There are as many ways to manage queues as there are reasons to optimize the efficiency of your queuing system. Everything from a pen and paper check in process at a doctor’s office, to a single line queue at a pharmacy, to a more automated virtual queuing system at the DMV can help serve people more efficiently.
But how can you be sure the queue management system you’ve chosen is the optimal solution for your unique business? When you consider customers are likely to abandon a queue after only 2 or 3 minutes if it's not moving fast enough, it pays to get it right.
Here are 5 questions to help you evaluate the health of your existing queue management system.
When it comes to waiting in line, perception and reality are intertwined. When the wait feels long, it is long. And when it is long, it feels even longer. In other words, it’s important to address both sides of the waiting experience: the way it feels and the way it really is. Studies have shown that after 5 minutes, a customer’s perceived wait time is 2 times the actual wait. And half of customers will purposely avoid a brand in the future if they had to wait longer than 5 minutes.
What are you doing to make the wait more enjoyable, to keep customers occupied, to reduce the stress of waiting? If you’re doing enough, the wait will feel shorter. Likewise, is your queuing system moving customers through the line in an efficient manner? Are you balancing staffing with demand to minimize wait times? If you’re doing enough, the wait will be shorter.
Perhaps the only thing worse than waiting in the wrong line is watching another line move faster than the one you’re in. If your customers aren’t clear about which line to wait in for the service they desire, your system needs improvement. And if you find customers jockeying and craning their necks to find the fastest line and then appearing disappointed or actually reneging on their place in line when they find another is moving faster, you’ve got issues with your queuing system.
When customers are clear on why a line is moving more slowly than expected, when they’re told how long the wait time is expected to be, and when they’re kept posted on the status of their place in line, their wait becomes far less stressful. If instead, your approach is to hide the issues, ignore the mounting waiting lines, or under-report the estimated wait time, you will quickly find customers over-estimating how long they’ve been waiting, becoming frustrated about the length of the wait, and likely avoiding your queues in the future.
Is it possible that your customers could be doing something more productive while they wait for service? There are two ways to think about this. First, consider that once the service gets started, the wait is effectively over. Grocery stores understand this well as they have customers begin to unload their carts before the cashier is ready to serve them. Once the groceries begin to load onto the conveyor belt, the wait is over. Are there ways you can get customers started sooner?
Second, consider whether it’s really necessary for your customers to wait in line at all. What if they could wait while they continue shopping? Or if they could set an appointment to be served at a set time? Or if you exchanged the waiting line for a comfortable seated waiting environment?
Is your staff busy managing waiting crowds? Trying to get the attention of the customer who is next in line? Manually directing people to the fastest waiting line? An effective queue management system will have tools to empower staff to serve customers more efficiently and effectively. This can range from push button solutions that call the next customer forward to mobile apps that allow staff to text a waiting customer, re-queue as necessary, and maintain appropriate wait times.
Looking back at your answers to the questions above, how would you rate the health of your queue management system? If you’re not happy with the results, it might be time for a refresh.