What’s your Business Reaction Time?

off the blocksDefinition of reaction time: The interval of time between application of a stimulus and detection of a response.

In sports, it’s important that an athlete possess quick reaction time. Think starter’s pistol and a sprinter surging off the blocks. Or goalie making a save.

In life, think hand to hot stove.

In a television quiz show, think question asked and hand to buzzer to respond.

In business, how quickly do we respond to a stimulus?

There are (unfortunately) countless examples of businesses that choose NOT to react to a customer stimulus in a timely fashion. I’m sure you can think of companies who chose to delay, make excuses or simply ignore a customer complaint. And we all know that, in this day and age, the customer is in the seat of power when it comes to letting the world know of their discontent and disgruntlement.

But what IS the appropriate reaction time for when things go wrong?

It’s important to make a distinction between reaction time and reflex.

A definition of reflex is “any automatic, unthinking, often habitual behavior or response”. I’m sure there have been times when a reflexive action has been taken, rather than a responsive one. Have you ever shot off an email or tweet almost automatically, that you later regretted? That immediate reflexive action can cause great damage.

But a response means that the reaction time – the time between stimulus and response – has been adequately long enough to allow for cogent thought, but not so long as to annoy or frustrate the receiver.

What’s your policy or modus operandi when it comes to reaction time or response? Does it depend on the situation? Does it depend upon who lodged the complaint, and to whom? Do you even have a clear-cut, well understood process for dealing with issues that require a timely response? And what does “timely” mean?

First and foremost, “timely”, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, or receiver. You might think that 24 hours is timely, whereas the customer or complainant might think “same day” response is appropriate. One way to deal with this is to post your response time clearly. If your policy is to get back to someone in 24 hours, then let people know. And of course, then DO it.

Are staff empowered to react and respond to concerns or complaints, and to what level of authority?”For years, Nordstrom’s Employee Handbook was a single 5×8” gray card containing these 75 words:

Welcome to Nordstrom

We’re glad to have you with our Company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them.

Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.”

I love that. Exercise best judgment. If we all only did that, and encouraged our employees to do so, there would be times that someone would be wrong. But by empowering people to exercise best judgment, we’d be right more often than wrong, I’m sure. In fact, if we allowed people to do what business is all about – solve someone’s problem, increase the customer’s pleasure or decrease their pain, we probably wouldn’t have to exercise our reaction time as often. We’d be proactive, rather than reactive.

I also love Zappos employee handbook, which covers off  the topic of solving someone’s problem. And take a look at this video to see just how far Zappos takes being of service, answering someone’s question and exercising quick reaction time.

Are you reflexive, reactive or responsive to customer queries, complaints and concerns? What’s your policy? Do you have it clearly displayed for your customers, and ingrained in your company’s culture? Something to think about.



  • http://www.slymarketing.com Jens P. Berget

    Hi Kaarina,

    I have learned a lot from Zappos, and what they’ve been doing (and continue to do) is just amazing. I have heard a lot of good things about Nordstrom as well, but I haven’t been reading as much about them as Zappos. 

    To me, reaction time should be immediately, and it should come naturally. We shouldn’t have to read it in a handbook, because this is something we should already know and understand. It should be part of the culture. But, working at a University, I know that this is not how it works :)

    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       Hi @berget:disqus . Great to see you hear, and I trust all is going well with the launch and growth of your new business. I must get around and check out all the great things going on:)

      I agree: it would be wonderful if exercising best judgment and solving problems were inherent in a company culture, but often it takes clear articulation, regular reminders and of course, a “speed of the leader is the speed of the game” role model to ensure that people are solutions-based, not problems focused. Cheers! Kaarina

  • http://twitter.com/bdorman264 Bill Dorman

    There is always a certain amount of reaction time needed handling emergencies on the fly, but the more ‘pro’ active you can be to avoid those situations, it keeps you off your heels and more on the attack taking advantage of opportunities.

    I’m out for the day so I will try to make it back later; have a lovely day. 

    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       Hope your day is wonderful too @twitter-34985693:disqus . And taking a proactive stance – planning for and preparing for emergencies or the “unexpected”, rehearsing how one would react – is something that we do in athletics. I know when our athletes were preparing for the Olympic Games we did things like flicker the lights in the gymnasium, we made loud unexpected noises and created distractions so that the athletes would be prepared for things that usually wouldn’t happen. But they knew what they’d do if they did:)

      If we practiced like that in business – by discussing or confirming how we’d deal with the “unexpected” – then people would become even more comfortable with exercising proper reactions. Cheers! Kaarina

  • http://hajrakvetches.com Hajra

    Ok, I don’t know about business but yes, a certain reaction time is expected but there has to be a difference between quick reactions and impulsiveness. A well thought out judgment always makes sense but then a delayed response is harmful again. Striking the balance might be a tricky thing I feel. 

    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       I agree @hajrak:disqus . Reacting like a hand from a stove, or responding with a customer-centric solution are two very different things. But when people are empowered to solve problems to the best of their ability and exercise best judgment, I think the results are positive more often than not. Cheers! Kaarina

  • http://websitesgiveback.com/blog/ Elena Patrice

    This is an excellent post Kaarina! I’m glad you addressed this and a perfect way to start a stellar week!

