Consumers' patience with the companies and brands they deal with has, in some cases, shortened from 10 days to just 10 minutes in the space of one generation, according to the UK Impatience Index, compiled by Omnibus Research for customer service systems provider KANA Software. This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

The proliferation of digital devices and social networks has transformed British consumers' tolerance of waiting times. What KANA calls the "expectation reflex" has truncated, in a generation, responses measured in working days to a matter of minutes.

"Little more than a decade ago, 10 working days was the conventional commitment of businesses and organisations when responding to complaints; and also the span of consumer tolerance. But this no longer applies," said David Moody, head of worldwide product strategy for KANA.

KANA asked a statistically representative sample of UK adults how frequently they checked for communication responses on their devices. Among the survey's most significant findings:

  • Men are generally more impatient than women. Men will check a device for responses on average every 22 minutes, 30 seconds. Women will check every 26 minutes, 15 seconds.
  • The 65+ age group checks devices more frequently than the 45-64 year old group, reflecting the time they have available and their newly developed digital capabilities. This suggests digitally enabled pensioners will become the prolific and demanding complainants within five years.
  • One-fifth of all social media users will check for a response at least once an hour, with one in 20 checking every 10 minutes or more.

The most frequently checked devices across all age groups were as follows:

  1. Email on smartphone - every 36 minutes;
  2. Checking Twitter for replies - every 39 minutes;
  3. Checking phones for texts - every 48 minutes;
  4. Checking for mixed calls - every 49.25 minutes;
  5. Checking PC or laptop for email - every 54 minutes;
  6. Checking Facebook for messages - every 57 minutes;
  7. Checking voicemail - every 1 hour, 5 minutes.

Not surprisingly, the frequency with which consumers check for messages or responses on any device or channel varied by age:

  • Age 18-24: Every 9 minutes, 50 seconds;
  • Age 25-34: Every 9 minutes, 55 seconds;
  • Age 35-44: Every 21 minutes;
  • Age 45-54: Every 36 minutes;
  • Age 55-64: Every 1 hour, 30 minutes.
  • Age 65+: Every 47 minutes.

"In the past ten years, organisations have lost the 'time shield' previously offered by postal services. The sense that a letter was on a journey and could be anywhere between the sender and the recipient has been lost," said Moody. "Our impression today as consumers is that as soon as we press the 'Send' button, someone should be reading our complaint and working out how to respond. If we don't hear back quickly, our impatience rises."

Public-facing organisations therefore need to recognise that the adoption of social channels is shortening the customer service process and, with smartphones acting as digital umbilical cords, the modern consumer is always connected. "In other words," Moody concluded, "for customer service desks, 'working days' are an outdated concept."