Why do we have queues in the age of the customer?


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My colleague Sven, visited a trade fair some time ago and did of course register on-line in an attempt to avoid queuing at the entrance. He was very surprised to find total chaos when he arrived to the fair. There were no queues to get any tickets but all registered visitors needed an identification sticker. The result was even worse than a queue, it was chaos. It was a terrible customer experience.

This is his story….

On-line shopping is also a way to avoid queues. You can relax while you browse to find what you need. A couple of clicks later and you are ready without spending a second in any queue (at least if you have a decent Internet connection). You think that you successfully have avoided all kinds of queuing but then reality hits you. It is time to actually get what you have ordered. In many cases you must go somewhere to collect your items and what do you find? A queue!

This is when you realise that you have failed and will always fail in you attempt to avoid queues. You can move a queue from one place to another or call it something else (it is not a queue, it is a group of people and they are not waiting they are given opportunities for socialising) but the experience is the same. So, is there nothing we can do?

The first thing is to realise what went wrong. In both examples they did the same mistake. They tried to avoid queues when they instead should have focused on the customer experience. Customer experience is brutal in its nature. A small mistake can ruin the complete experience, especially if it is close to the end of the customer journey. It is similar to what can happen when you are on a holiday. You may have two perfect weeks in the sun and then you lose your wallet on the way back home. That holiday will forever be remembered as the one where you lost your wallet and always associated with something bad. The strange is that if the same things happen in the reverse order the experience can be completely different. If you lose the wallet on the way to the holiday and then have two perfect weeks in the sun you will remember it as a very nice experience.

So, what can we learn from this:

– You should focus on the customer experience and not on moving, renaming or hiding your queues.
– The customer experience covers the whole customer journey independent of which channels that are used.
– The total customer experience is more depending on a good ending than on a good start.
– The solution is to take a look at the complete customer journey to identify where it can go wrong. Waiting is not wrong, waste of time is. Queuing is not wrong, chaos is. Avoid waste of time and chaos, not waiting time and queues and you will have a good customer experience through the complete customer journey.

Always tackle the chaos first. If there is chaos there is also waste of time. A typical cause for chaos is lack of guidance. Customers do not know where to go, who to ask, where to find items, etc. Compare your on-line world with your physical world. Your web page is probably full of guidance. There are information texts, wizards, buttons, images, arrows, etc. How is your physical world? There is a high probability that the physical world gives a completely different customer experience than the on-line world.

Arrange the physical journey in the same way as the on-line journey. Have a clear starting point where all customers can start their journey and where you present the different options that are available. Guide the customers to the next stage in the journey. Plan where face to face meetings are needed. Make sure that the journey can end in a positive way (remember that the total customer experience very much depends on the experience in the end of the journey).

Let us end where we started and look at possible solutions for the examples above.

The trade fair had a well designed web page where you could order the ticket. The problem was in the physical meeting. You should always have a clear starting point for the customer journey where you provide information about where to go. This guidance must be short and easy to understand otherwise it is just another obstacle. The choice of technology is not so important. It can be anything from a traditional signboard to a touch screen. Next is to guide the visitors to the registration desk. Do not be afraid to use a traditional and well organised queue. Using a single queue supported by multiple counters is a fast, efficient and fair way to serve the visitors. Combine this with screens showing interesting news from the trade fair and you give the visitors an opportunity to get some information while they wait. End the customer journey with a quick and efficient delivery of the stickers, a welcoming smile and a polite request if there is anything more you can do to help and you have provided an excellent customer experience.

One solution for on-line shopping is to use “click and collect” where you choose the items on-line but go to the store to collect them. Plan the physical journey in the same way as the on-line journey. Provide a well defined starting point. A good idea is to identify the customers at the entrance so that the process to find their items can start immediately. Then guide the customers to the place where they can collect their items. It is tempting to guide them through the whole store hoping that they will buy something more but a better solution is to have a well organised waiting area where you expose a selection of products. Here the customers can wait in a relaxed way perhaps even get a cup of coffee or tea. Again the ending of the journey is important. Customers that have got their items want to leave as quick and easy as possible. Make the exit as smooth as possible, perhaps providing trolleys if there are bulky items.

The conclusion is that it is important to plan the physical customer journey in the same way as the on-line journey.

– Have a well defined starting point presenting all options. It is important that this is intuitive to use and quick to understand.
– Guide the customer from one step in the journey to the next one.
– Have a good ending. Make sure that the customers have achieved what they expected.

So how do we end this journey in a pleasant way? Probably by telling you that achieving good customer experience neither requires huge increase in resources nor is extremely complicated. There is help to get. Qmatic has over 30 years experience in customer experience management with both the knowledge and the products needed to maintain a pleasant customer journey when you go from the on-line world to the physical meeting

Sven-Olof Husmark
Sven-Olof is the founder of Experify, a business consultant firm, Senior Advisor at Egain Group a pioneer in intelligent AI driven energy optimization of buildings and former CMO at Qmatic Group, a world leader in creating better customer journeys.Sven-Olof is a senior executive with demonstrated success in growing companies globally by initiating effective sales, marketing and customer service strategies.


  1. Great post Sven – I love the psychology of queues and the customer experience!

    Puts me in mind of the baggage reclaim at Houston International Airport which was reported to be notorious for complaints about wait times. So instead of investing in process and technology they reconfigured the passengers walk so that they spent less time waiting and complaints plummeted!

    It is impossible to eliminate queues so give the customer something back for that wait time!


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