Email Response Time Expectations and the Best Times to ‘Batch” Email Checking [SURVEY]

iPhones.  Blackberries.  Gmail.  SMS.

There are more ways than ever for businesses to stay in contact with their employees, contractors and clients.  And there’s no doubt that technology is allowing many of us to increase productivity and provide better, more timely customer service than ever.

On the flip side, managing the information overload — especially from email — is becoming a major challenge for business owners.

It certainly has becoming a challenge for me.  Like many professionals, I’ve sat down at my laptop to do a “quick” perusal of my inbox, only to become trapped in an hours-long effort of responding to the seemingly endless stream of incoming messages.

In addition, over the years I’ve created the expectations that I would be “available” online at all hours of the day to provide almost-immediate responses.  In addition to creating unrealistic expectations — it often led to email logjams that actually decreased productivity.

So, what to do?

Over the holidays, I re-read Tim Ferriss’ excellent book, Four Hour Work Week, specifically the portions about email management.  The crux of his recommendation is this: Batch email checking and only check a few times a day (see here.)

Sounds great, but for someone like me that was a serial, every-few-minutes-email-checker … email batching was a scary prospect.  So I decided to survey my colleagues, fellow professionals,   LinkedIn network and Twitter followers.

The purpose of the survey was to find out what these fellow professionals thought about email batching, what “batching” times they think are acceptable, and what kind of email response times they think are acceptable when dealing with clients or contractors.

I received 38 responses to the surveys.  Here are the results:

Question 1 – What do you think is an acceptable email response time in communicating with clients?

  • 35% of those queried shared that they believed that 2.5 hours was an acceptable response time to client inquiries via email.
  • 32% shared that half of a day was an acceptable response time.
  • 27% said that it was okay to respond to emails within a day of receipt.
  • Only 2% said that they expected consumers to receive a reply within an hour.

Question 2 – If you were trying to limit the times during the day when you check emails and reply to them, which of the following do you think is acceptable?

  • 49% of respondents shared that they felt 9AM/11AM/2:30 PM/4PM were acceptable times for checking emails.
  • 24% agreed that 10AM/1PM/4PM were acceptable times to check their email.
  • 27% shared that they felt 11AM and 4PM were nicely spaced times for checking their business emails and sending responses.

Question 3 – In setting expectations from contractors, consultants or partners with whom you do business, what is acceptable to you in terms of their response times to your emails?

  • 5% expected their emails to receive a response within one hour.
  • 32% say that they would like their emails to receive a response within 2.5 hours.
  • 43% are fine with their emails getting a response within a half of a day.
  • 19% are satisfied with their customer service experience if they receive an email reply within a day.

Further, to sum up the general theme of the open-ended comments left by respondents:

  • If you set the expectation that you will be reachable at all hours for immediate responses to emails — then clients will hold you to that expectation, no matter how unreasonable.
  • If people really need immediate or priority responses and/or action, they shouldn’t only rely on email, and a phone call is appropriate.
  • In many cases, a simple email acknowledging that you received the email is good policy — even if you don’t respond to the specific request right away.

What do you think about these results?  Would you consider using these recommendations in your daily workflow to better manage your email?

Please let us know in the comments section below!

Here are some graphics showing the full survey results.  Please feel free to share with your social networks and colleagues:


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