Top Queuing Strategies to Cut Perceived Wait Times


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The waiting line experience is proven to be a huge factor in determining a business’ overall customer satisfaction rating.

So, how do you impact the way customers feel about waiting in your line? The answer was hidden in the question. It’s about how they feel. For example, after just five minutes of actual waiting, a customer’s perceived wait time is two times the actual wait time. That’s quite a FEELING.
Distraction is the Name of the Game

Try these top queuing strategies for aligning customer perceptions of time with reality (or even better than reality).

Queuing Strategy #1: Provide estimated wait times

This concept is simple. Known wait times feel shorter than unknown wait times.
By providing customers with an estimate of how long they will be waiting in line, you are proactively managing their expectations. They see a sign that announces a three minute wait and they relax thinking, “Okay, three minutes is not really that long.” They expect the wait and they’re okay with it.

As a manager, your job is to stay true to your projected wait times by meeting or beating them every time.

Queuing Strategy #2: Arm your queue with merchandising

Distractions are key. When people are kept busy they have less time to think about how long they have been waiting or how much longer they will be waiting.

Adding an in-line merchandising system to your queue is perhaps the most effective way to keep waiting customers distracted. Merchandising in the queue is reported to reduce perceived wait times with the added benefit of increasing sales!

Increase the usefulness of your in-line merchandising system with the likes of simple price tag signs, larger format signage, and video displays. Your waiting line will become a place of information, education, and entertainment to your customers. They will no longer consider themselves waiting patrons, but rather people who are learning and doing.
Your business will receive the additional benefits of improved brand and product awareness and increased impulse sales.

Queuing Strategy #3: Get your customers started

Once a transaction starts, the wait is effectively over.

There are several ways to begin a transaction before the customer actually reaches the point of service. For example, a service business can install an in-line table for people to begin any necessary paperwork before they reach the service agent. Not only will customers be distracted from the wait by their task at hand, but the waiting line itself will run more efficiently by eliminating long amounts of time spent at the service counters.

Another example is utilizing a cashier in the waiting line. This employee can begin to collect orders or scan items before the customer reaches the point of transaction. This system effectively cuts actual wait times as well as perceived wait times.

Queuing Strategy #4: Make your queue a virtual one

When in doubt, think extreme. Eliminate your physical waiting line all together. The benefits of this strategy are abundant.

First and foremost, you will literally be giving your customers the freedom to do as they please instead of being forced to stand in a line. They can continue to shop. They can check their email. They can return a phone call. Provide some chairs and they can take a load off for a little while. Your customers will be kept busy by the activity of their choice. They really couldn’t ask of anything better.


Queue management is not always easy, but it is always important. The good news is that even small changes to your queue will start making a huge difference in how your customers feel about waiting in line.

Remember, if customers are distracted they are not thinking about the fact that they are waiting. Wisely focus your time and energy on ways to help reduce both real and perceived wait times. Your customers will thank you for what felt like no wait at all.


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