Article | 7 min read

First reply time: 9 tips to deliver faster customer service

First reply time refers to how quickly an organization can respond to a customer. Learn how to measure, track, and improve this crucial metric in our guide.

By Hannah Wren, Staff writer

Last updated February 6, 2024

In an era where consumers expect impeccable service, timing is everything. Gone are the days when businesses could respond to customer requests in a day or more. Now, your business may fall behind the competition if you aren’t providing rapid, accurate responses. Luckily, there’s a way to measure and improve responsiveness.

First reply time refers to how quickly a business responds to a consumer request or support ticket. Read on to learn why this is important and how you can deliver faster customer service in our comprehensive guide.

More in this guide:

What is first reply time (FRT)?

First reply time (FRT)—or first response time—measures how long a service agent takes to respond to a customer support request.

First reply times are crucial to an organization because the time it takes to respond to a customer directly correlates to a positive customer experience (CX). Faster FRTs indicate a more effective response system and overall customer experience, while slower FRTs indicate the opposite.

It’s important to note that automated responses do not count toward a company’s first reply time—the metaphorical timer only stops when a support agent responds to the customer’s query or concern.

What are customers’ first response time expectations?

Delivering exceptional customer experiences often involves connecting with your customers over email, social media, and live chat. Here are consumer response expectations for each medium.

Channel Good Better Best
Email 12 hours or less 4 hours or less 1 hour or less
Social media 5 hours or less 2 hours or less 1 hour or less
Live chat 1 minute or less 40 seconds or less Instantly

Sources: Toister Performance Solutions, Sprout Social, Call Centre Helper

While fast replies are essential, what you say is just as important. Providing a helpful answer on the first try, without an endless back-and-forth between the customer and agent, is often referred to as first contact resolution (FCR) and can be just as crucial as FRT.

How to calculate first response time

Calculating your FRT with the standard formula can add more insight to your analysis.

First reply time is calculated by dividing total first reply time by the number of resolved tickets.

To determine first reply time, simply divide the total first reply time for all agents by the total number of resolved tickets in the given period. You can determine FRTs over an hour, week, or longer by using this calculation.

4 ways to measure first reply time

First reply time is determined by measuring the time between when a customer submits a request and when a customer service agent responds to the support ticket.

Here are four ways to measure that metric.

You can measure FRT by defining it in terms of business hours, using the median instead of the average, tracking FRT in service reports, and using SLAs.

1. Define your first reply time in the scope of business hours

Unless you’re using the follow-the-sun model for customer service, your team will have off hours.

If a customer submits a request at 4:58 p.m. on Friday and your team responds at 10:03 a.m. on Monday, you shouldn’t include the weekend in your FRT if you are closed during that time. Measuring in business hours ensures your FRT accurately reflects when your team is actually available and working—just be sure to communicate your business hours to your customers.

2. Take the median, not the average

Response time can vary widely based on the type and complexity of the issue. Calculating the median response time allows you to control for outliers that may skew your results. A chat request resolved in under a minute or an issue taking much longer to resolve than normal—like an email assigned to the wrong team member—can paint an inaccurate FRT picture.

For example, a dataset might include three FRTs of five minutes and one FRT of one minute. That group’s average first response time would be four minutes, but the median response time would be five minutes—a more accurate representation of performance.

3. Track time to first response in your service reports

Customer service reports are a compilation of customer service key performance indicators (KPIs) that can help you identify actionable insights to improve your CX. Customer service reports can automatically measure FRT for you, eliminating manual errors.

4. Use service level agreements (SLAs) to increase accountability

Service level agreements are written agreements that define standards for customer support. Measuring FRT against your SLAs can increase your team’s accountability and responsiveness because they have a set standard for their performance.

Improve your first reply time with Zendesk

Watch a quick demo to see how our customer experience software can help you reply to customers faster.

9 ways to improve your first reply time

Slow reply times are a common customer service challenge. If you want to improve your response time metrics, you need to invest in your support team and the technology they have access to. Here are nine tips to help your agents do their jobs more efficiently and improve your FRT.

Improve your FRT by training your agents, investing in digital CS, building a knowledge base, providing omnichannel support, optimizing the agent experience, embracing AI, setting FRT goals, using prewritten responses, and striving for consistent improvement.

