For many consumers, the waiting is the hardest part. Whether in a retail setting, office lobby or medical waiting room, people’s tolerance for waiting tops out at about 10 minutes, according to recent surveys. Unhappy customers get antsy, uncomfortable and irritated enough to leave—and to complain on social media and review sites.
In the age of the empowered consumer, improving customer experience is a top priority for 72% of businesses—and helping wait-times pass painlessly is a major area of focus, according to Jeanne Bliss, a customer experience consultant and author of the new book Would You Do That To Your Mother?: The “Make Mom Proud” Standard for How to Treat Your Customers. She cites major waiting-improvement efforts by Microsoft in its lobbies, Dignity Health in its emergency rooms and Hyatt Hotels at check-in.
Businesses of any size can help ease the pain of waiting, with the benefit of psychological insight and affordable technology solutions:
- Change the welcome experience. “People’s impression of wait-time is influenced by how you greet them,” Bliss says. “Think about the experience of the customer walking in—is someone looming over them from a tall counter, focusing on a computer, more concerned with the process than the person?” Front-line people should make eye contact and offer a friendly welcome, using the customer’s name if possible.
- Manage expectations. Tell customers or clients what the wait-time will be. In a recent survey of 5,000 U.S. patients, 80% said that being told the wait-time in advance would minimize their frustration. Use the trick that Disney is said to employ at its theme parks and overestimate the anticipated wait-time. That way, when the wait is shorter than expected, people’s waiting experience ends with a sense of pleasant surprise.
- Keep the queue fair. Perceived injustice—letting in latecomers first, or having some lines that seem faster than others—increases customer anxiety. Many fast-food restaurants and retail locations employ one long, serpentine line rather than many, because the effect is one of “social justice,” which customers crave.
- Give them something to do. Occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time. This could mean relevant (new, please) magazines, or even digital tablets. But you can also get creative: “We provide fun little activities for folks to do,” says Shila Morris, president of the Squeeze In Restaurant franchise in the Las Vegas area. “We have selfie stations where they can snap pics with our famous wooden aliens. We provide hula hoops so guests can have a good time swingin’ their hips while they wait! And we give the little ones a bucket of toys to keep them occupied.” In Antioch, California, All You Can Arcade rents restored classic arcade games to local businesses for their waiting rooms.
- Offer free WiFi. For some customers, the ultimate “thing to do” is to get some work or personal business done on their mobile device. Increasingly, customers want and expect free WiFi to help them do so. Recent research indicates that 96% of customers prefer locations that offer free WiFi.
- Let them watch TV. Even with a wide range of entertainment options, Americans still love their TV and spend an average of five hours a day watching. In a 2015 study, use of a “retail distractor” (e.g., TV) near waiting areas in drugstores and restaurants led to customers being significantly more satisfied with their waiting experience and perceiving the wait-time to be shorter than it actually was. You can choose between packages that include local news and basic entertainment, or offer a wide range of cable channels, with solutions like Spectrum Business TV.
Spectrum Business offers affordable, reliable, high-quality TV for offices, waiting areas, bars and restaurants.
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