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4 Strategies to Manage Customers' Wait Time

4 Strategies to Manage Customers' Wait Time

by Julie Lamski

No customer likes to wait. Smart businesses strive to minimize not only actual wait time, but also perceived wait time -- the amount of time that customers think they waited, regardless of how long they truly waited. Because perceived wait time directly affects customer engagement, it is imperative to manage it in every customer interaction. Here are four strategies to help you keep your customers' perceived wait time to a minimum:

  1. Appoint a service leader to coordinate customer-employee interactions. Perceived wait time is reduced when an employee greets customers directly, learns the purpose of their visit and then directs them accordingly. These greetings make customers feel as though employees are immediately noticing their needs and beginning the transaction right away -- as opposed to customers waiting in line before speaking to an employee. There are different ways to achieve this goal.

For example, in many cellphone stores, employees record your name and the reason for your visit. They set expectations for your wait and direct you to the area of the store most relevant to you. At stores with multiple checkout lines, tactics include having an employee direct customers to the correct line (express or standard) and keeping lines at equal lengths. At a bank, this may mean having an employee greet customers at the door and direct them to the correct place in the branch to begin their transaction.

  1. Keep it moving. Customers want to see that all employees are actively working to move customers through queues. Every employee should operate with a sense of urgency and avoid what might easily be perceived as idle conversations or tasks. This reassures customers that employees are striving to help them as quickly as possible. If employees are not engaging in activities that serve customers when times are busy, they should take those interactions off the floor. In those instances, what employees are doing may very well have a large impact on the customer experience -- but from the customer's perspective, it is just two employees standing there talking to each other or an employee on a computer. Customers may think that employees are not taking the time to put their needs first.

  1. Give customers something to do in line. When customers in line engage in an activity while waiting, their perceived wait time can be reduced. Televisions near lines or waiting areas or magazines lining checkout aisles are classic examples. If customers need to be prepared for their transaction, have employees or signs nearby directing them on what steps to take. To reduce wait times for everyone, ensure that customers are ready to go when it is their turn. This strategy also gives customers something productive to do. For example, banks should ensure that customers waiting in line have everything they need for their transaction (deposit slips, debit cards, paperwork) before it's their turn.

  1. Be "FAST." Even after customers are out of line and at the point of employee interaction, perceived wait time can be diminished. It all depends on the employee-customer interaction: Customers are happier and have lower perceived wait times when employees are "FAST" -- Friendly to customers, Accurate during transactions, Sympathetic to customers' emotions about waiting and Thankful for customers' time and patronage.

To increase satisfaction at the point of service when waits are long, managers should ensure employees:

  • make things easy and are knowledgeable when assisting customers
  • communicate that customers' time is valued
  • demonstrate that customers' business is appreciated by making them top priority when it's their turn
  • meet every customer need before ending the transaction

Bottom line: Businesses have to get service delivery right each and every time. Delivering exceptional customer service should always be a company's first priority. When it comes to overall satisfaction with the visit, service always has a greater influence on perceived wait time than any of the items mentioned above. If the company fails at service, it fails the customer.

A negative service experience could counteract the shortest of wait times if all the customer remembers is poor service. On the other hand, an exceptional experience at the point of transaction may help a customer forgive a long and less-than-ideal wait time.

The very best companies understand how to move customers through the queue and how to treat them once they get to the front of the line.


Julie Lamski is Practice Manager, Marketplace, at Gallup.

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