What Is First Response Time (FRT)?

Learn why first response time (FRT) is such an important metric for measuring the performance of your support team.
Published on: Nov 07, 2022
Last updated: Dec 15, 2023

TL:DR

  • First response time (FRT) is a KPI that measures the time it takes for a company to respond to a customer's initial contact on a new support ticket.
  • FRT is important because it reflects the efficiency of the customer service department in addressing newly created support tickets.
  • FRT can indicate the quality of training, individual support agent performance, comprehensiveness of customer support scripts, and the timeliness of customer assistance.
  • High customer expectations for speed of service make FRT crucial in preventing customer dissatisfaction and churn.
  • Calculating FRT involves dividing the total FRTs during a specific time period by the total number of tickets.
  • FRT is typically calculated on resolved tickets and excludes automated responses.
  • FRT can be tracked automatically using support software like Zendesk.
  • FRT should be considered alongside other metrics like CSAT and NPS to gauge customer satisfaction.
  • FRT benchmarks vary by channel but aiming for a first response time under one hour is ideal.
  • Limitations of FRT include not measuring issue resolution speed or quality, potential manipulation, limited to working hours and tracked channels.
  • Strategies to improve FRT include tracking, setting goals, communicating with the team, automating processes, using efficient support tools, creating a knowledge base, and updating training resources.

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First response time or FRT is a KPI that measures the amount of time it takes for your company to respond to a customer's inquiry the first time they reach out on a new support ticket. This metric is important because it can help you determine how efficient your customer service department is — especially in responding to newly created support tickets.

That, in turn, can tell you: 

  • Whether your training is up to scratch
  • How individual support agents are doing
  • Whether your customer support scripts are comprehensive and
  • Whether or not customers are being assisted in a timely manner

Most customers have higher expectations than ever before, so it's important to ensure you're meeting those expectations to keep them from churning. One of these expectations is the speed of service. Frustratingly, call wait times have actually increased 3x at most call centers, which is leading to a whole lot of unnecessary customer dissatisfaction.

In this blog post, we'll discuss what first response time is, how it differs from average response time, and how you can calculate it using a simple formula. We'll also give you some tips on how to improve your first response time.

What is first response time, and why is it important?

First response time is the amount of time it takes for a business or organization to respond to a customer's initial contact for every support ticket. In other words, it's the length of time between when someone first reaches out to your company and when they receive a response.

First response time is the amount of time that elapses between a customer's initial message and a support agent responding.

This metric is important because it can predict CSAT (customer satisfaction) and NPS (net promoter score) outcomes. A quick response time shows that you're attentive and available, while a slow response time can make customers feel like they're not a priority.

90% of customers rate an "immediate" response as essential or very important when they have a customer service question, so there's no question this is a crucial metric.

Additionally, first response time can be a good gauge of how efficient your operations are. If it's taking a long time to simply answer the phone or reply to an email, that's a sign that: 

  • Support agents aren't being trained to handle all inquires adequately
  • Your support scripts aren't as comprehensive as they could be
  • Support agents lack some knowledge about your product or service
  • There are information siloes between different departments at your company
  • The software you use for support is lacking in some way

Ultimately, monitoring first response time is a good way to ensure that you're providing the best possible experience for your customers.

How to calculate first response time

how to calculate first response time

First response time is calculated in terms of days, minutes, or hours. The first response time formula looks like this:

First Response Time = Total FRTs during a specific time / total number of tickets

There are a few things to keep in mind: 

  • First response time only measures the time that has elapsed between the first message in a new support ticket (i.e. when it is created) and the first public response by a support agent
  • Most often, first response time is calculated on resolved tickets rather than pending or open tickets. However, come organizations choose to include all tickets to get a more comprehensive picture.
  • Sometimes, it can be good to calculate median first response time rather than average first response time to avoid situations in which outliers distort the data.
  • Automated responses should be excluded from these calculations.

For example, let's say your company took a total of 62 minutes to first respond to 15 recently resolved tickets. In that case, the First Response Time would be 4.1 minutes.

You should note that if you use support software like Zendesk, this metric is tracked automatically.

FRT Excel/Google Sheet Calculator Template

If you're looking for an easy-to-use FRT calculator, you can simply copy our FRT Google Sheets template and paste your data in it to automatically calculate FRT at both team-level and agent-level.

Our template also includes benchmarks on how individuals agents differ from the team's average, so that it can effectively be used to track individual performance too.

First response time google sheets template

First response time vs average response time

Both first response time and average response time measure the period of time that elapses between a customer's message and an agent's response.

The main differences between the two KPIs are:

  • First response time only measures the time elapsed between the first customer message and agent response.
  • Average response time measures the time elapsed between every customer message and every agent response.
  • First response time typically only takes resolved tickets into account.
  • Average response time takes every ticket into account.

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Benchmarks: what is a good first response time?

