For most people, waiting in line feels like a waste of precious time. And the annoyance and boredom that can build in customers who must wait is dangerous for any business. One negative experience in a long line can result in lost customers and a tarnished reputation.
As businesses look for ways to improve the customer’s waiting line experience, David Maister’s work on The Psychology of Waiting Lines provides valuable insight and may lead you to question your own queuing strategy. Consider the following:
Is your line just a line?
Waiting lines have a clear purpose, indeed, but when you have only a line and no distractions within it, the wait can feel interminable. Unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time. So providing your customers with distractions while they wait can aid your cause. Some retailers add in-line merchandising, whereas other service-oriented businesses add digital entertainment in the form of promotional stills or videos. A combination of the two can work wonders.
How soon can your customers get started?
The start of a transaction is the end of the wait, so getting savvy about when a service encounter begins will help your customers feel tended to and like they’re no longer officially waiting. People want to get started. This can be as simple as unloading a cart while there are still two people ahead in line, filling out paperwork before reaching the service agent, looking at a menu while waiting, or being escorted to an exam room, even if the appointment isn’t going to actually occur for another 15 minutes.
Does your line have a lot of rubberneckers?
No one wants to feel like they’ve chosen the wrong line. Watching another line move faster than your own is even more painful than waiting itself. Anxiety makes waits seem longer. Some places of business eliminate anxiety and line-jumping by opting for a single-line, multi-server checkout. Then, everyone is in it together and no one is stressing out that another line is “better.”
Do you tell your customers how long they’ll be waiting?
Let’s get real: No business owner is fooling anyone by pretending that the wait their customers are enduring doesn’t actually exist. Acknowledging the fact that a wait is a reality and being up front about how long the wait will be can be the difference between success and failure. Uncertain waits are longer than known, finite waits. People are more likely to wait calmly when they’re told that they have approximately five minutes to wait before reaching a service agent. Don’t allow anyone to ask themselves the question, “Just how long am I going to have to stand here?”
Do you explain the reason for the wait?
Telling patients that the doctor is running 30 minutes behind schedule because of an emergency surgery is much more appeasing then leaving them to wait for some unknown reason. Explaining there is a computer issue that has temporarily delayed every checkout line will at least make the lull in service and the lengthening lines reasonable. Unexplained waits are longer than explained waits. It’s too bad the wait has been extended, but when customers are made to wait somewhere inexplicably, it can create some serious, tough-to-minimize customer rage.
Does your waiting line instill a sense of fairness?
There can actually be one line to serve all customers. A single-line, multi-server solution can make your customers very happy by instilling a sense of fairness. Everyone is in that wait together, and everyone is getting called to a service station as soon as one is available. That person with 25 items isn’t necessarily going to hold up the customer directly behind them because there are three other registers that will open up long before that customer is done with their transaction. Unfair waits are longer than equitable waits. First come, first served—made automatic with a single line queue—is always considered the fairest method of service in a line.
The infographic below covers six tenets of queuing, offering quick tips for addressing these issues in your lines so that you can create happier customers and a better business.