The State of Waiting in Line: There Must Be a Better Way


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A couple weeks ago, I shared a story on LinkedIn about an experience I’d had at a follow-up doctor appointment. Check out the post and add your thoughts, but in short, I waited an hour to see the doctor, at which point I popped my head out of the room I was in to ask if I had been forgotten and to find out how much longer. I was told that there were still four or five patients ahead of me, and it would be at least another hour. I asked for a refund of my co-pay, rescheduled, and left.

I wasn’t surprised by the response to that post, i.e., a lot of “me too.” The global nature was only a little surprising, but plenty of comments from around the world expressing that they’ve experienced the same.

Our time as patients is not valued. Instead, we’re told that if we miss the appointment, we must pay. But there’s no recourse if the doctor wastes our time, causing us to wait well beyond the limits of patience.

The big issue here, I believe, is communication. I get it that emergencies happen or that doctors get tied up or that a patient takes longer than expected, but then let those patients down the line in the schedule know.


We’ve got tons of service providers who use Uber-like apps and communications to ensure you know how long the wait is, where you are in the queue, etc. It’s about setting expectations. But it’s also about common courtesy. Why hasn’t healthcare upgraded to – and adopted – this type of technology? (Don’t get me started on their use of technology. Remember that they all want to get your medical records online? Yea, well, every provider uses a different system (e.g., Healow, MyChart, etc.), and they don’t talk to each other. There’s much work to be done here! But I digress…)

In the comments to that LinkedIn post, someone mentioned an app called Waitwhile, a customer flow management platform, i.e., a virtual waitlist. Using this platform, you allow customers to line up virtually and get notified via text message when it’s their turn. And then about a week later, a PR agency reached out to me about some research Waitwhile had done on The State of Waiting in Line. The opening line of the report states: Waiting in line has been called a “timeless form of torture.” In the US alone, Americans spend roughly 37 billion hours each year waiting in line. Timeless torture, indeed.

They share that Microsoft did some research in 2015 that found that humans have the patience of, well, less than a goldfish. Eight seconds. That’s our attention span. Apparently, goldfish have an attention span of nine seconds!

Waitwhile did this research to assess the impact of virtual queues on that torture. They surveyed 1200+ consumers in the U.S. to see how long they’d be willing to wait and whether a virtual queue would ease the frustration of the wait.

Some of the Findings
  • Apparently, we wait most often in lines at retail stores, restaurants, and pharmacies. Healthcare lands at #4.
  • When asked about how they felt about waiting, a shocking 27% said they don’t mind. That’s shocking to me. Twenty-three percent felt bored, while 21% and 13%, respectively, felt annoyed and frustrated.
  • Given the choice, 70% prefer a virtual line, and 45% said they’re more likely to join a line if it’s virtual.
  • Physical (in-person) queues have a high abandonment rate: nearly 75% of those surveyed said they sometimes leave a physical line before it’s their turn. When compared to virtual lines, less than half leave those. As a matter of fact, those in virtual lines are willing to wait longer because they have the flexibility to be doing something else while waiting.
  • Half of the respondents want to make the wait more productive by completing steps in the process, e.g., completing forms, providing required information, and even prepaying, via an online self check-in.
  • Providers need to be more transparent by providing wait estimates and regular updates.

Remember, those first impressions (that wait, the communication, etc.) are lasting impressions. Set the tone. Set the expectations. Get it right from the outset.


There is a better way, whether you’re a healthcare provider or a retail outlet or some other service that leaves people waiting. My HVAC provider reached out to me this morning via text to schedule my annual AC maintenance. (Yes, we do it well before AC season; same for my heating system.) We set up the appointment via text. I was given a three-hour window for the technician’s arrival, and I was told they will text me 30 minutes before he is due to arrive. I’ve used this company for a few years now, so I do know that’s how it works. They’ve automated some things, but they call, they are proactive, etc.

Communication is one of the most overlooked aspects of the customer experience. I’ve said that for years now, and I think that still holds true. Want to confirm that? Map the journey (with your customers). Take a look at the wait. Take a look at your communications. Hear from them how they feel along each step of the experience. Communication sets expectations, ensures there’s transparency, quells the frustration, and allows the customer to make decisions about whether to stay or go. Communication is a key moment of truth in the customer journey. Are you doing it well?


Oh, and what happened when I finally went to the rescheduled appointment? I waited an hour before the doctor came in. I did talk to him. He apologized and said that being short-staffed has been a challenge for him. Since the original appointment, he had added a physician’s assistant (PA), who came in about 45 minutes after my set time to take some preliminary information for him. Sadly, because he was already so late, I needed to focus the time I had on my treatment and wasn’t able to share with him my ideas on how to improve the experience.

The older we get, the fewer things seem worth waiting in line for. ~ Will Rogers

Image courtesy of billow926 on Unsplash.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Annette Franz
Annette Franz is founder and Chief Experience Officer of CX Journey Inc. She is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, consultant, and speaker. She has 25+ years of experience in helping companies understand their employees and customers in order to identify what makes for a great experience and what drives retention, satisfaction, and engagement. She's sharing this knowledge and experience in her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the "Customer" in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business).


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