FRT benchmarks for specific industries would not make a lot of sense as FRT is a channel-specific metric. On top of that, it's also heavily industry and product specific.

Here's a basic first response time breakdown by channel:

  • In a live chat, customers may expect an answer in less than 2 minutes.
  • For a ticket submitted via an online portal, the expectation might be to get an answer within the day or within 12-24 hours.
  • For a callback, most users would expect to receive it within a few hours. But once again, this is also based on the product you offer and the level of urgency your support requests normally entail.
In most call centers, the goal is that 80% of tickets should be responded to within 20 seconds.

In an ideal scenario, you should aim for a first response time of under one hour, no matter what the channel is. However, the caveat is that, depending on a few different factors, one hour may be way too long or be unrealistically fast. So you see how averages don't make much sense when it comes to FRT.

Here are some of the factors you should consider to understand if your FRT is too high:

  • Are you providing different tiers of support? If yes, does your FRT differ between different tiers and how?
  • Like most companies, you might be offering different channels to contact support: which one has the most room for improvement?
  • After the first response, are customers often on "hold" for some time?
  • Does "time" or "speed" of response ever come up in your CSAT surveys (or other ways you collect feedback)?

Is first response time a flawed KPI?

While first response time is a bedrock support KPI, it is important to understand the limitations of this metric.

  • FRT only measures the speed with which requests are answered. It does not track how fast the issue is resolved, let along how well it was resolved.
  • It's possible to manipulate FRT by, for instance, responding immediately to a customer in a live chat, but then putting the customer on hold for a few minutes before actually looking into their case. This is something department heads should keep in mind.
  • FRT only applies to requests that are received during normal working hours. If a team that is not operating 24/7 receives a high volume of requests during after-hours or on weekends, FRT may not provide an accurate measure of their performance.
  • Finally, first response rate only applies to requests that are submitted through the proper channels. If a team receives a high volume of requests through less tracked channels (like social media) response rates will again not be an accurate measure of their performance.

So, while first response rate can be a useful metric, it is important to understand its limitations in order to properly interpret its significance, and it should be used with other metrics such as first contact resolution rate or average handle time.

7 ways to improve your first response time

If you want to improve your first response time, there are a few things you can do: 

  • You can keep track of your FRT
  • You can set goals for FRT
  • You can set clear expectations and communicate them to your team
  • You can automate some processes to free up agent time
  • You can use the right support tools to make your workflows more efficient
  • You can invest in good self-service channels like a knowledge center
  • You can update your training resources to make them more comprehensive

Keep track of your first response time

One of the first steps is to start tracking your first response time. This will give you a baseline to work from and will help you see if your efforts are actually improving your response time. Not only will this provide a benchmark for you to work from, but it will also help you identify any areas where your response time could be improved.

Set goals for first response time

Setting goals is a great way to improve your performance in any area, and first response time is no different. Once you have a baseline measurement of your current response time, you can set realistic goals for improvement. Make sure to involve your team in setting these goals, as they will be the ones responsible for meeting them.

Communicate with your team

If you want to improve your team's first response time, it's important to communicate with your team about the importance of this metric. Let them know why it matters and how it impacts the company. This will help them understand the importance of meeting or exceeding goals for first response time.

Automate some processes

While we'd argue that too much automation is never a good thing, it certainly has its place. If you receive a particularly high volume of support tickets and notice that your support agents are falling behind, automating processes like ticket creation, ticket assignments and tagging can help your agents focus on what actually matters.

Use support tools

When every second counts, you can't afford to waste time switching between support platforms. It's for this reason that you need to carefully consider what your support tech stack should look like. It's important from the outset to only use platforms that can 'communicate' or integrate with other platforms in that stack so you can build out your end-to-end support workflows seamlessly.

Having a truly integrated tech stack with multichannel support software means means fewer frustrated customers and shorter wait times.

Create a knowledge base

Another way to improve first response time is to create a knowledge base. This is a collection of information that can be used to answer common questions. By having this information readily available, you can avoid having to research the answers to common questions, which can save a lot of time. A good knowledge base should be well-organized and easy to search for. It should also be kept up-to-date so that it can be used as a reliable resource. Creating a knowledge base can be a big help in reducing first response time.

Updating your training resources

Reviewing the resources you use to train your support agents is also an important step in reducing your first response time. You need to ensure things like support scripts, handbooks and ticket escalation processes are comprehensive and understood by everyone on your team so you can speed up the time between when a ticket is created and when an agent has everything they need to respond.

Wrapping things up

First response time is an important metric for customer support teams. It's a good way to measure how efficiently your team is functioning. However, it's important to understand the limitations of this metric in order to properly interpret its significance.

There are a few things you can do to improve your first response time. Keeping track of your response time, setting goals, and communicating with your team are all good ways to start. You can also use support tools and create a knowledge base to help improve first response time.

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