Monday Mornings with Madison

DOES CUSTOMER RESPONSE TIME MATTER?

Customers do not like to wait.  The golden rule in business is that customers should be helped right away.  We’re not talking about a manufacturer making a customer wait for the release of a new product or model… which can actually increase brand value by creating excitement and buzz.  Instead, we are referring to the time a customer actually waits to be assisted with whatever they need from the business.  At an office, a client that is made to wait more than 10 minutes for a scheduled appointment will be irate.  At a store, a customer who sees a long line to pay might drop their purchases and leave.  At a restaurant, a waiter is expected to welcome patrons within a few minutes of being seated.   

For businesses that service customers at home, long customer wait time is even more irksome.  Everyone has had the experience of taking time off from work to wait for a cable guy or repairman. According to TOA Technologies, a company that makes software for businesses to better track their service people and narrow their customers’ window of wait-time, it cost customers a whopping $37.7 billion a year for time spent waiting for a company to come fix, install or deliver something.  TOA’s “Cost of Waiting” study done this year indicated that customers in the U.S. waited on average 4.3 hours, more than twice the expected wait time. On an individual basis, that works out to about $250 a year, which meant a loss of two full working days of pay for minimum wage earners.  This irritation is greater now than ever before.  While customers never like to wait, apparently, the economic downturn has increased the frustration felt for every dollar lost to time spent waiting for service. 

Timeliness is directly related to customer satisfaction and customer repeat business.  Wait time has an effect on customers that is similar to the effect of price.  In fact, many economists view wait time as a form of price.  Customers are aware of the price demanded in both money and time and adjust their behavior accordingly.   There is even a correlation between price and timeliness.  The more a customer spends for a product or service, the less tolerant they are long wait times for service.  Even in situations where there seems to be a monopoly of control over customers, such as at a hospital Emergency Room, customers who experience a long wait time will – in the future — seek either private care or care at an outpatient facility.

Case in point.  Comcast Cable has earned the dubious distinction of being one of the worst companies for timely service in the nation.  For anyone wondering if the reputation is justified, consider the U-Tube video posted in 2006 by a Comcast customer who waited for Comcast service for three weeks!  When the technician finally showed up to replace a faulty modem, the technician himself spent an hour on hold with Comcast’s central office and then fell asleep on the customer’s couch while waiting for service!    That U-Tube video has been viewed 1,672,884 times.  Since then, things have not improved.  In fact, Comcast Cable has earned a spot in the MSN Money Top 10 Worst Customer Service Hall of Shame for five years running.

Clearly, response time matters when servicing a customer in person, but what about on the World Wide Web?  Does a company’s response time online matter?  For example, does the speed in which a company replies to a customer’s inquiry or request online (speed-to-call rate) really impact whether that ‘lead’ converts to a sale?  If you answered yes, you’re absolutely right.   However, the extent to which response time impacts online lead conversation may be surprising. 

A new study conducted by Leads360 shows that speed-to-call has a huge impact on lead conversion rates.  The study, derived from the data of several million Internet-generated leads, looked at the impact of speed-to-call within the sales process in determining lead conversion rates.  The study revealed that organizations able to respond the fastest to consumers had a nearly insurmountable conversion advantage over organizations that did not.  Internet leads called in less than a minute after being generated — that’s right, within the first 60 seconds after being received — resulted in a 391% improvement in conversion.  Leads called between 60 and 120 seconds after they were generated converted 106% more often than the average.  However, if leads could not be reached within the first few minutes, the conversion rate dropped dramatically.  Notwithstanding, there was still some value in attempting to contact sooner rather than later.  Leads called within 24 hours were still 17% more likely to convert than those that weren’t.  Speed-to-call was found to be the single largest driver of online lead conversion.

What does this mean for companies dealing with customers both in person and online?  Speed and timeliness matter to customers.  It is important to provide sufficient staff to ensure that customers needn’t wait unnecessarily for service.  With so many other choices and options readily available, a waiting customer is one who is bound to go elsewhere to get what they want without delay…whether it’s to get information, find the answer to a question, or purchase a product or service.  The same is true when dealing with virtual customers.  Just like customers in a store, online customers don’t like to wait more than a minute or two for service.  An easy way for any business to increase sales is to ensure every customer is serviced immediately on demand. 

Whether real or virtual, it pays for businesses to be quick to respond… fast to follow-up… speedy to service.  As the saying goes, it’s the early bird (or should we say the ‘speedy’ bird) that catches the worm.

Quote of the Week

“Waiting is one of life’s hardships.” Lemony Snicket

© 2011, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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