When it comes to waiting lines, and any queuing system for that matter, we look for ways to understand why lines form and what the waiting times may be, and to determine how many service agents or cashiers are needed to adequately handle the inflow. The overarching goal of queue management is to improve the customer experience while minimizing the cost for servicing the inflow of customers.
This goal can be achieved by studying the customer’s waiting time before receiving service, the length of the queue, and the number of customers in the entire system, and then providing an adequate number of service channels to ensure that the servers remain reasonably busy. To be effective, the system needs to maintain a certain level of customer throughput to avoid congestion and to minimize customer’s discomfort.
That’s the theoretical side of queuing. But let’s consider the more practical side. Specifically, what happens when there’s an upset in the balance of customers waiting and service capacity. This is when long lines form, customer frustrations rise, and customers can be lost. 3 common reactions can occur when the balance between customers and service capacity is overthrown:
Let’s look at each of these responses in turn and strategies you can use to prevent customer loss and frustration:
Customers dislike the appearance of a long, snaking line. Disney understands this all too well, which is why they hide the length of their lines through many twists, turns, and hidden sections. When a customer decides not to enter the waiting line at all, it’s called balking. And balking is something most all businesses would like to prevent.
The solution to balking is not a simple one. Instead it requires a holistic approach to queue management that sends the right signals to customers that (a) they won’t be waiting too long; (b) you have the right staffing in place to address their needs as quickly as possible; (c) they are in the shortest possible line; and (d) the result will be worth the wait!
Here are a few tips to reduce balking:
Jockeying, or moving from one queue to another, can occur because customers feel they have chosen the ‘wrong (slower) line’ but it can also occur because the wait feels unfair. Perhaps they’ve just had someone cut in line ahead of them or their line has a slow cashier or a customer ahead of them is performing a lengthy, complicated transaction. When the customer enters one line and then switches to a different one, the reason is clear. They want to shorten their wait time.
The easiest, most sure-fire way to remove jockeying and the stress that accompanies it, is to employ a single line queue. A recent BusinessInsider article, Why You’re Drawn to Slower Checkout Lines, points out there's a reason people always feel like they chose the wrong line in a multiple line environment. The reason is, “the mathematical odds are stacked against you when you're trying to pick the fastest of more than two lines.”
There is just too much variation in the time a customer can end up waiting. For example, in a three-line, three-register environment, the probability an individual will be in the fastest line is only one in three. Additionally, the gap between the shortest and the longest wait is usually an extremely unfair spread. A single line queue, on the other hand, removes the variability and is proven to result in lower average wait times along with instilling fairness in the queue since everyone is served on a first-come, first-served basis.
A sorry sight for any business is a customer who enters, then leaves the waiting line before being served. Talk about a lost opportunity. Research has shown that, on average, people overestimate how long they’ve been waiting in a line by about 36%. This is a big contributor to reneging but it’s not the only one. Consider these common reasons for reneging and prevention tips:
Balking and Jockeying and reneging, oh my! Let the tips above help prevent frustration and the loss of customers.