Join Jeff Toister for an in-depth discussion in this video Making wait time more bearable, part of Innovative Customer Service Techniques.
- Customers hate to wait. The best solution to this problem is to reduce the time customers have to wait. Unfortunately, that's not always possible, so the next best solution is to influence how long customers perceive they're waiting. A 1984 study by Jacob Hornik revealed that customers overestimate how long they have to wait by as much as 36%. There are several factors that influence this. How long a customer expects to wait is one factor. A wait time that's shorter than expected feels faster, while a wait time that's longer than expected feels longer.
You can influence your customers' expectations by giving them an estimated wait time. Restaurant hosts tell you how long you have to wait for a table. The security line at the airport has signs that say, "The wait time from this point is five minutes." Call centers have hold messages that say, "The expected hold time is three minutes." Just be careful that you can meet or beat that deadline, otherwise your customers will be bothered by the wait. Fairness also influences perception. Wait times seem longer if customers think someone is cutting in front of them.
You can influence this by making sure your system for serving customers in line is fair and nobody is cutting. Competition is a similar factor. If there's more than one line, customers will get agitated if they see another line moving faster. You may have experienced this while waiting to buy concessions at the movie theater. Strangely, most customers aren't positively affected if they're in the line that moves the fastest. When possible, having a common feeder line can avoid this problem, so a movie theater might have one line that directed people to the next available concession stand.
Movement can positively influence perception, while standing still can make the wait feel longer. If your customers must physically stand in line, try to keep the line moving. Line length is another factor. A long line can discourage customers. That's why amusement parks often snake the line for popular rides through multiple rooms, so you can't see exactly how long the line is. Try to avoid to creating a sensation that customers are in a huge line.
Boredom will also increase wait time perception. The solution here is to find a way to occupy your customers. Examples include a doctor's office having patients fill out paperwork, or a call center having catchy hold music interspersed with helpful messages. One restaurant I know passes out hot garlic breadsticks to customers waiting in line. They're so popular the customers secretly hope there's a wait. Unpredictability is the final factor. The wait seems longer when customers have no information about the wait.
Even giving customers an occasional update can make the wait seem more tolerable. Okay, there are a million ways to apply these concepts, and different industries can use them differently. I've created a Wait Time Checklist to help you identify these factors in your organization and look for opportunities for improvement. Remember, reducing actual wait time is the best solution, but if we can't do that, then our next best option is to make our customers' wait time more bearable.
- Identifying the most important customer need
- Making wait time more bearable
- Improving your power of observation
- Avoiding directed attention fatigue
- Increasing teamwork