Unless you’re okay with providing below-average online customer service, you need to be fast in getting back to customer emails. Why? Because 77% of the customers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide good online customer service.
However, as a customer service agent, your inbox is typically full to the brim – emails jostling one another, clawing for your attention. This makes getting back to customer emails promptly challenging.
The pressure is real. 😓 We get it.
That’s why we created this guide to show you how you can use automation to manage your inbox efficiently. Because, of course, handling all the emails pouring through, prioritizing them, and getting the right person to respond to technical queries in time is where good customer service starts.
So, without further ado, let’s walk you through customer expectations on email response times, followed by seven no-fail ways AI can help you manage your inbox.
On we go.
How quickly do customers expect a response?
Fast, yes. But how fast? Let’s look at the research on this:
- 31.2% of customers expect a response in one hour or less
- 50% of customers who email you expect a reply within a 24-hour window
- And, according to customers themselves, the most crucial characteristic of a good customer experience is a fast response
Despite these expectations, only 12% of customer service managers focus on quickly getting back to their customers. This creates an excellent opportunity for you. If you can zero in on responding rapidly to your customers, you can easily stand out from the crowd.
How do you improve your email response time?
Here are the first steps that you need to take:
Set clear goals for your team by defining how fast their response should be
What helps you hit the bullseye here is an actionable goal – not a vague one. So how do you set up an actionable target? By defining ‘fast’ by assigning a timeframe to customer service reps.
❌ Get back to customer emails fast.
✔ Get back to customer emails within 2 hours.
Set a quality standard by spelling out what a ‘quality’ response is
An essential – and often overlooked – aspect of good customer service is making sure reps give a proper answer to the customer. A fast reply should never be a meaningless one. That’s like getting your order delivered quickly, but with the incorrect contents.
Your response should either solve their problem completely or tell them that you’re working on their query (more on this below).
But a word of caution: never hold back on replying to customers just because you’re waiting to give them a full response to their email. Why? Because 40% of your millennial customers won’t wait longer than 60 minutes to reach out to you with their query via another channel.
So, if you can’t manage to reply with a full answer to your customer’s question, informing them about working on their query will save you from more work.
Prioritize getting back to urgent and important requests
Here’s the thing: some customer emails can wait while others can’t.
For instance, a message informing your app is malfunctioning is far more critical than a new feature suggestion.
Similarly, not every customer’s email carries the same priority. Case in point: responding to an email from a customer subscribed to your annual plan first is more significant than replying to one using the free plan. It’s not to say that the latter doesn’t deserve a reply. It just means that you need to prioritize differently.
Your plan to reduce customer email response time should make this clear to service agents. Tell them that spending time on urgent and important emails needs to be their primary focus.
An excellent way to prioritize such requests? Let automation filter out emails that need immediate replies instead of manually going through the email whirlwind that your inbox is, which brings us to our next point.
Introduce AI for improving inbox productivity
Automation can help you meet your goal of reducing email response time without you having to lose your wits. The seven steps below explain how artificial intelligence can help automate things.
Seven foolproof ways AI can help manage your inbox
From specific automated responses to prioritizing emails based on their importance, urgency, and tone, there’s a lot that you can do with AI by your side.
Let’s lay down each trick for you:
1. Automate responses
Automated responses are the holy grail of automation. While it’s easy to dream of using an auto-responder to handle customer relationships perfectly, there’s a risk of coming across as robotic where human touchpoints are crucial for building customer relationships.
However, there are four responses that any business can instantly automate. These are:
- Send an automated response informing your customers you’re working on their query (like we discussed above).
- Send an automated response outlining your business hours, so they know when to expect a response.
- Send an automated response sharing your average response time so that your customer can know when to expect a reply.
- Proactively inform the requester that things will take longer than requested if the queue becomes too full.
Once you automate these responses, work on responding to emails based on their urgency and importance, using rule-based automation to prioritize emails from different customer segments.
2. Automatically navigate customer requests to the right department
Instead of forwarding emails to different departments on your team that have the expertise to reply to the query in full, automate the process. It’s like categorizing emails so people with the relevant knowledge can get back to the customers.
