What is a Reasonable Response Time?


Have you ever gotten a commitment from a supplier to provide you with something by an agreed-upon date and have the date come and go with nothing received?  Have you ever left a message for someone to call you to discuss an important, time-sensitive issue, and not received a call back until it was too late to matter, or not at all?  If so, how many of those people got a second chance, assuming you had other options?  I’m guessing your answer is between zero and none.


We are in business to provide a product or service that others want and are willing to pay for, including a reasonable and dependable delivery date.  If we fail to do so, customers will flock to competitors.  This truth also applies to internal customers involved in developing and delivering our product or service.


This Essay will discuss the issue of Response Time from the perspective of an organization either for-profit or not-for-profit. Some organizations will formalize what is expected from team members regarding when to respond and may even go into details as to how to respond, many do not.  How many times have you phoned an organization to request information, been forced to leave a message on the machine and then wait for days or even longer to get a response and in some cases NO RESPONSE! The result is lost business and a bad reputation for the organization.


We will offer some suggestions as to how you can organize your business to avoid this situation, making you more successful, reduce cost, and improve the image of your organization. The following discussion would apply to most businesses. We will not address urgent care type facilities, police, fire departments or other organizations which may require virtually immediate response times.


What Are You Responding To?


How quickly you should respond depends on how the question has been sent. By this I do not mean if they ask nicely, we will respond quickly and if they don’t good luck. What we are referring to here is by what medium has the question been posed. Generally, I like to see a response no later than 24 hours for an electronic communication and a week for mail (or snail mail as it is sometimes referred to).


Electronic Communication


Electronic communication can refer to voicemail, email, text, or messaging from various other forms such as Facebook. I cannot tell you how often I have left a voice mail, text, or email only to have to wait for days or perhaps never receive a reply. Generally, these are people or organizations I do not continue to work with after such poor communication. A proper response could be “Thank you for your call (text, or email or ??). I am out of the office and will get back to you next week (or whatever is appropriate).” You can also say “The Product or Service you are inquiring about is not within what our organization can provide.” You can say “No”, which is an answer and will save everyone time and effort vs. no reply. I have not yet met anyone that has asked for something who would prefer being ignored to a negative response.


This may seem basic, but experience has taught that in certain cultures it may seem more polite to not tell someone that you cannot provide the product or service they requested. To me this is the exact opposite. If I cannot help someone then the best thing I can do is let them know as soon as possible and if I know of someone else that can be of service then offer a referral to someone that can be of help.


Snail Mail

This is an ever-decreasing method of communication in our modern world, but someone may request something from you by mail. If so, then the appropriate response time should be within 5 business days. As with electronic communication the response should be clear regarding your ability to help the person asking and by when. If you cannot help them, say so. If you think can help them then request whatever additional information you need to offer a complete response or supply the complete response within a few days.


Phone Calls    


If you have received a phone request directly and can reply, then do so at the time if appropriate or let them know when you will be able to reply. If you miss the response time you set for yourself then call or contact them through text or email to let them know you will be late and when they should expect the informaiton.


If all of this seems like common sense, it is or should be. Unfortunately, most of us have experienced unresponsive organizations or individuals. In some cases, it may be the culture of the organization which reflects poorly on the management as well as all team members. If this is the case, then systems should be addressed to correct the problem. If it is an individual within the organization then this person should be counseled regarding what the proper response time is. If there is no policy for response time, then read on.


Sample Response Time Company Policy


Consider a Policy Statement something like the following that should be given to all team members to support the efficient operation of the organization.


            At Helpful Team, LLC we strive to provide timely responses to our customers and clients as well as to our fellow team members. This document will provide instructions regarding how we expect all members of Helpful Team, LLC to respond to various forms of communication. If for some reason you will not be able to comply with these instructions, then you should discuss this with your immediate supervisor.


            Phone Calls: Team members should respond to a business call as, “Hello this is “your name” with Helpful Team LLC how may I help you.” By answering your phone this way you have let them know who you are saving both you and the caller some time. Get the caller’s name, company name, phone number, and email if appropriate. If within the call you can help the caller, then do so at the time. If not, then advise the caller when you will be able to provide the requested information and how. For example, it may be that you must send information through a return call or through electronic means such as an email or by sending physical documents. Be clear with the customer/client as to what to expect and deliver as promised.


            Text and Emails: Team members should respond to texts and emails within 24 hours. If the request was to provide certain information within a certain time you should reply with the requested information or when such information will be available. If there is a delay for any reason this should be communicated to the customer/client prior to the expected delivery date with the revised date.


            Letter Requests: Team members should reply no later than 5 business days after the receipt of a written request. The sooner the better. The reply should include all requested information or when such information will be available. If Helpful Team LLC cannot meet the customer/clients wishes, then this should be communicated promptly and if appropriate a suggested alternate source. All letter communication should utilize company letterhead with your contact information clearly displayed.


            This and all Policy Statements should have the Company Information, Date of Issue, and be signed by the appropriate company manager. You may also want to have the team member date and sign the Statement to confirm receipt.


As leaders in our organizations, we should exemplify proper communications internally and externally and at all levels. We should be responsive and clear in all say or write to convey the intended message properly representing ourselves and our organization to those we interact with. To not do so will drive away our collogues, coworkers, friends, and customers/clients. Providing helpful and timely communication will draw others to us and fulfill the mission of our organization.


If you have any questions on this topic or other business related issues please contact us at The Summit Companies.



Leadership is a way of thinking, a way of acting and, most importantly, a way of communicating. Simon Sinek