We Hate to Wait: How to Improve Queue Management

The psychology of waiting is said to have an origin story:

“It was the 1950s, and a high-rise office building in Manhattan had a problem. The tenants complained of an excessively long wait for the elevator when people arrived in the morning, took their lunch break, and left at night. Engineers examined the building and determined that nothing could be done to speed up the service.


Desperate to keep his tenants, the building manager turned to his staff for suggestions. One employee noted that people were probably just bored and recommended installing floor-to-ceiling mirrors near the elevators, so people could look at themselves and each other while waiting. This was done, and complaints dropped to nearly zero.

Source: The Washington Post

Since then, queue management has come a long way. Why? Because a negative wait experience can turn a consumer off a brand all together, as well as creating poor word of mouth.

With today’s digital tech, you can almost do away with queues, as well as gain valuable data to help with operational and staff management. Here are some ideas.

Welcome and check-in

Doesn’t your heart sink when you see a ticketing system and bollards? Today, there’s no need for this old-school approach.

Digital kiosks can take the place of or complement a concierge, allowing customers to check in and find the best way to connect. This might be connecting with their usual consultant, or with a consultant who speaks their language, or escalating a customer with an urgent issue or VIP status. It’s extremely important to get the kiosk selection process right and without getting locked in to a single hardware provider.  A well-designed and environment-integrated kiosk can get 4-7x the use of a poorly designed one.

You can enhance digital kiosks by:

  • Using names, not numbers, for a more personal experience.
  • Allowing a customer to leave your facility and receive a text message when it’s nearly time to come back.
  • Facilitating multi-lingual requirements.
  • Allowing SMS callback to reduce wait time and complement service.
  • Opting a customer in at welcome to provide feedback on their experience.
  • Adding an app that allows remote check in, such as within a certain radius of your facility.

Reduced the perceived wait

Where customers do need to wait in your facility, you can focus on reducing their perceived wait time. The psychology principle behind this is:

Occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time.

You can use:

  • Digital screens with engaging content, such as fun facts or videos
  • Immersive digital window displays with beautiful images of nature
  • Kids’ tablets with ‘edutaining’ games on locked-down hardware
  • Information about the expected wait. One study suggested that for intermediate waits, it’s best to provide information about the expected length of the wait, while for longer waits it’s more effective to provide updates about the position in the queue.

Gather data

Adding a feedback component can give you invaluable experience about your customers’ experience where the pain points are, and can be a powerful input to NPS. You might look at average wait times across stores and staff, and highlight the people and places that need further investigation and training. You can do the same for satisfaction scores to learn what’s working and what isn’t, and take a data-driven approach to improvement.

Gain extra benefits

There are some hidden benefits of better managing queues. These include:

  • Being able to reduce your facility/retail footprint if you do not need to accommodate the whole queue (such as notifying customers of their turn by text)
  • Increasing staff satisfaction by creating a more relaxing environment and happier customers
  • Lower costs, by removing the need for a human concierge
Post by Yazz Krishna

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