How Long Will Customers Wait for Service?

3 min read ·


Ten minutes isn’t all that long to wait at a doctor’s office or the DMV. In fact, you’re lucky if your wait is that minimal. But a wait that’s longer than 10 minutes in a retail setting could do serious damage to a store’s sales and reputation. In a recent survey conducted by the Great Clips hair salon franchise, too long of a wait is the number two complaint consumers have about retailers (rude staff takes first place).

While 94 percent of customers surveyed think waiting 5 to 10 minutes or less is reasonable, that doesn’t mean they’re happy about it; 48 percent assume your business is poorly run, while 52 percent will choose to simply shop somewhere else.

What else irritates customers? Research shows that slow or chatting cashiers bug nearly 70 percent of customers, 49 percent are annoyed at seeing closed checkout lanes during a busy time, and frustration sets in after two and a half minutes of no apparent progress in a queue (According to research conducted by Cable & Wireless and QM Group.) According to other research, nearly half of all customers will actively avoid the retailer or brand in the future if their wait in the queue was longer than five minutes, and a third of customers report they have abandoned the checkout line when forced to wait longer than five minutes.

The good news is that customers who see the checkout process being actively managed are more willing to wait. You can turn things around if queue management is impacting your services, sales, and overall success.

Here are three methods businesses are employing to make a line feel and actually be shorter:

1. Make it a single.

Why is it more efficient to have one line of customers served by multiple stations than multiple lines of customers at each station? The answer lies in controlling the variation of time a customer might spend in a line. In a multiple-queue, multiple-server configuration, time spent waiting and checking out may vary greatly from customer to customer. Meanwhile, introducing a single-line, multiple-server model can significantly reduce the variance of time a customer spends in the queue. If one service point is blocked by slow service the next customer is automatically routed to an open service point keeping the line moving. The time spent waiting is reduced, the perceived quality of service is increased, and server utilization is enhanced.

2. Remove the line altogether.

For some retailers, the best line is no line at all. Virtual queuing allows the wait to be more laid-back, increasing customer satisfaction and reducing perceived wait times. The virtual queue set-up takes the focus off of the service issues that surround waiting lines, while also enabling customers to shop more while they wait, put their feet up, or catch up on emails and phone calls.Customers simply register at a kiosk, take their ticket, and wait for their number to be called and displayed on an LCD screen. The screens play double-duty, displaying promotions, ads, and videos to keep customers engaged. Some virtual queuing systems have even integrated a mobile element, communicating via text message, which encourages people to wander even further from the queue, or reserve their “spot in line” before they even leave their home.

3. Be more proactive.

Real-time queue management technology uses state-of-the-art 3D video appliances and analytic software to provide actionable information for store managers, analysts, and executives. It allows retailers and other service providers to proactively monitor, predict, and address customer demand to minimize wait time and maximize customer satisfaction. Businesses can more accurately predict when lines will be longest and be prepared with adequate staffing. Such technology integrates open cashier stations with checkout line conditions to predict wait times and service breakdowns before they occur. And they build in dashboards and real-time alerts to monitor demand, performance, and queues, and proactively allocate available resources.

No one likes waiting any longer than they have to. The good news is there are plenty of ways to avoid the doom that can result from long retail lines.

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