Queues and their management are a perennial problem for businesses.
They’re not much liked by customers either.
However, aims and initiatives to try and make them better often fail, and they can fail to engage customers or, at worst, cause outrage and an additional PR nightmare to contend with.
For example, remember the story about EE, one of the largest telecoms firms in the UK which serves around 28 million customers via its T-Mobile, Orange and 4GEE brands from 2014? Well, in October of that year, EE introduced a new feature, called Priority Answer, which allowed its customers to pay £0.50 ($0.69) during busy times to jump the queue on customer service calls.
EE seems to be persisting with the service, although as an EE customer myself, I’ve never experienced it. However, when it was introduced it caused widespread uproar across the media and from its customer base too. In fact, The Telegraph conducted a survey at the time and found that over 85% of people said they wouldn’t pay for such a service as they didn’t consider it ‘fair’.
Consider other systems that are being researched, like one that comes from researchers at the University of Chicago. Their system allows people in a queue to trade their place in line for a monetary reward. If a customer decides to trade their place in line they receive compensation and move back in the queue. Their model is built on the assumption that different customers have different ‘waiting’ costs, and so some people may be willing to trade their places in a queue for some agreed monetary compensation.
Or, what about more radical approaches that are being investigated by researchers at the University of Southern Denmark. They are looking into whether or not companies could eliminate queuing by either serving the last person in the queue first or by serving people in a random order.
Now, both of these research efforts present interesting and different approaches to queuing compared to the traditional First-In, First Out (FIFO) approach. Moreover, their theoretical models offer clues to where greater efficiencies could be gained by taking different approaches to managing queues. However, whilst their results show that their approaches may work in theory, in the real world further testing has shown that their theoretical approaches suffer as customers value fairness, their ‘place in line’ and effort expended more than any pure utility or financial reward that could be gained by adopting a new system.
Whilst these research efforts are interesting, they don’t provide clear answers to how companies could better manage or even eliminate their queues. So, for now, it looks like queues are here to stay.
However, all is not lost and some some companies are doing innovative things to minimise the negative impact that queuing can have on the customer experience including:
- Making their queue part of their whole experience so customers don’t feel like they are really queuing anymore;
- Informing customers of where they are in the queue and how long they have to wait to be served as a way of making their wait seem shorter; and
- Giving their customers the option of a call-back, within a specific time window or time period, so they don’t have to wait.
The lesson from these various approaches seems to be that when designing a queuing experience, make sure you don’t take just a purely rational and efficiency based approach, as this ignores the emotional impact of any new queuing system.
Moreover, ask yourself how what little extras you can do to either make your queue a part of your whole experience or make the queuing process easier for both you and your customer.
This post was originally published on my Forbes.com column.