Wait Time Management Techniques and Solutions: An Issue That Plagues Consumers and Managers Alike

Introduction

Today I’d like to discuss with all of you something I am sure we can all agree on: waiting in a line as a consumer sucks. When we go to a store or restaurant, one of the biggest mood killers can be seeing a line that extends past the door, or worse, being stuck in a waiting area for what seems like an eternity. For me, this is especially irritating since my consumer profile is that of someone who knows what they want and purchases in the least amount of time possible. When I get groceries and have to wait in line for 20 minutes I leave with a feeling of agitation. As we discussed in class, there are many different channels that describe wait lines. Regardless of the channel, waiting in line is irritating. Since some entities operate under a preemptive discipline rule, which can be equally as frustrating, management techniques need to be assessed in order to better your operations.

So, in discussing the processes involving managing wait times, I found an article put out by a company whose sole purpose is to increase customer satisfaction by way of managing queues and efficiency. The company, Qminder, is based in the UK and offers a solution to the frustrations faced by both consumers and managers. Qminder discusses four ways to reduce wait time, which is one of the most prevalent issues plaguing managers in the realm of consumer satisfaction. Qminder states that wait time is the most important metric when talking about the efficiency of a queue. There is a psychological aspect of waiting in a queue that can further frustrate customers. A disparity between the actual wait time and the wait time perceived by customers creates frustration and restlessness. So, what can be done to solve this? Here are Qminder’s methods for doing so:

Go Transparent

Essentially, customers do not particularly enjoy being stuck waiting and not knowing the answer as to why there are doing so. A lack of information here can agitate a waiting customer. By being transparent about the issue, you can appeal to your customer since they know the reasons behind their delay.

Give Them Something to Do

Qminder likens this method to “the Disney Way.” Disney does a good job of keeping park goers engaged at most of their touchpoints. According to the article, “the biggest source of frustration when standing in a queue is inactivity.” A customer may feel like they are wasting their time. If you give the customer something to do while they wait, you may very well appease them.

Keep it Fair

It is imperative to keep your customer queues fair and even. There is nothing more frustrating as a waiting customer than when someone who has been there for a shorter period of time is serviced before you. Utilizing rules such as “first in, first out” or “last in, first out” can drastically improve your waiting structure.

Lastly, Make the Experience Enjoyable

Whether this is done by way of actually entertaining customers, being genuine, or providing customers with agency and control, if you make the experience an enjoyable one wait times become more manageable. You can see the article at this link to dive more into methods for reducing wait times.

https://www.qminder.com/reduce-wait-time-with-enjoyable-queues/


What else?

I’d like to also discuss another area that we can all relate to: airport security lines. What else is a better fit for the stereotypical frustration filled example of waiting lines? Here is an area where managers could certainly improve in order to satisfy travelers. One unique way this may be done is through use of biometric measures.

A company called Clear is working towards utilizing biometrics to speed up the security process at airports and other locations where wait times are an issue. Patrons could simply enroll in the machine at check-in, and then re-scan after the initial screening from TSA. This service is already being implemented by airports and sporting venues. I encourage you to read more about Clear at these links:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/08/business/airport-security.html

https://www.clearme.com/home


Final Thoughts

Though this is not applicable to all business models, this is something that may be looked at in future to further reduce the wait times that plague us all as consumers. Since wait times are a huge issue in management practices, working to reduce them will benefit both consumers and managers.

9 thoughts on “Wait Time Management Techniques and Solutions: An Issue That Plagues Consumers and Managers Alike

  • February 22, 2018 at 8:58 am
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    Kyle,

    Your blog post brought up a bunch of interesting points about waiting in lines from both the customer and business point of view. In my opinion, the line I’m waiting appears to much faster is I know exactly how many people are in front of me or what is causing the hold up. You refer to this openness as “Transparency,” and I am a huge fan of this strategy. However, I realize that I am only one of millions of potential customers to wait in a line, and that transparency isn’t always the best solution. For example, my mother would rather not know any information about the line or what is delaying the process, because for her, it makes waiting in the line feel longer. This is why it is so critical to approach this waiting in line problem from many different angles and offer different solutions.

    Giving the customer something to do is my favorite strategy that you mentioned, because when my mind is occupied with something else, I can temporarily forget that I’m even waiting in a line. In addition, making the experience enjoyable is crucial to managing the temperament of frustrated customers who have already spent more time in the line than they had anticipated. Creating a peaceful, pleasant atmosphere, whether that be by managing the temperature, lighting, or sounds in the room, is an understated and under utilized strategy that can be used to satisfy customers who find themselves in your line. Every customer is different, so it’s imperative that you approach this problem of waiting in line from multiple different directions and cover all of your bases.

