Waiting lines occur for a simple reason: a provided service is not meeting the demand of the people seeking that service. This manifestation occurs often and is virtually unavoidable in many situations. In fact, waiting lines play an essential business role for numerous retailers, theatres, event venues, and other organizations. These companies have to carefully plan the queuing system that will take their patrons from the entrance to the desired point of service, and out the door. Once the components of the queuing system are designed and implemented, queue managers must track each step of the process with strategic measurements that will help them efficiently manage the waiting line to keep wait times in line with customer expectations. Let’s explore the components that make up the flow of the queuing system and what measurements managers are tracking in order to maintain a successful waiting line.
Entry points are the specific locations where customers enter the queuing system. At this point in time, managers will be considering not only how customers arrive and the ease at which each patron can enter the waiting line, but also at what rate these people are arriving. The arrival rate includes the average number of customers arriving for a given period of time. Arrival rates will vary by season, month of the year, week of the month, day of the week, and hour of the day.
Customers will transition into waiting lines as they enter the queue and realize a service agent is not currently available to serve them. At this point, managers should pay special attention to two very important measurements that will help them determine if additional service agents are necessary or if the physical waiting line needs to be expanded to accommodate waiting patrons. First up, queue length. This measurement includes the total number of customers waiting for service. This number excludes any customers that have already transitioned to the point of service. Next up, the average amount of time customers spend waiting. This measurement encompasses the typical wait times customers endure before arriving at the point of service. This number is very important to managers as it has been shown that most people in a retail environment will not wait more than four minutes for service.
Service channels include the various points of service available to customers. As agents become available customers advance from the waiting line to the specified channel with the expectations of receiving a desired service. Managers have a lot to monitor at this point. What happens at the point of transaction directly affects the entire queuing system. First, managers must establish a priority rule which determines which customer will be served next. A universally fair rule encompasses a first-come, first-served mentality. For organizations implementing VIP or special rewards programs, separate queues are encouraged for these customers. Next, service rates are monitored to establish the average number of customers that are served during a given time period. These measurements can then be used to predict how many service agents will be needed during future time periods to accommodate given arrival rates. Then, managers take into consideration agent idle time which includes the average time an agent spends between helping customers. This measurement is an obvious direct relation to waiting times. Also, a server utilization ratio is established to measure the customer traffic intensity. This number includes the average amount of time an agent spends assisting customers as compared to the remaining given time frame. This measurement helps determine the number of needed service agents in future situations. Finally, managers track the total number of customers in the queue. This number is also known as the state of the system and includes the number of customers in the queue and at the point of service.
Once the customer has received the desired service, he or she will leave the queuing system at a particular exit point. Now is the time managers consider the entire time a customer has spent in the queuing system. On average, how long do customers spend from the time they step in the queue to the time they exit? By paying close attention to each step of the queuing process, managers can determine the efficiency of their queue and strategize on what can be done to improve the overall system for an efficient, cost-effective and customer-pleasing experience.