We Will Be Right With You: Five Tips For Managing Customer Wait Times

Stressful people waiting for job interviewNobody likes waiting. But it seems we spend an inordinate amount of our time waiting for other people – people who are paid to serve – to turn their attention to us. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we have good reason to be upset. Their latest data indicates that each of us will spend over three days each year waiting in line. That’s six months of your life waiting for service. Is it any wonder we get irritated at waiting? But while most of us despise the idea of waiting, many of us are contributing to the problem. Customers enter our places of business every day and wait. And while some amount of waiting may be unavoidable, or even necessary, small improvements to customer wait time can have a significant impact on their perception of our service. Here then, are five tips for addressing wait times.

  1. Eliminate or shorten the wait. Studies have shown that our perception of time is distorted. Customers will almost always report longer wait times than they actually experienced. In an ideal world, no customer would have to wait to be served. But short of that, anything you can do to shorten the wait time (without sacrificing some other aspect of service) will improve customer satisfaction.
    • Cross train staff so that customers don’t have to wait for the one or two employees who can address their request.
    • Beef up staff during peak times. If you know there’s always a rush on Friday afternoons, make sure you have adequate personnel to cover the volume. Study transaction records to determine when your peak times are.
    • Set rules to address occasional high-traffic situations. For instance, you might set a rule that states any time a station has more than three customers in line, another station gets opened. Make sure all staff (the ones you cross-trained) understand the expectations.
  2. Make waiting more enjoyable. If customers have to wait, make sure their time isn’t wasted staring into space or at you. Provide comfortable seating with up-to-date reading material or a television that plays something interesting to them. Try looping a video that shows tips related to your industry. If a customer walks away with more information that when they came in, the wait time will be seen as beneficial.
  3. Minimize irritants. There are two things that really upset me while I’m waiting. One is not knowing why I have to wait. It’s like being stuck in a traffic jam wondering if the cause is a wreck or construction. So acknowledge the wait, apologize, and explain the cause. The other pet peeve is waiting for service while I witness other personnel milling about. I mentioned an example of this last week – my trip to the local movie theater. Why aren’t they helping me? Try to keep staff not assisting customers out of view.
  4. Make waiting part of the experience. Disney World and other theme parks have realized that customers waiting for a ride on an attraction will quickly get irritated unless there’s something to distract them. So they’ve taken to using the waiting line as part of the experience. Think of ways you can utilize this concept. Like filling out information forms at the doctor’s office, time spent engaged in something useful doesn’t feel like waiting.
  5. Reset the wait-time clock. Customers have an internal stopwatch that starts counting when the wait begins. But any time the wait is interrupted, the clock resets. If a customer has been waiting for a while, having someone check in on them – to offer refreshment or even make short conversation – will reset the clock. As a result, the customer’s perception of wait time is reduced.

Waiting may be an inevitable part of the customer experience, but it doesn’t have to be a frustrating one. Try a few of these tips and see how your customers respond.

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