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9 Important Call Center Industry Standards & How to Beat Them

At Astute, we often talk about how to create an ideal customer experience to drive satisfaction and retention. But how do you know what's ideal for your customers? How do you measure success?

Although these questions are common, every company has different standards of success depending on their customer base and their industry. But call center metrics industry standards can help provide a benchmark for two key areas: response times and agent efficiency call center metrics.

The benchmarks for the popular call center metrics below can be used to help set your team goals, but be careful not to use them as a basis for comparing or criticizing. It's also important take your customer feedback into consideration to create the right CX strategy for your organization.

Benchmarks for Response Time Expectations by Channel

call center industry standards response time benchmarks by channel

As consumer comfort with digital channels grows, so do their expectations for instantaneous responses to questions. A recent study from HubSpot found that 90% of consumers rate an immediate response as important or very important when they have a customer service question. What's more, 60% of consumers seeking support define "immediate" as 10 minutes or less.

The following sections break down consumer expectations as well as industry averages for response times across the most popular contact channels.

Email Response Time

call center metrics email response benchmark

According to research from customer service consultant Jeff Toister, more than 90% of consumers expect a one-hour email response time from companies, and world-class is considered 15 minutes. While his study didn't find a significant difference in expectations between the generations, surprisingly it was Baby Boomers who expected the fastest email responses.

Compare the desired one-hour response time to the average for companies: 17 hours, according to a SuperOffice study. Shockingly, they also found 62% of companies don't respond to customer emails at all.

How to improve your email response time: Use a customer case management tool that automates as much of the repetitive agent tasks as possible. For example, Astute's CRM can read incoming emails from customers and automatically suggest an email response that agents can review, edit as needed, and send, drastically shortening email response time. Time-saving features in Astute's CRM helped Darden improve email response time by 400%.

Social Care Response Time

When it comes to social media channels, consumers often expect quick responses – this holds true regardless of age demographic. Here are benchmarks for the two most popular social care channels, Facebook and Twitter.

On Twitter, Toister's study showed that consumers expect responses from companies within 15 minutes. However, Eptica found the average Twitter response time is longer than a day, clocking in at 31 hours.

social media twitter response time benchmark social media customer service facebook response benchmark

On Facebook, consumers expect a response within one hour although 15 minutes is considered world-class. Responding to Facebook Messenger requests in under 15 minutes also earns your page the coveted "Very responsive" badge. Again, Eptica found that the average Facebook response time is longer than a day, nearly 28 hours.

In addition to responding more slowly than customers expect, many companies respond to customers' social media comments by asking them to fill out a form, email them, or call a hotline. But according to research from Conversocial, more than three-fourths of social interactions are abandoned when a brand suggests the customer switch to a different channel. What's more, two-thirds of customers say they're extremely frustrated by having to repeat information in multiple channels. The best practice is to resolve as much of the customer's issue within the channel of their choice, transitioning to a private message as needed.

How to improve your social response time: One of the first challenges with social care is accurately identifying which posts are just noise and which posts need your attention. Using a social engagement tool can filter through the chaos to surface the urgent, actionable posts, and put them straight into an agent's case queue for easy follow-up and tracking. You can also speed up response time and deflect cases by deploying a Facebook Messenger chatbot to help customers self-serve.

Live Chat Response Time

customer service live chat response time benchmark

Live chat has become a popular contact channel – in fact, according to ICMI, over half of consumers prefer to chat online in real time versus picking up the phone. But recent research from SuperOffice found that only 9% of companies are currently offering this channel.

The latest industry reports show that consumers expect live chats to be answered in under 48 seconds. The average response time is just under three minutes, and studies show that 21% of chats went completely ignored. It's crucial to deliver what consumers expect on live chat because it has the highest customer satisfaction rate (73%) of all communication channels, according to Econsultancy.

How to improve your live chat response time: A great way to speed up response times across all channels is to enable agents to work all types of cases in a single CRM interface, especially one that's designed to auto-populate all known case information and speed up common data-entry tasks. This enables agents to truly focus on quick, effective interactions. Live chat is another instance where a self-service chatbot can help customers get instant resolutions to a variety of questions and issues without ever needing to involve an agent.

Texting/SMS Response Time

customer service texting sms response time benchmark

An emerging service channel, SMS holds a lot of promise. SmallBizDaily reports that more than half of customers prefer texting for support compared to other channels, and the average person takes 90 seconds to respond to a text message.

Call Centre Helper Magazine sets the texting response benchmark at 80% of messages responded to within 40 seconds, yet a Dynmark industry report showed that the average response time for SMS is 15 minutes.