    I’m such a stickler about customer service and courtesy that I’m borderline obsessive (imagine that! ;)). Response time to me is immediate and done so with ears first and mouth second. It sure pays off though … just look at the examples you state here and the monster success they’ve experienced and the reputation they are known for.

    I can say that with our company that this is definitely one of our stong points and we have some very happy, very kind and very gracious customers because of it. My favorite quote is by Roger Staubach, “There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.” 

    Have a fantabulous day my faraway friend!!

    Sunshine & blue skies to you,


    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       Such a spirited and sunny comment @ElenaPatrice:disqus . There is no doubt about the stellar customer service and attention you pay:) I like that…”done with ears first and mouth second.” Puts my in mind of the quote I also use: “We were given two ears and one mouth to listen twice as much as we speak.” I shall be using your phrase from now on as well:)

      Sunshine, blue skies, rainbows and lollipops to you. Cheers! Kaarina

      • http://websitesgiveback.com/blog/ Elena Patrice

        :) you’re the flat out bestest!!

        • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

           Thanks: I’m smiling from ear to ear:)

  • http://www.thejackb.com/ The JackB

    Timely and appropriate come to mind.

    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       Thankful for those words comes to mine @TheJackB:disqus :) Cheers! Kaarina

  • http://twitter.com/adamtoporek Adam Toporek

    Great post Kaarina! The perfect reaction time is simple in theory but challenging in execution: it is whatever the customer perceives it to be. Usually the industry or setting determine what it is for most people, then there are the ones who do not fall on the typical curve.

    The magic bullet whenever possible is to ask the customer if the reaction time you think is appropriate (or feasible) works for them. “Is it okay if my manager contacts you tomorrow…” etc. As in all things customer service, communication is your best tool!

    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       Great comment @twitter-223833082:disqus . You are so right…it is whatever the customer perceives it to be. And asking the customer is so spot on.

      Asking also works when we’re finding a solution to a problem. Often times, we’re prepared to offer something far more than the customer is even looking for. When we ask, “How can I make it right for you?”, the customer might be looking for a simple acknowledgement and apology, when we were prepared to give away the farm! We shouldn’t presume or assume we know what the customer wants. A simple ask is what’s required. We might not always be able to comply with the request, but we at least know where the customer’s coming from, and can remedy the situation to the best of our ability and their wishes. Cheers! Kaarina

  • http://www.wonderoftech.com Carolyn Nicander Mohr

    Kaarina, I love this post. It’s so true that there must be a balance between reaction time and deliberation. 

    My sport of choice is racquetball where you need lightning quick reaction time. There simply isn’t time to think for many shots. Your instincts have to carry you forward if you want to win.

    But in business contemplation is essential. Reacting to a situation has to be deliberately and carefully planned. You’re right, though, Zappos and Nordstrom have their priorities straight. The customer comes first. Those companies who value profits first soon learn that they have no customers.

    Thanks for sharing your insights, Kaarina! 

    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       @wonderoftech:disqus , thanks for that great comment. As in sports, the more practice and conditioned a response, the more apt we’re able to react and respond in the best possible manner.

      I used to play both racquetball and handball in university, but that’s a long time ago:) Reaction times for those sports require lightning fast reflexes, for sure. And although in business I don’t believe we need be lightning fast, a “timely” response (timely in the eyes of the receiver) is essential. Cheers! Kaarina

  • http://markharai.com Mark Harai

    Great customer service is the number one reason you’ll be in business tomorrow…

    It can also put you at the top of your industry : )

    Hi Kaarina!

    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       So true @markharai:disqus . Cheers! Kaarina

  • http://www.ricardobueno.com Ricardo Bueno

    I echo Mark’s sentiment down below… “Great customer service is the number one reason you’ll be in business tomorrow…” 

    Honestly, I’ve had clients stay on-board with our product because they appreciate the level of service that we provide in resolving issues. I can’t stress how important that is. 

    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       Nice to see you here @ricardobueno:disqus . Thanks for dropping by and commenting: the welcome mat is always out:)

      I agree: service, service, service is so important! What’s the saying? People might not remember what you did but they’ll remember how you made them feel. Cheers! Kaarina

  • http://newenglandmultimedia.com/ Michelle Quillin

    Great post, Kaarina. A business’s reaction time to a customer’s questions, concerns, or complaints can make such a huge difference in the way that customer sees you, and how he or she talks about you to others! And in this social media era of “bad news travels quickly and becomes a firestorm,” every business needs to see each customer as a potential “evangelist” or critic. 

    I assume we all want evangelists spreading the good news about how awesome we are. 😉 

    I love the question,”Do you have it clearly displayed for your customers?” That would help a lot!

    • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

       Indeed @michellequillin:disqus : so many problems could be averted if customers knew “what to expect”.

      I say that every person we come into contact with is potentially one of the following: a customer, client, connector, associate, supplier, champion or ambassador. When we look through a lens only for customers, our field of vision and opportunity is reduced. Cheers! Kaarina