Customer service email response time expectations are such that a lead or customer expects to get an email reply to an email inquiry within minutes or, at worst, a few hours. That means that if you are taking more than a few hours to respond to a customer’s email, and especially to a lead or prospect’s email, you are both tarnishing your company’s reputation, and losing out on business – in fact, you are effectively turning business away. Instead, answer it immediately, or at least as soon as you can, even if it’s just to acknowledge it and say that you will get back to them more fully later.

In a series of fascinating, and a bit shocking, studies that have been released over the past few years rating how well online commerce sites and other businesses do when it comes to responding to prospect and customer email queries, it turns out that the answer is: not very well at all.

Customer Service Email Response Time Expectations

It only makes sense that when a lead, prospect, new customer, or existing customer sends you an email that they expect a response in a timely manner. What doesn’t make sense is how many businesses don’t give them even a same-day response, let alone a timely response. And what’s shocking is when a business doesn’t respond to a lead or customer email at all. But that’s exactly what as many as one-third of businesses surveyed, in multiple surveys do: they don’t respond to email inquiries at all.

When You Fail Customer Service Email Response Time Expectations

As we mentioned, nearly one-third of businesses surveyed or mystery shopped failed to respond to a customer or prospect email at all. That’s pretty shocking when you consider these people are thinking about, or even already wanting to give you money!

One study, done in 2016, used online mystery shoppers and involved 50 different online wine retailers throughout the U.S., the U.K., and Europe. The study found that when it came to evaluating how responsive retailers were to inquiries made by email, a shocking 34% of the sites did not respond to the inquiry at all!

And an earlier study, conducted by the Harvard Business Review, found that 24% of businesses didn’t response for at least 24 hours, while 23% didn’t respond at all.

And a 2020 study conducted by the research firm Pan Research found that customer or lead inquiry emails went unanswered 22% of the time. And even of those that were answered, only 58% were answered within the first 24 hours.

Now, this is hardly a way to grow your business; in fact it’s very poor customer service. As with so many other things, with email timing is everything.

But beyond that, one has to wonder: despite not receiving a reply to their initial email query, how many of those prospects and customers still ended up on the company’s mailing list?

When What You Do is Even Worse than Failing Customer Service Email Response Time Expectations

Not responding to an email is a poor business practice. But at least it will only get you in trouble with the customer (although that is course is bad enough). But failing to respond to an inquiry at all, and then taking that person’s email address and adding it to your mailing list is absolutely inexcusable. And even though none of the studies addressed this, we know there are sites out there that do it, because it’s happened to us here.

Adding someone’s email address to a mailing list, even if they initiated the contact, when they haven’t given you permission, can get you in trouble legally, and will get you in trouble with the inbox providers and ISPs, because it’s spam. As for the legal aspect, it’s illegal in all of the EU, all of the UK, and Canada, to name but a few.

Hopefully your business responds to prospect and customer queries right away (at ISIPP SuretyMail we make that a top priority, our Customer Service people have it drilled into them that responding to prospects and customers comes above anything else, and we pride ourselves on our responsiveness by email). But even if you don’t (but why wouldn’t you?) then at least, for the sake of your email reputation and deliverability, do not, under any circumstances, add those unresponded-to email addresses to your mailing lists!

Because guess what the recipients will do when they get that email?

They’re going to hit “this is spam”.

And rightly so.

Email Response Time Expectations: When a Prospect or Customer Sends You Email - Answer It!

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One response

  1. Of course, NOT responding to emails is just plain unacceptable. But the best agents and best technology cannot meet consumer expectations if you take longer to respond than people expect.

    Because an unhappy consumer can quickly become a lost customer and no one can afford to lose customers.

    Fuze Digital Solutions together with sponsored a survey of almost 1,000 consumers about their expectations when it comes to online service and support. The survey results revealed:

    The percentage of customers that expect to know turnaround time BEFORE engaging in online customer service

    The turn-around time expectations for support and sales email responses, and how these vary by age of the consumer or frequency of Internet use

    How long customers expect to wait for a response in online chat, and more…

    See the results of this important survey at

    Contact Fuze at if we can help with your online customer care initiatives.

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