Fed up of waiting?

I guess – like me – you’ve probably encountered that rugby scrum at foreign airports.

This was us last weekend, queueing for security – or so we thought!

The departure hall was chaos. The supposed queue for security weaved in and out of check-in queues, and to put it mildly, it was a shambles.

At first we joined what we thought was the end of the queue only to be accused of queue jumping. We eventually found the back of the queue, and waited patiently, watching the queue get longer and longer behind us. Finally two airport staff started to put out barriers in an attempt to mark the snaking route of the queue.

However, to our dismay and frustration, everyone who had been behind us in the queue was now suddenly in front of us, and we were at the back of the queue again. You can imagine, we were not too pleased!

None of us like to be kept waiting. We always think of the 101 things we could be doing instead. Whether it’s waiting in a queue, being put on hold, waiting for a slow web page to load, waiting to part with your hard earned cash, or waiting in for a delivery …  Any of these situations can try our patience. And so often these moments are a customers’ first or last impression

So why do businesses think it’s acceptable to keep their customers waiting?

I don’t just mean long delays; sometimes it’s just short waits that can aggravate us. Such as waiting for acknowledgement of a phone call, booking, an enquiry, or merely your presence – you know those moments when you approach the counter or enter the room and it takes what seems like an eternity for anyone to look up and make eye contact, let alone finish their conversation with their colleague and give you a welcoming smile.

Queues and being kept waiting are never going to be popular with your customers. Apart from acknowledging and thanking customers for their patience when they have been kept patiently waiting for even a few moments, what else can you do to minimise the impact? 

1. Prevention is better than cure

  • By monitoring your busy times, you can adjust your staffing accordingly (ensuring appropriate training is given to anyone who is redeployed to ‘help out’).  I’m afraid I’ve never quite understood businesses who are inevitably busy at lunchtime, but still schedule staff lunch breaks to clash with their peak times. You wouldn’t expect restaurant staff to have their break at lunch time so why would any other business dependent on lunch time trade do so?
  • If you have self-service areas, or payment machines, help speed up the process by helping customers; you can avoid the time it takes them to read instructions, which might reduce your transaction time by half, thus reducing queues.
  • When you know you’ll experience peaks and troughs of activity triggered by events such as the weather, road conditions, publicity, news coverage – whatever it might be – monitor it and prepare for it.  Even if you don’t have enough space, equipment or outlets to serve more customers at any one time, can you at least have people on hand to deal with any queries, print out bills or act as ‘runners’ to support those dealing with customers?
  • Do customers ever have to repeat information they’ve already given, double back to access things they need, or duplicate processes, which not only wastes their valuable time, but takes more effort on their part?  Just because this is how it’s always been done, isn’t a good enough reason to do it that way!
  • Do you give customers accurate information so they can get to speak to the right person first time around? Or do you have some generic phone number that takes customers through 5 (or even more) options before they can even get to speak to a human being? Give them a direct number next time so as a valued customer they can jump the ‘queue’ to go directly to the right person.
  • Stick to agreed times for returning calls, meetings, deliveries. If you’ve agreed a time or deadline, stick to it.

2. Give customers a choice

  • If there is a delay, does the customer wait, or do they opt for something that doesn’t involve waiting? That might of course depend on just how long they have to wait. When we are put on hold if we’re told we are 2nd in the queue we are far more likely to hang on than if we’re told we are 10th.
  • So let you customers know – is it expected to be a 2 minutes wait or half an hour? Being honest (and not making false promises and under estimating) allows to customer to make an informed decision. If you need to put someone on hold, ask them first if this is OK; don’t just assume they’re happy to hang on.
  • How many times have you waited in for a service engineer or delivery that then doesn’t materialise? If you say a parcel will be delivered or the engineer will call between 12 and 3 make darn sure they do!  Better still, narrow that window down to an hour, or less.
  • At the very least give notice if you can’t deliver your promise. Being kept informed is not about making excuses!  It’s about keeping the customer informed of the situation and giving them options…
  • When you know you have particularly busy periods, let customers know this in advance. This way you give them the option to avoid these times; a win-win, as this helps even out your peaks and troughs.

3. Capitalise on waiting time

“Your call is important to us”. Unfortunately it doesn’t make us feel any better!

  • If people do have to wait, make this as painless as possible. Can you divert people from queues to other options to achieve the same result? Cut red tape and open up alternative channels where you can.
  • Can customers be doing other things whilst queuing which will save time once they get served – filling out forms, reading information that might help with their buying decision, processing payment? At the very least being kept informed of progress and seeing the queue moving.
  • Make waiting time a pleasurable experience by offering your customers something to distract from and compensate for their wait. Share information, offer them a seat, provide refreshments, etc.
  • And if you’re now subconsciously thinking you couldn’t afford to do this every time someone has to wait; it’s time you reviewed your customer experience. Waiting should be the exception, not the norm. (And compare this investment to the cost of losing the customer altogether.)

4. Save your customers time and effort

In the same way that anything that wastes time for your customers can be an irritation, anything that saves your customer time will add value.

  • Review all the touch points on the customers’ journey – where can time be saved; waiting for web pages or images to load, phones being answered more quickly, keeping on top of orders so purchases can be dispatched quickly.
  • Offer an express service, line, process, phone number, etc. for your existing loyal customers. Make them feel special and valued. Even for new customers who are time poor, introduce a quick option that saves time – at a premium price if you need to – you may be surprised how many take you up on that.
  • A minute here, and a second there may not seem much individually, but add them all together and you might save your customers considerably time.
  • Even if the way you do things in your business are “industry norms” can you be the first to break the mould and do things differently. Look at what Metro Bank are doing to change the norms in banking, for example.

However, remember you don’t want customers to feel rushed, so apply time savings sensibly and appropriately.

Never compromise quality for speed.

5. Engage your team

  • Set your expectations with team members. How quickly should the phone be answered? What’s the expected time-frame for returning customer calls? What’s the process for contacting customers if there’s going to be a delay?
  • Never allow speed to become an excuse for staff members to cut corners or make mistakes.
  • Give your team members the relevant training to work efficiently, and provide cross training so people in other departments can support the customer facing team at peak times.
  • Consult with your team to find efficiencies, and ideas on ways to save time both for themselves and customers.
  • Monitor the tools and resources available to your team to ensure these are allowing them to work as efficiently as possible.
  • Listen to your team when they say they are stretched, or when they feel time-frames for dealing with customers are unrealistic. Believing you are under resourced causes stress and frustration for team members, and is bound to have a knock-on effect on the customer’s experience.

It’s a fine balance. Test and review and tweak accordingly.


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