Levity can help here by automatically tagging emails based on the customer email’s subject line and body content. Unlike other tools or "hacks", you don't need to specify terms like payment, money, refund, or similar. All you need to provide is a bunch of examples for teaching the AI.
3. Prioritize customer emails by detecting urgency in customer emails
Automation can also sift through email requests to find the ones that demand immediate attention, such as an email informing that your plugin is failing, for example.
But don’t just stop there. With Levity alerting you of urgent emails, assign a rep or a group of agents to reply to urgent emails. For example, Ben, on your team, has to get back to urgent emails right away. In short, Ben’s responsibility is taking care of urgent requests.
Such a smooth workflow and a clearly defined action plan to complement it can help you cut back on your email response time in no time.
4. Handle queries with the right mindset
Angry customer emails can quickly take a toll on your mood, impacting your productivity. Since you can’t turn a blind eye to such emails, consider addressing them with the right mindset.
Here’s how: when you know a query’s tone, you can better prepare yourself to respond to it.
Levity’s sentiment analysis makes this possible for you: It gives you a snapshot of your customer’s mood by filtering email messages based on their tone into neutral, angry, or happy so you can delegate and respond accordingly.
Besides, having this information on a query’s tone means you can prioritize getting back to angry emails at your earliest. It’s a small attempt to calm down angry customers, the same as you’d do when responding to online reviews because you don’t want to fuel their anger by responding at a snail’s pace.
5. Use AI to file tagged attachments to customers
With all the emails coming through, it’s hard to keep tabs on the attachments you receive. So why not let automation do the attachment keeping for you?
AI can easily detect incoming email attachments by analyzing their content and applying tags that you specify.
Need to forward the attachment to the relevant department? Again, put AI to work by automatically forwarding the tagged attachment to the appropriate department.
Moreover, if you need to send relevant documents to your customers, use AI to identify the attachment and share it with them.
6. Create an extensive knowledge base
Did you know that there’s a chance your customer service agents can’t find the right answer to your customers’ questions, which, in turn, delays their response to queries?
Esteban Kolsky’s research and 7 learned that customer service agents spent an average of 28% of their searching for the right answer to a customer query. And here’s the surprising bit from the same research: reps find the right solutions only 20% (!) of the time.
The solution, you ask? A knowledge base. It’s a collection of documents that includes troubleshooting instructions, how-to guides, and answers to customers’ frequently asked questions.
The chief purpose of such a resource is to make it easy for users to find solutions to their questions.
Mailchimp, for example, has an extensive knowledge library that’s easy to navigate, thanks to the following factors:
- There’s a search bar to search for guides and tutorials.
- A popular resources sections following it and
- A help by topic section shown below.
The best part? Not only can reps refer to a knowledge base, but the non-confidential section should be well accessible to customers too.
Why? Because 75% of customers prefer getting their answers using a knowledge base if it’s a reliable one that offers complete solutions.
Not to forget, your KB has to be easy to find. So, an action step for you: share your resource bank on your homepage or inside the app/software where customers can easily access it and get their answers without having to email you in the first place.
7. Make notes based on the customer feedback you are getting
An essential aspect of improving your business is paying attention to the customer feedback you get.
However, sending your reps down the email black hole for gathering feedback on, let’s say, a new feature that you’ve launched can slow them down.
By automating this manual task, though, you can save a lot of time. AI can efficiently run through emails to tag ones that give feedback relating to the new feature.
The best part? You can send all the analyzed feedback to the right department, such as marketing, engineering, product, and so on, so it’s in the right hands – a crucial step for making the most of customer feedback.
Besides, you can study surveys you share with customers in the same manner. For instance, you’ve sent a survey to your customers to learn if they find your blog content useful at your marketing team’s request.
Instead of spending days sifting through the answers, use Levity to analyze survey text responses to detect the responses’ tone and automatically forward it to the marketing team.
This way, you can focus on continuous improvement instead of going through a mountain of data manually.
See? There’s a lot you do to improve your email response time by managing your inbox with AI. From detecting the tone of customers’ messages to the urgency of their requests, try it all, and improve your customer service in no time.