What is Your Wait Tolerance?


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Yesterday I sought to clog my arteries by getting a ‘FAST FOOD’ lunch from a Burger King drive-thru. It was anything but fast. The total process took 19 minutes. Not about 15 minutes… NINETEEN minutes. Yes, I am an A-Type personality and that is why I know it was nineteen minutes. I entered the line at 12:25pm thinking it would take about 5 minutes and would leave plenty of time for my 12 minute drive home where a repair man was meeting me at 1:00pm. By the time I grabbed my bag with burger and fries at 12:44, I was a nervous wreck thinking I was not going to make it in time. I am sure the others in the line who had to make it back on time to work from lunch break were equally frustrated. By definition fast food is expected to be fast. When it is not, customer service is judged as poor and this poor rating is mentally filed away in the consumer’s future choice memory box.

Today I had a similar experience. Once again a drive-in scenario, I had to pick up a prescription at Walgreens. I sat right next to the huge plate glass window where except for the glass I could have reached out and touched one of three pharmacy staff busy helping customers inside the store. Did any ONE of them make eye contact with me or lean into the mike to tell me they would be with me in a minute during the SEVEN minutes I sat parked right next to them? NO they did not. After one clerk finally asked my name and info, she then disappeared around a corner out of sight and did not return for SIX minutes. At the end of a long day (now 7:32pm) this transaction lasting a total of THIRTEEN minutes did not make me a happy camper.

What are the lessons from these less than satisfactory close encounters on the front lines?

  1. Know the time expectations of your customers. Know that these may vary at various times of the day (i.e. if I am on a 30 minutes lunch break, you better not take 20 minutes of it!)
  2. Know the times of day where bottlenecks occur and OVER staff to avoid customer angst. Better to spend an extra $12 on an extra body than to lose hundreds or even thousands of dollars in future business.
  3. When you are not able to meet a customer expectation, apologize and promise to do better next time. Have a system where front-line personnel can report to management when customer bottlenecks have caused a service breakdown.

In my next life I hope to never need fast food, never have repair men waiting, and be so healthy that I never need a prescription (could these possibly be related?!). Until then, I will hope that the retailers who serve me have put themselves in the worn out shoes of the customer and staff accordingly. And in my dreams, I would also hope that they had trained staff how to heal the wounds if the inevitable time delay occurs!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Teresa Allen
Teresa Allen is a nationally recognized customer service speaker and customer service author. Allen is owner of Common Sense Solutions, a national training and consulting firm focused on bringing common sense to business and life. Allen is author of Common Sense Service: Close Encounters on the Front Lines and is co-author of The Service Path: Your Roadmap for Building Strong Customer Loyalty.


  1. A lot of food establishments nowadays have poor customer service. They have to remember that customers are what makes their business grow. If they keep pursuing poor service then a lot of customers won’t go back to them anymore. I understand that they might be busy and that I am not the only customer whom they need to serve but shouldn’t time management be a part of their training?


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