1. Train your agents

Avoid the pitfalls of bad customer service by training agents to become efficient workers. Your support team should know your product inside and out, as well as company policies and customer support best practices. When agents understand these concepts, they can respond to consumer concerns quickly and escalate tickets effectively.

2. Invest in digital customer service

Customer service phone calls are still useful in certain situations, but other mediums usually outperform them. Invest in a digital solution for an improved CX.

Live chat and messaging platforms, for instance, can help your support agents answer customer concerns more efficiently. Messaging allows a single team member to engage in multiple requests simultaneously, resulting in a significant FRT improvement over phone calls alone.

3. Build a robust knowledge base

With a knowledge base system, agents get access to all the information they need, such as product specs or customer account details. Access to an easy-to-use and robust internal system means agents spend less time searching for answers and more time resolving customer issues. A comprehensive resource hub also provides more customer context and consistency, ensuring your responses are accurate.

Additionally, customers who have access to an external knowledge base can self-serve, which leads to a reduction in help tickets. When agents receive fewer help requests, they can reply faster, improving FRT.

4. Provide omnichannel support

Omnichannel customer support is a CX strategy that breaks down silos and creates connected consumer interactions across channels. For example, if a customer first contacts a chatbot for a complex issue, the bot may instantly route them to a live agent. The chatbot will also transfer the customer’s information and the context of the conversation, so the live agent can pick up where the chatbot left off without needing additional information.

The ability to move interactions seamlessly from one channel to another defines an omnichannel customer experience that can result in measurable improvements to your FRT.

5. Optimize the agent experience to prevent burnout

A 2022 study from Aflac found that almost 60 percent of American workers experienced moderate levels of burnout. This isn’t isolated to specific businesses, as call center burnout can be a real problem for support teams across industries.

When agents get burned out, they can experience a lack of motivation to hit their performance targets and FRT goals, even if they are usually top performers. Combat burnout by building a culture of gratitude and choosing support technology—like ticketing systems or issue tracking software—that streamlines and improves the agent experience.

6. Embrace strategic AI and automation integration

Strategic automation, like AI chatbots, can speed up first reply time throughout your organization. While automated responses don’t count toward FRT, AI can efficiently route customer issues to the appropriate support agents.

According to the Zendesk CX Trends Report 2024, 67 percent of CX leaders see AI chatbots strengthening customer relationships. A commitment to this strategy can positively impact your customer support goals.

7. Set team FRT goals

Embrace a data-driven approach to improving FRT by setting goals your team can work toward. Use industry benchmarks, like keeping average email response times under 4 hours, as inspiration when establishing your first targets.

Gamifying the agent experience with point systems for swift replies or leaderboards for top performers can promote healthy competition within a team. This playful push to improve individual performance, fueled by valuable benchmarks, delights customers with fast resolution times while keeping agents motivated.

8. Use automated responses

Even when an agent knows the answer to a customer’s question, it takes time to write a well-thought-out reply. Automated responses cut down on this time by providing prewritten responses to common questions that agents can quickly add to their messages. You can also create templates for broader topics that agents can customize to the unique needs of customers’ requests to avoid having to start from scratch.

9. Strive for consistent improvement

It’s not enough to use these tips once without a shift in philosophy. Your organization must foster a culture of growth and improvement to put these actions into practice day after day.

Perform regular service report evaluations to identify successful CX tactics, bottlenecks, and inefficiencies. Factor in customer satisfaction (CSAT), response quality, and speed. A commitment to improvement is necessary to establish your organization as a leader in customer service.

Don’t stress speed over satisfaction

While first reply time is crucial in a CX strategy, it should never come at the expense of quality. You need to achieve both to provide a truly exceptional customer experience.

Your challenge is to be faster and more accurate than yesterday and continue to improve until you hit your FRT objectives. That said, you don’t have to do it alone. Experience a free trial of Zendesk to gain a valuable partner in customer support.

Improve your first reply time with Zendesk

Watch a quick demo to see how our customer experience software can help you reply to customers faster.

Improve your first reply time with Zendesk

Watch a quick demo to see how our customer experience software can help you reply to customers faster.

Watch demo