You don’t love having to wait for service when you go places. Your customers feel the same way. Yet queues are notorious for wreaking havoc on a person’s day. Whether because the line was too long, too slow, too this or too that, if it’s making a negative impact on your customer’s day, something must change.
The first step to change is knowing where the issues lie. Here are 5 common ways your queue might be ruining your customer’s day:
“Yoo-hoo! Over here! Next customer please!” Meanwhile, customers at the back of the line are wondering why the person at the head of the line is standing there instead of going to the open register. Countless examples of inefficiencies like this can weigh on your customer’s nerves and impact their impression of your operations.
Look for ways to improve the efficiency of your queue using stanchions, belts, barriers, and signage that establish clear entrances, walkways, and service points. Add technology to automate or enhance the process of hailing customers to open service points. And include real-time monitoring of foot traffic, wait times, and service rates to ensure wait times stay in check and staffing allocations meet current demand.
Former Harvard business professor and renowned business strategy consultant, David Maister, wrote an often-cited article on the psychology of waiting lines. In it, he uncovered certain propositions concerning the psychology of waiting. The first and most familiar is that occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time.
Don’t rely on your customers to keep themselves occupied. Give them something to look at, touch, do, or get started on while they wait. A classic example here is the grocery store conveyor belt. Even if the customer is still waiting to be served, the wait feels like it’s over once they start loading their groceries onto the belt. But there are many ways to keep customers occupied while they wait.
Consider in-queue video entertainment or impulse merchandise to keep them occupied AND shopping while they wait for their turn. Combine the two for an extra burst of occupation.
Uncertain wait times feel longer than known, finite waits. This, another of Maister’s tenets of queuing, reveals the most important source of anxiety when it comes to waiting--exactly how long is the wait going to be? When the wait time is known, customers might experience an initial annoyance but they will settle in and accept the wait time for what it is.
Left to their own devices with an uncertain wait, customers will also over-estimate how long they’ve really been waiting. To illustrate this point, customers at a downtown Boston bank overestimated their wait times by around 23%. When a clock displaying expected wait-time was added to the queue, customers’ estimates of their actual wait time were more accurate.
Footfall analytics technology today makes it easy to monitor waiting lines and measure and display wait times so customers know exactly what to expect.
First come, first served is the established modus operandi for waiting in our society. When this unwritten rule is broken, annoyance and frustration runs high. Consider waiting at a busy restaurant where a group arriving after you gets seated before you. Or a multi-line queue where you watch someone who arrived later in the line next to you get served before you. Or a medical clinic where someone who signed in last gets called ahead. Even though there are good reasons, the sense of unfairness can ruin an otherwise positive customer experience.
A single line queue automatically enforces a first come, first served model. But maintaining a sense of fairness is possible, even in situations where you can’t logistically serve people in the exact order in which they arrive. Explaining to customers how the ordering works is one such approach. For example, in a restaurant explaining that a party of 6 might have to wait longer than a party of 2.
Unexplained waits feel longer than explained waits, says Maister. The classic example he references is airline pilots who understand this principle well. When a plane is delayed you will often hear pilots explaining what is going on, whether it be a maintenance issue, air-traffic control delays, safety checks, etc. the explanation helps passengers feel less uncertain and therefore less demoralized about the wait.
Applying this to any business where customers must wait, look for ways to keep your customers informed of the reason for any unusual delays. Whether it is due to an unexpected influx of customers, a broken down register, or a shortage of staff, letting customers know the reason for the delay and your plan to get them moving forward again can ease an otherwise tense situation.
Oh, the stress of a choosing the right line! Why does it always feel like the line you chose was the slowest one? Your customers feel the same. When presented with multiple lines to choose from, it’s very common for customers to compare the one they chose with the others around them and feel stressed about whether they are in the fast line or the slow line.
The simplest way to address this is with a single line queue, which, by the way, is also proven to serve customers faster than a multi-line multi-server queue. A virtual queue is another proven solution, since it rids the physical waiting line all together and removes the ability to compare with other customers. Finally, you can turn to footfall analytics technology to monitor lines and guide people to the shortest/fastest line automatically.
Understanding these 5 queuing mistakes is a good starting point to make improvements that can set your business apart. How will you turn your customer’s day around?