The Art of Waiting in Line
Donald Norman, a popular usability guru, outlined some valuable design principles for making “good” waiting lines. Several of the principles seem fairly obvious, but it’s surprising how often you see lines mismanaged in environments that could have been avoided.
Here’s a summary of some of the most important design principles for optimizing waiting in lines as outlined by Norman:
- • The human experience - Human emotions dominate the experience of waiting in lines, and emotions are affected by context. If you’re customers are waiting in line or in a waiting play to their emotions and make it as pleasant as possible. A good example of this is Disney World. This includes the smells, the sights and the adorable characters walking around entertaining your kids while you wait.
- • Lighten the mood – Negativity spreads like fire. Keep an eye out for negative emotions of your customers and diffuse them as quickly as possible so that it doesn’t spread. This could be as simple as a quick conversation. Generally, if people feel that their wait time is being proactively monitored, they are less likely to get upset when the wait is longer than they anticipated.
- • Crystal clear – Eliminate any confusion about where the line starts and where it ends. I’m sure most of us have experienced waiting in a line only to find out you were in the wrong one. Not fun.
- • Make it fair – Wait time needs to appear appropriate to the people waiting in line. If there are a lot of people waiting and yet only one cashier or service line is open, patrons often perceive this as unfair and will become disgruntled faster.
- • Change the way the line works – To help reduce wait time, consider have one cashier for two lines instead of just one. This allows the cashier to ring up a customer while the other is putting their items on the counter, getting their method of payment ready, finding coupons, etc.
Waiting is pretty much a fact of life, but it doesn’t mean that waiting has to be a totally negative experience. Take the time to consider ways to improve the wait time your patrons experience. Some ways to improve the wait are pretty easy and low effort. Post a comment and let us know what ways you help to improve the wait time in your business.
Donald Norman, D. (2008.) The Psychology of waiting lines. Read the article here
Improving customer experience is a team effort
Customer experience is everything. If your customers don’t have a good experience they may not come back and you can bet they will tell their friends and family about it. If it was a really bad experience, they might even tweet about it or blast it through another social media outlet.
Everybody has their own ideas about how to improve their customer experience to help differentiate themselves from their competition. Maybe it’s personal greeters at the door, or a really attractive loyalty program. Whatever it is you've got to coordinate these efforts across your business to ensure the right hand is working with the left hand, if you will.
A recent Forrester report states that companies that want to differentiate based on customer experience must transform the way their companies operate. While businesses often have the tools required to identify the areas where they need to make changes, they usually need the help of other departments to put the changes into motion within the business.
Go back to the example about the greeters. If you want to have greeters at the door then you could consider having two during peak hours, one to serve as a greeter and the other to answer questions customers may have upon entering the store. So that means you need to know when your peak hours are and coordinate your staff schedule. Then you need to decide if you need two greeters during slow volume times or can one greeter do other work that helps the productivity of the business, like inventory or helping customers throughout the store.
Being proactive, flexible and productive is key when planning your customer experience strategy. In order to achieve that, you have to coordinate efforts across your business to ensure that operations, sales and marketing are supporting each other.
Patience is a virtue…which many of us do not have
Hating to wait in line is nothing new. In fact, during the long lines in the post-World War II boom led to the installation of mirrors next to elevators. The idea is, give someone something to occupy their time, and they aren’t so ticked off that they have to wait. With the mirrors, people fix their hair, people watch, etc. Once the mirrors were added, apparently almost overnight the complaints stopped. True story. Check it out here in this New York Times article, Why Waiting Is Torture.
Occupying a person’s time so that they don’t realize how long they have to wait is also why there is a whole rack of magazines, gum, candy and other impulse-buy items at check-out lines. Think it’s frivolous? These impulse buy items net supermarkets and other retailers more than $5 billion a year. (Yes, you read that correctly. That’s billion with a “b.”)
