contact center agent with headset

9 important contact center industry standards (and how to achieve them)

At Emplifi, we often talk about how to create an ideal customer experience (CX) to drive satisfaction and retention. But how do you know what is ideal for your customers? How do you measure success, specifically against contact center industry standards?

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

The benchmarks for the popular contact 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 to take your customer feedback into consideration to create the right CX strategy for your organization.

Benchmarks for response times expectations by channel

customer service industry benchmarks for response time on social media email chat phone

As consumer comfort with digital channels grows, so do their expectations for instantaneous responses to questions. A 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

According to research from customer service consultant Jeff Toister, nearly a third of customers expect a response in one hour or less. Plus, regarding the different levels of email popularity among generations, it’s worth noting that Millennials and Baby Boomers receive and send more emails than Gen Zers, according to Campaign Monitor. This is because of the amount of younger users who are still students as opposed to being full-time workers.

benchmark for customer service email response time

Compare the desired one-hour response time to the average for companies: 12 hours, according to a SuperOffice study. Shockingly, they also found 62% of companies do not 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, Emplifi's Email Virtual Assistant (EVA) is an email automation solution that 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.

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.

benchmark for facebook response time

On Twitter, Toister's study showed that consumers expect responses from companies within 15 minutes. However, data from Eptica found the average response time for businesses on Twitter is around one hour and 36 minutes.

benchmark for twitter response time

To get the all-important "Very responsive to messages" badge on your Facebook business page, a response time of 15 minutes or less within the last seven days is needed, along with a 90% response rate to private messages.

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 listening 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

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 research from SuperOffice found that only 9% of companies are currently offering this channel.

Industry reports show that consumers expect live chats to be answered in under 48 seconds. 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.

benchmark for customer service live chat response time

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 interface, especially one that is 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

SMS holds a lot of promise as a customer service channel. 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.

benchmark for sms customer service response time

Call Centre Helper Magazine defines the call center industry-standard benchmark for texting response 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 knowledge base within their case interface can also shorten response time by making answers easy to find in the moment.

Phone: Time to answer

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 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 customer satisfaction study from American Express that found consumers would wait an average of 13 minutes on hold.

benchmark for customer service phone answer time

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 of letting customers get directly to a human with no wait time.

Benchmarks for Contact Center Agent Efficiency Metrics

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

customer service call center industry benchmarks for aht and fcr

Average Handle Time

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 contact center metric can vary a great deal from company to company.

benchmark for average handle time aht

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 is 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

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.

benchmark for first call resolution fcr

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 knowledge base 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 customer engagement tool gives you a comprehensive view of customers’ interactions to understand whether their first contact resulted in a resolution.

Case Escalation Rate

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

benchmark for customer service escalation rate

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.

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

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on Any statistics or statements included in this article were current at the time of original publication.

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