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Yes, I Mind Waiting

By Jeff Mowatt |

How do you let a cashier know that you're in a hurry when you're waiting in line?
a) look at you watch and shake your head
b) sigh, huff, and roll your eyes
c) complain to others in the line
d) say to the person at the till, "We're in a hurry here!"
e) all of the above

If you answered positively to any of these options, then you're like most of us who definitely do mind waiting. Lineups are frustrating. They are barriers that prevent customers from fulfilling necessary and often tedious tasks. That means that if you don't manage your lineups properly, you'll lose business due to customer frustration. Not to mention your staff will be stressed-out. That's a lose/lose scenario.

Most managers think the best way to manage a lineup is to get the staff to work faster. Often, this only creates worse problems. Consider the impact on your staff of trying to work at full speed. It's impossible to go flat-out without eventual burn-out. Morale drops. Turnover increases. Tired employees make more mistakes; which take even more time to fix.

Ditto for the negative impact of working faster on your customers. Only a fool would want tired, aggravated employees interacting with customers. Working faster to get through a line-up cuts short the human interaction that creates customer feelings of loyalty.

In the long term, working faster doesn't work. Instead, we need ways to reduce the stress of lineups for both customers and staff - without working faster. Here are ten:

1. Warn the customer in advance
Ever been frustrated by the long waiting-room lineup to see a doctor? (I, know - stupid question). Though delays can happen for legitimate medical reasons, some doctors' offices reduce patient frustration by phoning in advance and warning them of the delay. If your customer calls and says that they plan to come in, suggest the best times for them to drop-in to avoid waiting.

2. Schedule time for preparatory tasks
If you know the customer will have some "preliminaries" when they arrive - such as filling out forms, suggest that they arrive early to complete them before the scheduled appointment or event.

3. Acknowledge people entering the line
Too often, the first time the employee acknowledges the customer is when they get to the front of the line. That means a person who wants to spend money is being deliberately ignored. Lousy strategy. Instead, acknowledge customers with a "Hi there!" or "I'll be with you in just a few minutes!" as they enter the lineup.

4. Organize the line
Often, people don't mind waiting if they can avoid standing in line and yet still keep their place. Some restaurants and medical offices give customers pagers so they can go shopping while they wait. They're paged just before it's their turn.

5. Distract and entertain the customer
A sociology experiment found that the best way to speed-up a slow elevator was not to add a faster motor. Instead, they added mirrors to the inside of the elevator. People got so caught-up in looking at themselves they thought the ride was twice as fast. Lesson: you can reduce the perceived length of the lineup with a distraction. Examples:
- Restaurants could offer reading material to people who are dining alone
- Disney theme parks provide video updates about the ride you waiting for
- any unusual conversation piece will take your customer on a mental holiday. A Orlando hotel distracts guests waiting to register by herding live ducks to the fountain in the lobby.

6. Provide comfort
Provide seating, food and drink. On busy Saturdays, a Calgary car wash brings you free pop and hot dogs while you wait in your vehicle.

7. Amuse the kids
Prevent frazzled nerves for everyone by providing a play area for toddlers. Parents will love you for it.

8. Update the customer of progress
Even if you're not completely ready for the customer, you can still let them know you're working on their behalf. A travel agent, for example, can phone the client to inform them that they've booked the flights, and are working on the hotel.

9. Explain unusual delays
If it's an unusually long delay, apologize to the customer, explain the delay and thank them for waiting. When a pharmacist explained to me that his assistant had quit that day, so he was short staffed, I didn't mind the wait. If he hadn't pointed that out, I wouldn't have returned.

10. Increase staff at no extra cost
If your lineups are sporadic you can increase capacity on the spot without spending extra money. Carol Chuback, manager of a Greyhound Courier Depot, installed a doorbell under the cashier's counter. When the teller notices more than 2 people is line, he discretely rings the doorbell signaling to a co-worker in the back to come to assist at the front counter.

Bottom line - no one likes lineups. But that's no reason to ask staff to burn themselves out. By getting creative you'll boost your repeat business, and you'll make the buying experience more pleasant for everyone. That's what I call win/win.

Canadian, Eh!

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