The ‘Happy’ Queue

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Queuing for service is a test of patience. Customers might abandon their effort when the wait time becomes intolerable or conflicts with their plans. There are many ways to enhance queue experience.

  1. Inform and manage expectations

Standing in a queue builds anxiety. When informed, customers can decide whether to wait patiently or make changes to their plans. On highways, electronic signs are used to warn travelers about potential bottlenecks and the anticipated time to go through certain junctions. With the information, travelers could take a detour. At airports, the security screening entrance has a display indicating the estimated time to go through security screening. The information manages expectations and prepares travelers mentally for the queue.

  1. Offer options

Customers want to have their need addressed as quickly as possible. Their needs might not require the attention of a live agent. Self-help options are well received these days. Consider the self-checkout in grocery stores and the frequently answered questions on websites. Both are great options for the customers to take care of their own needs. They require the customers to do some work but many of them are just happy to avoid the queue. Many call centres offer the options to leave a message or the choice for a call back. Both free up the caller’s time in the interim.

  1. Provide a pleasant queue experience

For situations where waiting is inevitable, providing a little entertainment helps to make the wait time feel less lengthy. Disney theme parks are excellent in this regard. Restaurants are also fairly good. Some offer free appetizers. At the Nordstrom cafes, customers place their orders and are given a number to place on their table. A server brings the food to the customer when it is ready. Customers can relax, comfortably seated, while waiting for their food. Drug stores provide the customer a buzzer so that he could roam around, may be read a magazine while waiting for his medication to be filled.

  1. Use a traffic director

Having a traffic director does two things. First, he provides directions based on his up-to-the-minute observation of the situation. He gives the customers a sense of best effort in handling the situation. Second, he offers some comfort that the issue is acknowledged and is being addressed with his presence. For instance, passport application requires the applicant to do it in person. With a traffic director, she checks that all the necessary information is complete before directing the applicant to an appropriate queue for renewals or new applications. Reviewing and sorting needs help to speed up transaction processing and facilitate resource reallocation quickly to better serve the customers.

For the customers, the shorter the wait time the better. The worst experience is having to go through one queue for one thing and another queue for something else. The levels of anxiety and likely, frustration, go up many folds. The strategy to manage queues is more than configuring processes to expedite the handling of transactions. A creative finesse could effect a mental shift that makes a big difference in the queue experience.

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