Innovative Wait Management


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Customer wait has two sides…the actual passage of time and the perception of the passage of time. Sometimes, we are okay with allowing the service provider to play with our perceptions like a theme park entertaining us while we wait or shaping our expectations of wait time (“If you are standing here, your wait time is 15 minutes). And, sometimes real time matters a lot…like critical appointments, package delivery, or waiting for an ambulance to arrive. But, real or perceived, in today’s times-up world, wait time factors heavily into customers’ evaluations of their service experiences.

The most innovative organizations are those that make wait itself a positively memorable experience. Instead of disguising wait, they punch up the space between arrival and being served. A large arena matches the event inside with an awesome experience at the ticket counter. For example, if the main attraction is an athletic event, the crowd in line might be treated to players signing autographs. A theatrical performance on the arena stage might have mimes or magicians playing the delayed crowd.

Anyone who has been to a Cracker Barrel restaurant not only walks through a magical gift shop to get to the hostess, but is treated to restaurant walls filled with memorabilia. The menu is fashioned after a Farmer’s Almanac and brain teasing toys adorn all the tables. By the time the home cooked style meal arrives, it almost feels like an interruption to the entertaining wait.

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company has gone to school on the customer’s experience clock. Should the entre be delayed for some reason, the wait staff “presents” a delighted extra appetizer “compliments of the chef.” The surprise is typically as unique as it is delectable. And, the impact? It recalibrates the wait clock for guests. But, the subliminal message is crystal clear: we care very much that we have not met your time expectations and are seeking atonement for our slip-up.

Make the big hand on the customer’s clock move quickly by ramping up the fun meter! What clever ways can you make wait time truly a great customer experience?

Chip Bell
Chip R. Bell is the founder of the Chip Bell Group ( and a renowned keynote speaker and customer loyalty consultant. Dr. Bell has authored several best-selling books including The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service and, with John Patterson, Take Their Breath Away. His newest book, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service, will be released in February.