guide to effective queue management

Building Great Queue Management: A Step-by-Step Guide for Any Business

Waiting has become a significant, almost inevitable part of our lives.

Which makes it that more surprising that managing waiting experience is something that many companies still struggle with.

Let’s review what these companies are doing wrong and, more importantly, what you can do right when it comes to queue management.

What queue management is

We’re not going to bore you with historical details — you can read the history of queues and queue management in our article here — so let’s get straight to business.

Queue management is the process of managing waiting lines and customer flow for the purpose of improving customer experience and service staff productivity.

You’ll probably agree with the first half, as it is largely self-evident, but what about that last part: staff productivity? Improved by queue management?

Believe it or not, that’s one of the many side-effects effective queue management can have on your business and employees.

In fact, let’s give you a taste of what you’re in for if queue management that you implement is not up to the task:

  • Bad queue management puts you at a competitive disadvantage: 74% of your customers would shop in a competitor’s store if the queue time there appears to be quicker.
  • Ineffective queue management causes conflicts: 27% of consumers get annoyed by fellow shoppers when queuing, with 19% of shoppers having had an argument with a partner or friend in a queue.
  • Poor queue management costs you revenue: long queues are costing retailers up to £12 billion each year in potential sales losses.
  • Bad queue management affects purchasing: increasing the queue length from 10 to 15 customers was found to reduce purchase incidence from 30% to 27%.

Scared yet? That’s only the tip of the Bad News iceberg that awaits the companies that refuse to invest in wait line management.

So, the question right now should be not so much “what is queue management?” but rather “what is good queue management?”

And here, we can offer a few helpful pointers.

Defining good queue management

To paraphrase an old proverb, there is more than one way to queue a customer.

But no matter what, the elements of exceptional queue management stay the same.

  • Queue management is almost invisible: customers are not acutely aware of queues being a part of their experience.
  • Queue management is based on self-service: customers know what they want and how they want it; they can sort out their own check-in.
  • Queue management is empowered by data analytics: you can only improve what you can measure, and queue management is no exception.

So how does all of this relate to improving experiences and staff productivity?

To understand the biggest benefit to good queue management, we must consider for a moment the so-called Parkinson’s Law.

In 1955, historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson came up with a humorous law that was based on his experience in the British civil service. The law stipulates that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.

And here’s the part where we apply Parkinson’s Law to queues.

The other side of this law is that liberation of resources results in reinvesting these same resources back into the original context. That is to say, if you free up customers’ time by reducing wait times and taking the frustration out of the picture, they will spend this time window-shopping or engaging in impulse purchases.

Similarly, by lifting the burden of having to manually manage crowds, you help your employees gain confidence in your business and their role in it. No longer needing to focus on visitor management, they are now free to keep making service the best it could be.

This is, in essence, what good queue management can bring you.

With that out of the way, let’s get down to what actually makes queue management effective — the principles of wait line management.

Principles of effective queue management

1. Offer self-service check-in options

One of the first aspects of queuing — check-in — can be completed by customers on their own, with the help of self-service kiosks.

In fact, self-service is a major principle behind good customer service in general: not only when it comes to check-in, but also the matters of support.

Customer check-in by the way of self-service allows you to achieve:

  • Faster checkout: using self-service kiosks helps cut down wait times, by bypassing the usual period of wait and giving the customer the control.
  • Greater flexibility: customers can check the appropriate service line and provide additional comments as to how they want to receive the service.
  • Decreased employee workload: no longer having to manually manage walk-in customers, employees get to focus on providing higher-quality service.
  • Reduced operational costs: decreased workload results in saving labor and time costs.

2. Address perceived wait times

This point is important for the very simple fact that explained wait times feel shorter. See our Psychology of Waiting to learn more about the science behind wait times.

The long and the short of it is, perceived wait times are often unrelated to the actual passing of time. Even if customers have actually been in a queue for only a couple of minutes, the social and emotional circumstances may lead them to think the wait is much longer than it is.

To borrow an old example, when you wait for your date to arrive, minutes turn to hours; when you finally get to spend your time with the date, hours turn to minutes.

If the overall experience is unpleasant, visitors will pay too much attention to waiting, and their customer satisfaction will plummet.

That’s why you need to make sure that customers:

  • Know what estimated wait times are.
  • Understand the reason for any delays.
  • Get regular updates and alerts.

3. Optimize agent efficiency

Effective queue management is impossible without having trained service agents who are equipped to handle any issue in a timely manner.

These are the questions you need to ask yourself:

  • Are my service reps working efficiently?
  • Is it taking too long to perform a given service step?
  • Are all service agents performing on the same level, or are there those whose performance lag behind?

Regarding monitoring and measuring employee performance, the purpose should be not to punish those whose efficiency is lacking, but to see it as coaching opportunities.

In the eternal battle between a carrot and a stick, the carrot wins 100% of the time.

Moreover, you need to give your staff the tools that would maximize their effectiveness. A queue management system needs to have alerts for when a queue needs attention.

For example, a common issue that any service rep can correct with a digital queue management system is to assign a visitor to a different queue.

Say, a visitor has misclicked and joined the wrong queue. In a business that does not care about queue management, that visitor would have to re-join the queue and effectively start from square one.

Giving your service agents efficient queue management tools makes sure this doesn’t cause needless frustration.

4. Drive excellence through data analytics

The previous point is moot unless you learn to rely on hard service-related numbers.

  1. What is the average wait and service time?
  2. How many customers a day/week/month do you get?
  3. What are the peak hours?
  4. Which location/service line is the most popular?
  5. How is a specific location performing, as compared to the rest?

If you need to dramatically improve the results of your queuing strategy, you need to be able to get easy answers to these questions — and more.

Reporting, tracking and statistics are all an integral part of a great queue management system. It allows you to identify hiccups and bottlenecks in your existing environment.

Moreover, it also lets you further personalize your service. When your service reps get access to the history of interactions of a given customer, they can better understand their needs, wants and preferences.

Earlier, we mentioned how queue management should be almost invisible, so as not to make customers think too much about how much they spend waiting.

The opposite is true, as well: by making the queuing process much more pleasant than that of your competitors’, you can ensure that it’s something that customers not only remember but also come back for.

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