  • February 21, 2018 at 11:14 pm
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    Kyle,

    This was a very interesting read. Qminder’s four methods seem like the right methods in order to reduce wait time. I do agree with the first method: Go transparent. It’s human nature to want to know what is going on, especially when one is waiting in line. Whenever I’ve been stuck in traffic, it has always irritated me not knowing what is the cause of the delay. So yes, I do agree there is a psychological aspect that must be addressed. I do find fault in the second method: Give them something to do. Waiting in lines is just a fact in life. There’s no way around it. Keeping customers occupied while they wait in line is a great idea but may not work well across businesses. The article mentions Disney, but not every business can create attractions while on line. The fourth method, “Make the experience enjoyable”, is similar to this. Is there anything you can do at the doctor’s office besides having a few magazines? Waiting in lines is something everyone must endure. There are ways to make this process more efficient, but we can never get rid of waiting in line.

  • February 21, 2018 at 9:50 pm
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    Kyle,

    It seems that for businesses, a wait time or a line is just a matter of fact. I’m not sure if there is any one company that can claim to be the most efficient or most on-time. Even Amazon has to deal with shipping delays, out of stocked product, and bad customer experiences. I think it’s interesting to think about the different ways that businesses decide to address this ‘issue’ that they have. Like you mention in your post, the ‘Disney Way’ keeps people waiting in line occupied by games, movies, or other related activities. This made me think of other companies that implement similar ideas. After you order at Starbucks, you are moved to a different area of the store to wait for your drink. You don’t usually see frustrated customers because they are busy watching their food or beverage be made. A similar idea is implemented at Krispy Kreme, where you can watch the donuts be freshly made.

    These kinds of tactics are useful as a way to change their perception of the wait time, and leave your business in an overall happy mood and with a positive experience.

  • February 21, 2018 at 8:49 pm
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    Kyle,

    Thanks for sharing your insight about managing waiting lines. I can totally agree with you that waiting in lines is easily one of the most frustrating things we encounter as consumers. That said, it seems like wait times are just not a priority for most firms, so it’s great to see that firms like Qminder are forcing it the top of the priority list.

    I especially liked the idea of “the Disney Way.” Boredom, in my opinion, is definitely the root cause of the agitation consumers feel while waiting in lines. I think it may be a hard sell, though, to tell a company to commit resources to a product that really doesn’t add tangible value. For firms focused on a bottom line, it seems like trying to convince them that spending money to keep customers busy might be a challenging endeavor.

    Another article on wait times that I found mentions a strategy they call “FAST.” The strategy is made up of four parts (hence the acronym): Friendly to customer, Accurate during transactions, Sympathetic to customers’ emotions about waiting, and Thankful for customer’s time and patronage.

    Without a doubt, managing wait times for firms whose lines build quickly (according to the Poisson model in many cases) is incredibly important and potentially costly. Hopefully firms become increasingly open to the idea of improvement, so that customers like us spend less time frustrated and more time satisfied with the service we receive.

  • February 21, 2018 at 12:43 pm
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    Kyle,
    I really enjoyed your analysis on how to make waiting in lines less miserable. All of those are good suggestions for reducing wait times. I was intrigued by the suggestion you had about reducing the wait times at airport security. Missing flights due to long security waiting lines is the worst case scenario. Using biometrics to reduce the time it takes to clear security is a great idea especially because it can maintain the same level of security and eliminate the risk of human error. Whenever you travel internationally, most international customs gates have an option to scan your passport and have a camera take a picture of you to confirm your identity. Those lines are traditionally very short and quick but if you are unlucky the camera doesn’t recognize you and you have to go to a much longer line to have a person check your passport. I think those same principles could be applied to the TSA security checkpoints.