According to Richard Larson, an M.I.T. operations researcher who is also considered the world’s foremost expert on lines, the experience of waiting (no matter what for) is defined only partly by the perceived length of the wait. If a person is given something to do that takes their mind off waiting (looking at tabloid magazines, selecting between spearmint and double mint gum or looking at their hair in a mirror) the wait feels shorter than if they stood in line doing nothing.
So what’s the moral of the story? First, avoid making customer's wait. If they must wait, find something, anything to occupy a customer’s time while they wait and you’re golden. Even if it’s just letting them look at themselves in the mirror.
Customers: Love ‘em and keep ‘em
When it comes to an in-store experience, there are countless factors that impact customer satisfaction. One factor that retailers often overlook, but shouldn't is the customer perception.
Studies show that a large number of customers will avoid stores based on others’ negative experiences. Even if they have never been to that store, the customer assumes or perceives that their experience will negative as well. Jerry McGuire had a great line, “Show me the money!” But “Show me the love!” is more appropriate for retailers that want their customers’ perceptions to be a positive one.
In the spirit of Spring, a time of renewal, we came up with a few ways you can show your customers you care:
• Be proactive. Be proactive and identify potential sources of customer complaints so you can nip them in the bud before they become an issue.
• Context is King. Consider customer behavior in context to store conditions (higher than expected customer volume, delays at the check-out, etc.) when making decisions on changing or improving processes
• The neutral zone. Use unbiased behavioral information when determining what impacts customer satisfaction and what doesn't.
Write us and let us know what you do to show your customers you care. Flowers might be nice…but making the check-out line shorter is better.
91% of Americans will buy candy for Easter 2013
Easter is almost upon us. (Despite the extended winter-like weather many of us experienced thus year) It’s so close, in fact, that when I close my eyes at night I have visions of jellybeans. And apparently, I’m not the only one.
According to a festive infographic from CRF, 91% of Americans will be buying chocolate and jellybeans this Easter season and willspend $17.2 Billion on Easter-related items. Easter 2013 will be one sweet day.
Are you surprised by how much shoppers plan to spend this year? These results are consistent with the recently revised NRF forecast for 2013 in which they revised down their 2013 projection of 4.2% growth to 3.4% (excluding cars, gas stations and restaurants). They cire uncertainty about the sequester and the Federal budget.
Do you think Easter spending will beat NRF numbers?
Google and the lunch line
Google compiles a lot of information on a lot of different things. One thing I bet you didn't know they compiled was the optimal time its employees should wait in the lunch line.
What Google researchers found was that the ideal lunch line should be about three or four minutes long—that’s short enough that people don’t waste time but long enough that they can meet new people. This falls in line with other industry research out there about customers waiting in line to check out. Customers typically start to become annoyed after two and a half minutes of waiting in line and if they have to wait five minutes or longer they will abandon the sale all together. So whether waiting in the lunch line or the check-out line, customers (or in this case Google employees) want things to move along quickly.
From the mouths of babes
The Education section of the New York Times, The Learning Network, recently wrote about how parents in some New York City neighborhoods wait in line (starting at 4am sometimes) to enroll their children in summer camps, sports programs and special classes.
After chronicling the tale of these dedicated parents, the reporter turned the floor over to 13-year-old students to answer the following questions:
- What do you wait in line for now?
- What, if anything, would you be willing to get in line at 4 a.m. for?
- Is there anything you’d camp out overnight for?
- What’s the longest line you have ever waited in?
- What do you usually do to entertain yourself while waiting?
- What kind of a line-waiter are you? Mostly patient? Or do you often get uptight and cranky?
- Have you ever cut a line?
- Have you ever witnessed the politeness and order of a line fall apart — when someone cut the line or became visibly angry? Describe the situation.
Check out some of the responses from these kids about what they are willing and not willing to wait in line for and how it makes them feel while they wait. The old saying, “Kids say the darndest things” is very fitting in this case. Here’s a sampling of a few responses.