How to improve your SMS response time: As with live chat, your best approach for speeding up SMS responses will be to use a chatbot as your first line of defense and consolidate all contact channels into one interface for agents. Giving agents in-context guidance and an integrated knowledgebase within their case interface can also shorten response time by making answers easy to find in-the-moment.

Phone: Time to Answer

customer service phone call time to answer benchmark

As with the other communication channels we've discussed, phone calls are subject to similar expectations for near-instant responses – and that expectation has changed dramatically over the past few years. According to ICMI, a recent study showed that two-thirds of consumers would only wait two minutes or less on hold, and 13% went so far as to say that no amount of hold time was acceptable. Compare this to a 2014 customer satisfaction study from American Express that found consumers would wait an average of 13 minutes on hold.

Averages for the "time to answer" call center metric, defined as how long it takes agents to answer an inbound call, varies widely across industries. But Call Centre Helper Magazine recommends an SLA of answering 80% of calls in 20 seconds, and reports that some contact centers are now targeting a standard of 90% of calls in 15 seconds.

How to improve your phone answer time: Deflecting traffic from ever reaching your 800 number through effective self-service is one of the simplest ways to reduce time to answer. Offloading tier-1 cases to self-service means agents are only working cases that require a human touch. A reduction in overall call volume can allow you to potentially do away with lengthy IVR options, instead letting customers get directly to a human with no wait time.


Benchmarks for Call Center Agent Efficiency Metrics

benchmarks for call center metrics standards agent efficiency

There is no shortage of call center metrics that teams use to measure their success, but we've focused on three of the most common metrics for call center performance.

Average Handle Time

aht average handle time benchmark for call centers

Call Centre Helper Magazine recommends that average handle time (AHT), defined as the duration of one transaction including hold time, talk time, and any follow-up tasks, should be about six minutes. Note that this call center metric can vary a great deal from company to company.

AHT can be a misleading metric because shorter resolutions are not inherently more effective ones. Average handle time should not be measured in a vacuum, but as one part of a larger story about agent efficiency.

In fact, AHT numbers are even more valuable when analyzed in tandem with first contact resolution. Overall, it's crucial to avoid shortening customer interactions at the expense of effective resolutions and CSAT.

How to improve your AHT: To avoid damaging effectiveness for the sake of shorter interactions, try to trim as many seconds as possible off any hold time, data entry, and case follow-up tasks. Auto-population of relevant customer information, reason codes, product codes, and other case fields can dramatically reduce handle time. You can cut down AHT even further by presenting agents with recommended next best actions and knowledge articles within their main case screen, giving them just-in-time information without pulling their focus to another window.


First Contact Resolution Rate

fcr first contact resolution benchmark for call centers

There are many diverse approaches to measuring first contact resolution (FCR), including measuring by individual channels or across all your channels combined. This is further complicated by the question of which interaction is truly the customer's first contact about this issue. Before they called, did they send a tweet? Did they have a live chat interaction about the same issue yesterday? A comprehensive view of the customer's interaction history is needed to truly understand this effectiveness metric.

That said, Call Centre Helper Magazine recommends targeting a 70-75% first contact resolution rate. As a best practice, measure your FCR based on the first interaction regarding the issue, no matter what channel was used. It's also a good idea to measure FCR for each channel as well as in aggregate. This will help you understand your omnichannel effectiveness and highlight any inconsistencies between different communication channels.

How to improve your FCR: Leveraging the same core knowledgebase to power customer self-service and agent knowledge ensures consistency of information across channels, and makes it easier to maintain accuracy as products and policies change. Make sure your CRM gives you a comprehensive view of customers' interactions to understand whether their first contact resulted in a resolution.

Case Escalation Rate

case escalation rate benchmark for call center metrics

How many cases are your agents escalating to a supervisor for resolution? As a benchmark, try to limit this to 10% of your cases.

What is not as well-understood in the industry is a target number for escalations from self-service to a live agent. But in Astute's experience with our clients, many are able to handle as much as 80% of incoming customer questions and issues without needing to involve a live agent.

How to improve your case escalation rate:
 As with improving FCR, decreasing supervisor escalations requires you to provide agents with the knowledge and context they need to successfully resolve a range of issues on their own. In the event an escalation does need to happen, use a case management system that can pass on all the context of the current interaction so the customer does not have to repeat their story.

Astute works with many of world's most popular consumer brands to enhance digital self-service and help call center agents serve customers more efficiently. Ready to learn more about how we can help you beat these call center industry standards? Get in touch with us today.


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