How Wait Times Impact Customer Behaviour
How long are customers willing to wait in line?
Your customer waiting line is the first time a customer interacts with your business. How do we make it the best experience possible?
Sometimes customers seem perfectly content to wait in line, and other times even a short wait is too much. As a business owner, the reason for customer dissatisfaction can be a mystery. Fortunately, there is research that sheds light on what customers find acceptable.
Understanding the customer
The customer experience of buying a product is just as important as the product itself. This is very obvious in the case of Apple. Apple has spent billions of dollars re-imagining the retail experience. Everything from packaging to repair has been curated for a perfect customer experience.
An area that is often overlooked is the experience of the customer before they enter a location. Out of sight, out of mind, as they say. Queues around the block sure make a splash, but they are not for everyone. Not everyone wants to sleep in line in a camping chair, while they wait for the new iPhone to go on sale.
Optimising the customer experience
All businesses are graded on their level of service, whether they are selling a product, such as Apple or Samsung, or delivering an actual service, such as the hospitality or financial industries. If a customer intends to visit a physical location, there is a potential they may have to wait:
- for entry into the location
- for support by a staff member
- to check out
The first law of waiting in line:
S = P – E
where ‘S’ stands for satisfaction, ‘P’ for perception and ‘E’ for expectation.
If you expect a minimum level of service and that service exceeds your expectations, you are satisfied. However, if the customer expected instant service, they will be disappointment with even a short wait time.
A customer satisfaction index (CSI) developed by Davis (1991) 1 has three levels of customer satisfaction.
- High customer satisfaction: when the waiting time is less than expected.
- Acceptable: when the waiting time is more than they want to wait but less than they expected.
- Low: when customers have to wait longer than both the desired and predicted waiting time.
Certainty, feedback, and instruction
A clear and structured queuing system leads to very happy customers. It should include:
- an expected waiting time
- position in the queue
- instructions for what to expect
- the freedom to walk around after joining.
When there is ambiguity surrounding the queuing process such as an inappropriate waiting environment, a poor indication of the state of the line, or an individual’s position in the queue, the result is unhappy customers. Disorganised physical lines can feel unfair to customers waiting in them. It is never clear if everyone is waiting their turn.
Providing updates such as position in queue minimises uncertainty and helps to establish a positive “halo effect” early in the experience.
Not all queues are created equal
First impressions are crucial. Virtual queues are an essential tool in designing a holistic customer experience. Eliminating the initial negative response associated with a long physical line gets you one step closer to creating higher levels of customer satisfaction.
Moving a queuing system online is the first step in creating a great customer experience.