarter.

On the other hand, the longer you take to respond to leads, the more likely they'll choose a competitor.

Improve retention with happy customers

Retention is a key part of growth and you can't grow if your customers are leaving.

Offering amazing customer support and being responsive to questions and feedback will increase retention by boosting customer satisfaction.

The vast majority of companies have strong competitors, yours included. Don't give your customers an excuse to shop around.

What is the ideal time to reply?

Companies that respond within one hour to sales leads are 60x more successful at qualifying leads than those who respond within 24 hours.

80% of Americans say that response speed is an essential element of a positive customer service experience.

It’s safe to say that responding to leads quickly should be of the utmost importance for any business hoping to gain and retain new leads. Your ideal time to reply, however, should reflect your business’s unique standards, practices, and values.

When setting your time to reply benchmarks, consider:

  • What do your customers expect?
  • What's realistic based on your team size?
  • What are your options for speeding up your time to reply?

Chances are, you'll be able to respond quickly to nearly any question, as long as you build the right processes to manage it.

You should always aim for the fastest response times possible without compromising on quality.

Steps to improve your time to reply

Measure your current reply time

Firstly, you need an average current response time, without bias. In other words, about how long does it take your team to respond to emails right now? If no one is keeping track of response times, it'll be impossible to improve them.

Tools like timetoreply show you stats on email response times for individual and team inboxes and display clear indicators on your performance (without being as intrusive as typical time-tracking or screen recording software).

timetoreply also calculates the ratio of your first reply time and contact success rate, without you or anyone on your team having to change their workflow.

You can also build a system in-house that exports every metric to a spreadsheet or database, although it may be more time-consuming and expensive. If you do this, make sure you conduct ongoing maintenance to confirm you are collecting accurate and meaningful data.

Either way, you need to start measuring response times today in order to get started tracking your time to reply and learning where your team has room to improve.

Set clear benchmarks and goals

If your team doesn't have a clear goal to aim for, your time to reply will be quickly forgotten. Start with your current average response times that were uncovered by your tracking. Depending on where you start, you can shave off 10 minutes to respond, or simply go for the ideal: 5 minutes or less.

Make it a key metric in weekly meetings and review it with your team to see where it can be reduced (without affecting quality).

Remember, don't set your time to reply goals in a vacuum. Consider other tasks and workloads that need to be managed and look at the benefits and trade-offs that will need to be balanced.

In most customer-facing roles, creating a culture of fast responses will have benefits that outweigh any potential negatives. Faster responses will usually result in happier customers, sales leads having more confidence in your company, and increased motivation amongst your internal team.

Identify blockers and create processes to remove them

Ask your team: "What's stopping you from replying to customers/leads faster?" By simply asking your team how you can help them, you don’t have to guess. Most customer service teams will have their own ideas on how to improve response times and simply need management buy-in.

In many cases, it'll be down to a lack of clear documentation or processes.

According to a McKinsey study, employees spend 1.8 hours searching for information every day.

For example, if your customer support team doesn't have email templates to use in common scenarios, create them. If your sales team doesn't have a standardized proposal to send leads, create one.

Every time they need to reply to someone with that information, all they'll need to do is get the template from your documentation, add it to their email, and hit send. 

There are a variety of tools that will help you build a simple and effective knowledge base like HelpDocs or Help Scout. If you want to increase your time to reply speed, do some research and consider investing in one of these solutions.

Providing your team with the tools they need to respond quickly and accurately to leads will  ensure your leads are being nurtured properly, your sales are being made effectively, and your time to reply goals are being adequately met.

Whether in the office or working from home, make reply time a priority

Buyers and existing customers expect to be treated well. Show someone that you care about winning or keeping their business by responding quickly.

Make sure that your time to reply is a key metric for your team. They'll be more motivated to hit their targets and you'll close more deals, improve retention, and boost customer satisfaction. 

Prioritizing your time to reply is guaranteed to have a remarkable impact on your team and results.

Barry Blassoples

Barry Blassoples is the Head of Sales and Success at timetoreply. He is committed to making email a stress-free place that enables sales, support, key account, and remote teams to do their best work.

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