8 Ways to Design a Queue so Your Customers Don’t Walk Out

August 15, 2017Perry Kuklin

The sight of an unsightly queue can turn even the most faithful of customers on their heels to head for the exit. In fact, a study by Visa Contactless found 89% of people have left a shop or business because of an excessive queue. If your waiting lines aren’t worthy, you stand to lose immediate sales and long-term customer loyalty. So, what’s the answer?

If waiting in line is a reality of your business, there are ways to design your queues to maximize productivity and customer enjoyment. Here are 8 suggestions:

1. Let customers know how long they’ll be waiting.

Uncertain waits feel longer than known, finite waits, says queuing expert, Dr. Richard Larson. That’s why, when customers are provided an estimated wait time, they are less likely to overestimate how long they’ve been waiting and these more accurate waits feel shorter and less stressful.

2. Explain the wait.

Are you short-staffed? Did a credit card machine go down? Are cashiers busy processing many returns? Lack of explanation for a longer-than-expected wait is one of the prime factors adding to a customer’s uncertainty about the wait, according to Larson. In other words, if there’s a reason your waiting line is longer than usual, be upfront about it. Customers are more likely to wait it out when they understand the reason for the delay.

3. Keep customers occupied while they wait.

Another of Dr. Larson’s tenets of queuing says that occupied waits feel shorter than unoccupied waits. Whether you keep your customers occupied with in-queue merchandising to browse, in-queue entertainment to enjoy, or even paperwork to complete ahead of their service, the time goes by faster when not focused solely on waiting.

4. Keep an eye on your wait times.

Are you aware of how long your customers are waiting and how long they are willing to wait before they begin to renege or complain? Monitoring wait times against key performance indicators is one of the often-overlooked basics of good queue management. And today’s plug-and-play technology makes it easy to do.

5. Create a clear clue to the queue.

Are your queues well marked? A surprisingly-common reason customers fail to enter a waiting line in the first place is that they get frustrated just trying to find where the line begins. A clear “line starts here” sign flanked by retractable belted stanchions is all it takes to get customers into your line with less frustration.

6. Automate the call-forward process.

Productivity is key to moving a waiting line along faster. If you’re finding your service agents or cashiers hollering to get the attention of the next person in line, or if you simply want to keep agents focused on serving customers faster, automating the call-forward process is a best practice solution. As a service station or register opens, a signal can be sent automatically to call forward the next person in line using audio/visual cues.

7. Make it fair.

Have you ever walked up and down an aisle of queues trying to determine which will be shortest only to find that the line you joined is moving slower than the rest? It hardly seems fair. And for some customers, the stress of choosing a line and finding out it’s moving slower than another is enough to make them leave. That’s because unfair waits feel longer than equitable waits, according to Dr. Larson. So how can you instill a sense of fairness in your waiting lines? The easiest way is through a single line queue. Having a single line, instead of many, means customers are always served on a first-come-first-served basis. Fairness is built in.

8. Mind the basics.

It may sound obvious, but a surprising number of queues today are without any basis of organization. Allowing customers to haphazardly stand around a service area without a clear idea of where the line should form or how it should progress from start to finish is a sure recipe for chaos. And chaos is a sure recipe for driving customers away. Use stanchions, retractable belts, magnetic base posts, signage, and other queuing basics to establish your queues. Anywhere customers wait, whether at a self-serve kiosk or a customer service station, there should be a well-established queue.

Don’t let customers leave at the sight of an unorganized, poorly-planned queue. Instead, follow these tips to create a positive waiting line experience and keep customers in line to the end.

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