  • February 21, 2018 at 12:20 pm
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    Kyle,

    These are some great thoughts about the necessity for customers to be able to quickly get through painstaking lines at amusement parks, grocery stores, etc. However, you suggested a structure of LIFO for this problem. You were definitely correct in saying that FIFO is a good structure to have for this problem. It is clearly the most obvious and fair to your customers. However, I am not sure LIFO would be taken well by your consumers. Other than that, you raised some great points about issues that are so prevalent. Management has to tackle so many issues and, as simple as lines seem to be at first glance, they are much more involved. I would suggest to management to make decisions on the amount of workers present. If I were on the management team of a business that has a lot of customers coming in bunches, I would tackle these issues by first figuring out how many customers are going to be coming and what the probability of having a high amount (or low amount) of customers at a certain period of time. Then, I would conduct a break-even analysis for each particular time period I am analyzing. Not only that, but I would look into new projects to reduce the lines. For example, I have attached an article from Disney. At one point, they discuss how they attacked the high demand for the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride in which they built a second carousel to expedite the process.

    link: http://www.foxnews.com/travel/2016/06/03/how-disney-manages-its-legendary-lines.html

  • February 20, 2018 at 10:20 pm
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    I don’t know if EVERYBODY can agree since this is 2018. But I for one, definitely agree. Waiting in lines for an absurd amount of time always leaves me in a frustrated mood. Especially when I feel that the process could be ran much more smoothly. One line that always frustrates me is the Lou’s line around lunch time. This line stretches all the way to stairs anytime between 11:30 to 1:30. The bulk of this line is made up of people who want salads, forcing people to wait long amounts of time even if they only want something as simple as a drink. I believe that this frustration could be solved by using 2 of the 4 recommendations from your post.

    If Lou’s became more transparent with who was waiting in line for what product, the process for those who are only getting a sandwich could be much smoother. This could be as easy as making two separate lines: one for those who want salads and those who want anything else. This would also solve the awkwardness associated with skipping the people in line that you assume to be getting a salad.

    Another recommendation is to keep it fair. It is very unfair for a person to wait in the long salad line when all they are doing is picking up a pre-made sandwich on the side-shelf. Some people choose to wait in the long line for the salad because they have the time to do so. Others are trying to grab food quickly before their next class. Because of this, I feel that it is unfair to make those who are on a tight schedule wait in the salad line when they aren’t even getting a salad. I feel like the wait times could be improved dramatically at Lou’s by using some of these recommendations.

    • February 21, 2018 at 3:27 pm
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      I also agree with your feelings on waiting in line at Lou’s, Daniel. The two separate lines only seem to exist once students are in the physical area of Lou’s. I also feel that an electronic ordering system could be implemented for salads to reduce waiting lines. This way customers could place their order and do work or socialize while they wait for their salad to be made. This would also follow the “give them something to do” strategy which is very effective in increasing customer satisfaction.
      A problem with electronic ordering could arise, however, when there are customers ordering in person and online orders as well. It may be hard for Lou’s to know which customers to prioritize. Fast food establishments with drive thrus always prioritize drive thru customers because if they don’t it can cause a traffic jam. However with Lou’s the traffic is people standing in line. I think to solve this issue Lou’s should have two separate teams – one devoted to taking care of in person orders and another creating online orders. This can eliminate confusion and reduce waiting line times.

  • February 20, 2018 at 1:25 pm
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    Kyle,

    I enjoyed reading about Qminder’s four keys to better customer satisfaction in queues. Like you, I am a consumer who finds waiting in lines to be infuriating in almost every circumstance. Consequently, I find it interesting to think about these four points.

    For one, I find it reassuring when a there is a visible estimate on a waiting time. For example, my local secretary of state office has analyzed their data to provide a very accurate wait time estimate. This transparency removes the constant uncertainty of not knowing how long the wait time will be and allows customers to simply ask “is it worth it to wait that long?” Continuing, I think points two and four go hand in hand and they are both things I have not really thought about before now. Although I hate lines in most situations, there have been rare occasions in which I enjoyed my time in line and was satisfied afterwards. One example of this was my wait for the first screening of Star Wars: Episode 7. Although the line was hours long at my theater, they were constantly showing movie trailers, movie clips, and digital shorts to keep us entertained. Having something to do made the wait a lot more enjoyable and far more bearable.

    I have some issues with the third point about “keeping it fair.” For the most part, innovations in waiting line systems have maintained fairness. My main issue with this is in situations similar to that of Clear in the airport or Quickpass at an amusement park, where the “innovation” is using a premium payment to offer priority treatment. Is it really fair to let people pay to skip the lines? Most business people would argue that it is; you just pay a premium for premium treatment. I personally don’t know. It feels fair until you are waiting in line and somebody cuts in front of you because they paid more. I like the idea of waiting line fairness as a goal for companies, but I just have issues with what defines “fair” beyond a “first come first serve” system. Let me know what you think about the fairness of preemptive priority.

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