I would wait in line for a concert that will be playing around my neighborhood because it is my first time being in a concert with my uncle and my brothers. I would be very excited that I would cut in line in front of people just to see the show. If the line is long and I have to wait, the one thing that I would do to entertain myself is listening to music or play rock, paper, scissors game. The line will be boring. This is something that will be worth doing because it is my first concert with a family.
— Abraham R.
There are some things that I would stand in line for and there are some things I would never wait more than five minutes for. The only way that I would wait in line for a long time would be good deals, free stuff, or something that I really really really wanted. I’ve cut plenty of lines at amusement parks and stuff but I’ve never been caught. I cut because I get annoyed or impatient waiting because I don’t like to wait long periods of time. The longest I’ve ever waited in line would be 3 hours and I did not like it very much.
— Jonathan B.
The Science Behind Waiting In Line
You don’t have to be a scientist to know that no one likes waiting in line. Sure, you might be able to send of a few emails while you wait, but just standing there waiting your turn is not America’s favorite past time.
One of the world’s leading authorities on the management of professional service firms, David H. Maister, found that a consumers’ perception of waiting is based on several situational effects that are listed below:
- - Unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time
- - Preprocess waits feel longer than in-process waits
- - Uncertain waits are longer than known, finite waits
- - Unexplained waits are longer than explained waits
So what does a retailer do to combat these consumer perceptions to improve their customers’ experience? Minimize wait time and give your customers something to do, of course!
Advanced video technology exists today that allows retailers to capture and analyze a shopper’s in-store behavior to help modify and improve the overall experience. For instance, retailers can test to see if their customers linger around one display over another or if they react more favorably to a live sales person to guide them to where they want to go. – including minimizing wait time.
When you can see how consumers are moving and interacting in your store, you can begin to create an experience that maximizes the consumers’ experience and minimizes your resources.
See More. Know More.
Maister, David. H. (1985), "The Psychology of Waiting Lines", in The Service Encounter.
Everyone Hates to Wait
Everyone hates to wait. Whether it is in line, on the phone or even in a waiting room with magazines- it just doesn’t feel productive... because it isn't. People make decisions about where to shop and which checkout line to choose based on which one is the fastest to get in and out of.
According to a December 2012 report from Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Experience Radar 2013, 28 percent of consumers make purchases based on convenience. The report goes on to say that in terms of convenience, fast lines matter even more than location and self-checkouts. In fact, fast checkouts account for 30 percent of memorable great experiences.
Knowing that getting in and out quickly is a key priority for its customers, business owners need ensure customers have a positive experience is to be transparent with wait times.
PwC states that you can do this by giving customers information about checkout lines and wait times. Inform customers about wait times and best times to shop ahead of time so they aren’t caught off guard. Once their expectations are set, customers are less likely to become irritated or leave with a negative impression of the entire shopping trip.
So what are you waiting for? Start learning about your customers’ wait times and start slashing them. You’ll be glad you did.
See More Rock Stars
Regardless the season or the reason, I love New York! From spring time baseball at Yankee Stadium to ice skating at Rockefeller Center – New York, New York is one of my favorite cities in the world.
I’m especially excited to attend this year’s NRF Show which may break last year’s attendance number of 25,000 attendees. So much for the death of trade shows.
When I’m not staffing our booth and talking with retail executives about how to eliminate wait times in their stores, I’ll try to check out some of the big events and keynotes that I’m sure will not disappoint.
Mostly, I hope to find time to take behind-the-scenes tour of some of New York’s coolest stores including Ralph Lauren and Whole Foods. If possible, I hope to check out a couple of cool presentations from some of today’s retail rock stars like Howard Schultz and Bill Simon. (Good job NRF!)
Equally impressive is how NRF landed Kofi Annan who will speak on Monday on “Building Strong Nations: The Three Pillars to a Prosperous Society.”
Perhaps I’ll run into you at one of these events. I’ll be wearing buttons, stickers and suggesting that you stop by our booth to hear about our big contests and giveaways.
Can’t wait to see you.