Why “Occupied Time” Is Central to Queue Management

November 19, 2013Perry Kuklin

The thought of standing in a line can automatically get a person’s adrenaline flowing and spur them into action. The long line is what pushes people to arrive at the DMV before the doors even open in the morning or to camp out in front of a store the night before a big sale. But even a low-key business environment that employs queues can prompt people to be antsy, even if the wait is unlikely to be incredibly long. Time can be a deal-breaker – which is one of the reasons why queue management requires so much attention. The simple truth is that occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time. When a customer is distracted from focusing on the passage of time, the wait seems to go by more quickly. People typically have plenty to do to keep themselves busy with a smartphone in their purse or pocket, but savvy businesses don’t rely on an individual’s ability to stay occupied while waiting – they create opportunities to keep their customers distracted and engaged. Plenty of research has been done about the psychology of waiting – and the psychological reactions to waiting. In short, as the length of a wait increases, the perceived wait time increases and, as a result, customer satisfaction decreases. These same studies also suggest that increased distractions improve the experience of waiting and make customers happier so that their perceived wait time lowers in response. Ultimately, empty time is what any business with a queue wants to avoid. Luckily, the solutions for altering perceived wait time are simple and, according to business expert David Maister, “The activity provided to ‘fill time’ should offer benefit in and of itself, and be related, in some way, to the following service encounter.” Here are four great ways to occupy customers that any business can easily implement:

LCD Display Screen

1.Entertain them

Depending on the nature of your business, “entertain” can literally mean digital distractions in the way of videos, commercials, promotions, or even cartoons. Providing some sort of distraction – even employees milling about making small talk with the people in line – provides a low level of entertainment that passes the time and pulls a customer’s attention away from the wait itself.

in line merchandising

2. Let the shopping continue

In-line merchandising fills the role of still allowing a customer to shop while they wait. So even if someone wasn’t quite finished with their shopping trip yet felt pressed for time or that it was necessary to get in line, the opportunity to continue to purchase a few last-minute items is available. Even people who were finished shopping – or thought they were – can be easily occupied by such accessible merchandise.

Queue Text Alert

3. Let them wander around

Virtual queuing is becoming more and more prevalent in all types of business environments. Eliminating the physical line allows people to do exactly what they wish with their time while they wait, freeing them from the confines of a line and the actual act of waiting.

4. Get them started

Certain businesses can sort people into shorter queues to get them started on their transaction. Even if they still have to wait to complete their entire visit, at least there is a feeling of getting started. Restaurants are a good example, providing people with menus while they wait or taking their drink or appetizer order before they’re seated. Time isn’t always on your side in a queue, but there are plenty of ways to twist, bend, and alter time so that customers aren’t focused on how long they’re being asked to wait. Queue management systems that delivers in the way of occupied time will see less reneging and drive-bys and a better bottom line.

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