Americans spend 37 billion hours per year waiting in line, according to some estimates. And because the time it takes to serve a customer isn’t zero, waiting lines are a fact of life. For operations managers the challenge is to balance the cost of providing faster service against the cost of making people wait. And since waiting is inevitable, an equally important job of a queue manager is to extract the maximum possible value from an individual’s time in line. After all, if you’re making people wait it should be worthwhile (for you and for them).
Here are five great ways to make waiting in line worth the time.
1. Make it Faster and Fairer with a Single Line Queue
Let’s talk basics. Deciding on a queuing configuration is the foundation of a successful waiting line system. In a single-line queue, the sight of customers hurrying to get in the “short” queue to beat another customer is irrelevant since everyone has an equal wait in a single line. This sense of fairness – inherent in a single line configuration — reduces anxiety and perceived wait times, thereby reducing the value-degrading consequences of reneging and balking.
What’s more, a single line queue with multiple servers has proven to reduce actual wait times by as much as 30 percent. How? The answer lies in controlling the variation of time a customer might spend in a queuing line. In a multiple-queue, multiple-server configuration, time spent in a queue may vary greatly from customer to customer. A single-queue, multiple-server configuration reduces that variance and makes the line more efficient.
2. Increase Impulse Sales with In-Line Merchandising
As many as 65%of all retail sales are bought on impulse so it’s no wonder that in-line merchandising has become a tried-and-true practice. Boosting impulse sales at checkout involves placing irresistible items in front of customers on their way through the checkout line. Something as simple as a stanchion-top merchandising bowl (clear acrylic to make merchandise instantly visible) is shown to dramatically increase sales of last-minute “reminder” items. It’s like taking candy from a candy jar! In-line merchandising panels that allow for hanging baskets and trays neatly display items while also serving to form your queue.
Innovative companies are also turning to in-line merchandising combined with digital signage to increase impulse sales. Informative and entertaining video and interactive digital signage placed next to related merchandise in the queue serves as a virtual sales person to drive impulse purchases at checkout by as much as 400 percent.
3. Get the Show on the Road!
David Maister, famous for his research on the “psychology of queuing” says it simply, “People want to get started.” He explains it this way: “People waiting to make their first human contact with the service organization are much more impatient than those who have ‘begun.’’” In other words, the waiting seems over once the transaction or service begins. Unloading your cart at the grocery store is the beginning of the end. Banks and other service centers can give people the opportunity to complete paperwork while standing in line. Fast food restaurants can send representatives into the queue to begin taking customer orders. Retailers can send associates into the line to relieve patrons of armloads of clothing and begin the process of folding and prepping for the register. Medical clinics can send nurses in to take vitals before the physician is ready. Getting your customers started before they reach your service point increases both the efficiency of your line (read: value!) and the satisfaction of your patrons (read: even more value!).
4. Call Them Forward with Electronic Queuing
Electronic queuing systems facilitate customer flow and service efficiency by almost 35 percent thanks to overhead LCD monitors and audible announcements alerting and directing customers to the next available agent. With electronic queuing systems, not only are customers notified of their turn to be served, but service agents become more productive – especially those on the peripherals – as they use their “available agent” call buttons to call customers to the counter. What’s more, electronic queuing systems track everything. And when service agents know they’re being tracked they tend to not waste time in between services, resulting in even greater value.
With electronic queuing, customers no longer feel the need to worry about surrounding lines in an effort to jump to another shorter, faster queue. People who are tempted to renege will hang tight to the promise of their number being called, rather than deterred by idea of an unreasonable wait. Plus, electronic queuing can keep eye rolls at bay as promotional stills and videos between queuing prompts keep customers distracted. Eyes on the screen mean eyes away from counting the number of people ahead in line.
5. Bring on the In-Line Entertainment
We know that occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time so smart managers look for opportunities to embed entertainment and other attention-occupying features into their queues. The art of distraction is very powerful, and your line-waiters will feel like their time in the queue is next to nothing if their minds are engaged on anything other than the fact that they’re waiting, tapping their toes, or looking at their watch.
Aside from offering efficiency gains, electronic queuing gives you the opportunity to entertain and occupy people as they wait in your single line, multiple line, or virtual queue. Promotional stills or video can be played alongside or between queuing prompts to keep your customers engaged and happily (or at least not unhappily waiting).
Plenty of other entertainment opportunities exist outside of electronic queuing systems. Disney is one of the best in the business at turning a line into an entertaining experience. An attraction at Epcot featured cameras and large interactive screens that allow visitors to see themselves and play games. People waiting in line for a comedy show at Walt Disney World were asked to text message jokes that may be used during the main event. All in the name of entertaining people while they wait!
Clever in-line signage, touch-screen displays, trivia, even a simple magazine can keep people occupied. Just don’t go overboard or the effects can be reversed. (Consumers are fickle, you know.)
Transform Your Waiting Line System
You’re only as good as your last sale… and if your customers are walking away feeling dissatisfied or your sales are less than expected, something needs to change. Make the most of your customers’ time in the queue by implementing the strategies described above. In the end, your efforts to increase the efficiency of the checkout queue, decrease service times, and create a more pleasant queuing experience will have a dramatic effect on your business: Fewer customer walkaways, greater impulse sales, enhanced shopping experience, and ultimately a greater bottom line. Talk about a win-win-win-win!