When is Queue-Jumping Okay For Customer Service?


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Queuing—or “lining up,” as we’d say in the States—for a bus in London recently, I watched as a teenager and her friends walking down the sidewalk cut to the front of the line, while the rest of us waited patiently. But the bus driver wasn’t having any of it. He leaned out of his seat at the teenagers, pointing. “Get to the back of the queue, now!”

Beware the cultural norms.

As sales organizations take a more global approach to sales, marketing, and service—mirroring similar moves at their clients—one oft-posed question is: When is it okay to let customers jump the queue?

Of course, if you’re an account manager and your biggest client calls to berate you for a perceived sales or service slight, your mandate is be clear: jump through hoops to make the problem right, even if it means letting your other customers slide in the short term.

Is Queue-Jumping a Cultural Hang-up?

From a service standpoint, however, in North American and British culture—and likely, many others as well—queue-jumping seems to go against notions of fair play and equality.

Of course, we’ve all been in situations where we’d like to do nothing more than move to the front of the line. Such as waiting forever, on hold with AT&T to get one’s iPhone bill sorted out, when you’re paying bills worth hundreds of dollars per month.

But from a customer service standpoint, companies should treat all customers equally, right? And no matter whether a customer calls, IMs, emails to tweets, each customer service issue should be handled in the order it was received—no queue-jumping allowed. Right?

Studying Queues in Amsterdam

As I recently traveled abroad to visit Innoveer’s offices, I was struck by countries’ different approach to queuing. Exiting the Schiphol airport terminal and finding the taxi stand, for example, a sign advised that “you are not obliged to take the first taxi in line.” So I found the nicest looking taxi, and hopped in. Which, in fact, did seem to earn the ire of the taxi drivers parked ahead of my taxi.

But the “no need to queue” provision didn’t strike me as odd. Boarding a tram or subway is an Amsterdammer free-for-all. Some experience with elbows required.

Twitter: One to Many Customer Service

This question of how people line up touches on an interesting phenomenon related to using Twitter for customer service: You’re not just communicating one to one. In fact, as the airlines’ tweets illustrated during the Icelandic volcano saga, by correctly—and perhaps even out of order—answering one customer’s query via Twitter, you’re also potentially providing essential information to hundreds or thousands of other customers.

The first quantitative study conducted on Twitter, and how it gets used, backs up my assertion. Whereas social networks focus more on who is or isn’t your friend and forming relationships—75% of user pairs follow each other—Twitter is more about disseminating information, as reflected by the fact that only 22% of user pairs follow each other. In other words, Twitter functions much more like a news-dissemination service akin to what the researchers call “digital ‘word of mouth'”—albeit one with quite a short lifespan.

Does this make Twitter, as someone recently commented on one of my columns, “not a customer service tool with potential for extra benefit”? In fact, I’d argue that Twitter’s capability to provide one-to-many customer service is just one of its benefits.

Forget Relationships, Be a Reporter?

For organizations weighing how to incorporate Twitter into their customer service plans, the above research adds an important new consideration. Namely, what type of real-time interaction do you want to have with a client?

Before, many organizations approached Twitter primarily from a relationship management perspective. Today, however, they also need to think of themselves more like impartial news providers, and quite succinct ones at that. In other words, provide the best information, and you stand to win the most customers. It’s customer service 101—don’t take shortcuts, do solve clients’ problems—with a Twitter twist.

Learn More

Mastering customer service takes more than responding quickly to Facebook or Twitter. Begin by benchmarking your customer service operation to understand the best, next improvement to make.


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Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adam Honig
Adam is the Co-Founder and CEO of Spiro Technologies. He is a recognized thought-leader in sales process and effectiveness, and has previously co-founded three successful technology companies: Innoveer Solutions, C-Bridge, and Open Environment. He is best known for speaking at various conferences including Dreamforce, for pioneering the 'No Jerks' hiring model, and for flying his drone while traveling the world.


  1. Hi Adam,
    Though your post focuses a great deal on Twitter which is a key piece in the customer service picture, I was even more taken by your simple question “When is it OK to jump the queue?” You noted a very interesting example in Amsterdam that is quite different from here and the UK.

    There is much to learn about different cultures especially if the weight of a company’s business rests on the customer service or care center — the first voice a customer hears when s/he calls with an issue.

    In fact there are regional differences right here in the USA that Americans and off shore call centers know little about and it impacts whether they can satisfy the customers or not.

    Here is a post to expand even further for all to learn:

    Bravo to your contribution to the intercultural aspect of customer service and I will RT it on Twitter.

    Best wishes,
    Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach


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