Managing the customer’s perceived waiting time- Part 2

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An array of studies carried out reveals that individuals and businesses have about a seven seconds timeframe to make a first impression. Researchers at the New York University further buttressed this point as they came to a conclusion that people make eleven major decisions about one another in the seven seconds of meeting. Carol Goman, a body language expert stated that first impressions are more influenced by nonverbal cues than verbal or spoken words. Other insights have also supported this postulation that non verbal cues have a four times impression about a person than what they actually say. Lydia Ramsey is also a major proponent of this school of thought as she stated that, 93% of an individual or a business is judged during an interaction via non verbal data only 7% is determined by spoken words.

You might be wondering what first impression and non-verbal cues have to do with managing a customer’s perceived waiting time. I remember, running down to my local bank Lloyd’s TSB during lunch time to make an account enquiry. Now, lunch time at this branch is a busy and manic period when queues could travel as far as the main door of the banking hall. On getting to the branch, I was sceptical to join the queue and contemplated checking back at a more quiet moment, this was all going through my mind as I joined the tail of the queue and surprisingly was greeted with a nod and a smile from a cashier at till point 4. That was an encouraging sign that the bank staff acknowledged everyone that had popped in with a non-verbal cue, which made the wait in queue less traumatic.

The first impression borne out of the nod I received was that, they appreciated the wait and are trying their possible best to get everyone served as quickly as possible. Acknowledging a customer within the first few seconds is crucial as it leaves a positive first impression and we would now look at an essential point in effectively managing their perceived waiting time. People want to get started:David Maister on the psychology of waiting times highlighted this proposition and my said visit to Lloyds TSB further strengthens the argument. While waiting in queue at the bank, one of the floor managers went from person to person to find out what their enquiry was about and for some customers he gave them slips to fill whilst they wait to get served by the cashiers and a few others was a quick enquiry, which he answered on the spot, thereby reducing their waiting time and ours as the queue reduced drastically.

A plethora of studies have been carried out in looking at how companies can better manage waiting times in a bid to boost sales on one hand and what customer’s perceive to be the most essential elements in queue management on the other hand. Several companies have adopted entertainment, scent and an array of technological approaches in keeping the customer entertained and engaged as they wait in queue to be served. The common denominator is that too long a queue negatively impacts on businesses as a research carried out by Mintel revealed that a third of people asked have walked out of a fashion store because of long queues.

In the same vein, a survey carried out by Barclays revealed that about two-thirds of people have walked out on a queue in shops because it was taking too long to be served while another research by a mobile operator, indicates the waiting time limit of shoppers in a supermarket to six and half minute.Managing the customers perceived waiting times by Dr sue Eccles is not solely relying on entertaining the customers while they wait but also ensuring that adequate staff are deployed to all the tills at busy periods. She summed it up as she enthused: “If you are trying to pay the council tax bill, then you do not want to be entertained. You want simple honesty – no adverts or piped music,”David Maister in his work also noted that anxiety makes waiting seem longer than it is; as customers are left pondering if they have been forgotten. Queuing is an anxious and mental energy sapping process for a customer as several thoughts travel through their minds like: ‘would it get to my turn before my lunch time is up?’ Is the queue moving at all or would it be an eternal wait?’ The aforementioned has led to a summary of key points below that would be cardinal in a company’s attempt in effectively managing the customer’s perceived waiting time.Key points in managing the perception of waiting times:

a) Customers want to be acknowledged within the first few seconds they walk into a bank, supermarket, shop or post office. Verbal or non verbal form of acknowledgement is hugely welcomed and reassuring.

b) Customers want the service to start from the queue by way of having a shop floor manager/assistant finding out about customers queries and pointing them to the right direction

c) They need reassurance from the staff to quench every form of anxiety. A good example is during a rush hour at a train platform, having the train support officials assuring the passengers that the train has several carriages and that it is big enough to accommodate everyone

d) Customers want a rough time estimate as they wait in line to be served as uncertain waits are perceived to be longer than a known timescale.

e) Customers need an explanation as to why they are experiencing delays. In the psychology of waiting times, David Maister stated that, ‘Unexplained waits are longer than explained waits.’ All they need, is an explanation to why there is a delay to their flight or why the train is been held up at the platform.

Both blogs highlighted important approaches to managing a customer’s perceived waiting time- ranging from in-store media, scent and television entertainment to human interaction through verbal or non-verbal means. Queues are most times inevitable like surgery but how well the pain and anxiety of waiting is managed and not merely subdued by anaesthetic, would give some businesses competitive advantage over others.

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