Are instant responses good for us?
Consumers, unlike voters, expect an immediate response to their concerns; and companies, unlike governments, do not have the luxury of a mid-term lullNoreena Hertz
If you run a small business, a local community group, or participate in local government or health care, you will most likely have noticed the increasing pre-pandemic trend towards a demand for instant response. Bosses too, have taken advantage of home working and internet working to extend the range of time during which they expect a response. In the worst cases, routinely during family holidays and over the weekend.
When we are customers, our expectations are changing too. In 2019 a survey found:
- Over 80% of customers expect a response within 24 hours.
- 96% of customers expect a response within 48 hours.
- 16% of customers expect an immediate response.
- 37% expect a response within 1 hour.
If my experience is anything to go by, expectations have increased since 2019 despite all that lockdown has brought us!
Current ‘benchmarks’ suggest:
- In terms of industry benchmarks, customers contacting you by email generally expect a response within 24 hours.
- For social, the recommended benchmark is to respond in 60 minutes or less.
- For phone, the generally accepted response time is three minutes. (source Zenstore)
Is instant good for us?
It is arguable that the ability to ‘self soothe’ and ‘wait’ as I taught to my toddlers, is disappearing from the world. There is an increasing trend to want what we want instantly and for people to get extremely angry if it is not provided.
But how necessary is it to have a rapid response to all our needs? Does it improve things for us or the quality of service we are provided with?
We are all aware in the UK of the increasing wait for routine treatment on the NHS as emergencies and pandemics sweep through our system. Thousands of people are now waiting for live changing treatment. But there are a few who still feel entitled to turn up to A&E for a splinter in their finger and get extremely angry if they are turned away or have to wait ‘an excessive amount of time’.
By teaching ourselves that everything should be available instantly, we seem to be prone more than ever to the frustrated rage of a toddler when this is not forthcoming.
From instant food, to instant relationships, to instant fame and fortune, we are driving ourselves crazy with insatiable demands.
Is instant safe?
All service workers are subject to increasing pressure to deliver instantly and are often on the receiving end of tantrums and abuse if this is not forthcoming. This reduces the number of people available to deliver service as people find employment elsewhere in less demanding environments.
But it does more than that. It can reduce the quality of service itself. A rapid response is not always the best response. While we refuse to wait, we are refusing to let others consider the options, ask questions, or mull over how to get to the best possible outcome.
The siren cry of ‘something must be done’ results as often as not, in rapid but ineffective responses where ticking the box on response time is more important than a well formed outcome.
How long can you deliver instant for?
For small business owners without the luxury of outsourcing to large teams on the other side of the world, the increasing demand for instant, combined with abuse and public shaming if it is not delivered, can have a negative effect on mental health.
24 hour support from a micro business, means the owner gets no time off, no time to think, no time to breathe. The strain of ‘self-employment’ can break business owners who buckle under these constant demands.
And in corporate life, the endless demands for it all to be done right now, result in systemic failures and unexpected consequences for workers and organisations alike.
Let’s not even get started on the effect of the ‘something must be done’ knee jerk culture on politics and governance. Empty immediate promises made for soundbites, that result in poor policy or no policy and random and expensive mistakes. A quick search online will show so many examples of wasted time and effort and broken promises – some of which could never have been kept.
Is it time we slowed down a bit?
I have taken to pre-booking my calls with customers, so we can both focus on a question without instantly needing to respond. And I have taken to emailing customer support in most cases in the clear expectation that they will take a day or so to get back to me.
Not everything needs to be resolved instantly. The last couple of years have shown me that many things simply need time to unfold. There are very few things that need to be attended to instantly – they are of course, life or death – but the majority of things that get our blood pressure raised are simply not that important.
Bring back forward planning
There was a time, before mobile phones, when if we were away from our desk we were pretty hard to contact. We taught the people who worked with us and for us how to handle the day to day without bothering us. We taught our teams how to cope, how to make decisions and how to get on with things.
And we planned ahead.
My mission going forward is going to be to increase the amount of forward planning I do, and reduce the amount of things I simply ‘respond’ to because someone has demanded that I do.
I know that this will mean a few people getting really frustrated with me because they must have instant and personal response at all times. But I think gently losing them is going to be a a price worth paying for a more measured world.
And I am going to reduce the demand I put on the people I buy things from and prepare for slower responses and longer lead times to resolution. The mental health burden we all put on each other, is simply not worth it.
How does this strike you?