Managing the customer’s perceived waiting time- Part 1


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Waiting in line or queuing is a social and business phenomenon that occurs in everyday life and could be prominently found in a post office, grocery shops, airports, mobile phone shops or high street retail shops. Queuing as expressed by Moon and Fishbash (2010) comes with psychological and economic cost to both customers and companies respectively. This has informed businesses and academics to conduct wide-array of research and insight analytics geared towards mitigating the negative effects of queuing on the customer’s perceived experience.

David mainster(1985), a great contributor to the research on the psychology of waiting times came up with a formula: S=P-E. According to him ‘S’ stands for satisfaction, ‘P’ for perception and ‘E’ for expectation. He further enthused that P and E are both psychological in nature thus highlighting the point that ‘S’ (Satisfaction) could be attained when a customer’s perceived ‘P’ experience of a service exceeds their expectation ‘E’. Have you ever been in a situation when you went into a store for a service and expected it to take quite a while for the issue to be resolved and by a snap of the finger the issue is fixed? If your answer is yes to that, then you are likely to leave the shop satisfied as the perceived experience exceeds the expected service or time frame. The excitement and relief that greets the faces of many customers that go into a store, get served and leave within a reasonable time frame is quite evident particularly in the telecoms sector.

Hwang and Jones (2005), in their research on the perception of waiting times in different service queues argue that many solutions employed by companies are geared towards cutting down on actual waiting time than focusing on the perceptions of waiting times. They added more dimension to the debate by stating that businesses are confronted with a gap between a customer’s perceptions of waiting times and actual waiting times.

This first article in the two-part series of ‘Managing the customers perceived waiting time’ would focus on one of the eight propositions of David Mainster’s work on the psychology of waiting times.

Occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time:

Companies are introducing solutions via technological products on the shop floor or service points to help entertain and engage customers whilst they wait. We would look at a couple of these products that could assist a company in mitigating the perceive waiting times of customers.


Firstly, television entertainment is a common product used by many businesses as the Harvard business review revealed that bank branches with television programming in their lobbies witnessed the overestimation of wait time drop from 32% to 26%. According to axis satellite, a leading provider of television entertainment, a customer’s waiting time would negatively affect their willingness to spend. They further argued that on the contrary, television entertainment can reduce a customer’s perceived wait time and spur their willingness to spend.

‘An unoccupied waiting time provides the customer with much time to consider how the competition could be better’- Dateme Tubotamuno


A common feature in the waiting areas of most stores is the music generated from the audio systems. This is a very useful tool employed by businesses to help engage and entertain their customers whilst they wait to be served. I have had a wide array of experiences when either the in-store audio was too loud, too quiet or just at the perfect level.

‘Having a sound system on the shop floor does not equate to entertaining the customer in an engaging manner but not having it too loud as to hamper communication or too low to make them wonder if the speaker is faulty’.- Dateme Tubotamuno

Mood media is an industry leader within providing several solutions in improving the customer waiting experience. Their music solutions help brands engage with their customers and achieve results. They provide branded music, major label music and rights-included music to help make the customer experience memorable. I have had experiences in a queue, waiting to be served and one of my favourite music goes on and I instantaneously sing along, making the queue move along faster than I earlier thought. Music could create the right atmosphere for a customer as it could create a tranquil atmosphere in a morning trading period and an energetic shop floor experience during lunch-time rush hour.

‘Customers are entertained when they hum to, sing along or nod to a shop floor music but are engaged when all these stops them from staring at their watch or time-piece fanatically’- Dateme Tubotamuno.

Music seems to be a universal language that helps to improve customer experience by reducing the gap between the perceived waiting time and the actual waiting time.


This is a very important aspect of the waiting time experience that seems to be overlooked by many businesses. Some people love to go for window shopping in a perfume shop because of the fragrance-laden shop floor environment. There is much power in creating a soothing environment inspired by scent.

‘When your customers inhale your brand through your unique, fresh and aroma-laden environment, they would exhale recommendations to family and friends’

– Dateme Tubotamuno

Mood media are among the pioneers of the scent design as a tool to improving customer waiting time with their ScentAir product. They believe that the sense of smell has got a large impact on a customer’s mood, behaviour and emotions toward your brand. They utilised this technology with Guess on the fragrance ‘Seductive’ that are used in the retailers stores. This fragrance creates a lasting impression with the guess brand and engages the customers with its refreshing scent as they queue up waiting to be served. Scent is a very good way of creating a refreshing and engaging environment that aligns the perceived wait time of a customer to the actual wait time.

Scents are invisible but are powerful enough to impact on customer’s behaviour as they wait in line to be served. The rhetorical questions are: would you queue up in a shop floor soothing in a refreshing fragrance or one belaboured in an offensive odour? Scent could be employed by businesses to engage their customers in the shop floor and make the perceived waiting time seem faster than the actual time.

If the scent in a shop floor is refreshing and moderately flashy, it makes queuing seem like a snapshot. -Dateme Tubotamuno

As companies get confronted with the business and social phenomenon called queue they have to continuously design and employ strategies in helping improve the customer experience.

Dateme Tamuno
Dateme Tamuno (Tubotamuno) is currently working as part of the SEO and PPC delivery team for UK based digital agency, Cariad Marketing. He has also completed a book on user-generated content marketing.


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