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Rethinking Queue Management for Increasingly Impatient Consumers

Rethinking Queue Management for Increasingly Impatient Consumers

Rethinking Queue Management for Increasingly Impatient Consumers

As part of Solutions Review’s Contributed Content Series—a collection of contributed columns written by industry experts in maturing software categories—Christoffer Klemming, the CEO and co-founder of Waitwhile, explains how rethinking queue management can help companies manage their customers.

Humans aren’t very patient creatures. Waiting has been called a “timeless form of torture,” and the associated costs have been well-documented. We’ve all heard the centuries-old aphorism, “time is money,” which dates back to a 1748 essay by Benjamin Franklin. The costs of waiting are varied and immediate. There’s an opportunity cost after a short wait and an emotional one that manifests in stress, boredom, and a general feeling of loss. And the problem is massive: Americans spend roughly 37 billion hours each year waiting in line in the U.S. alone. 

Last year, Waitwhile conducted a first-of-its-kind study to understand how today’s consumers feel about the storied pain of physical queuing. The results were definitive: people don’t like waiting in line. We found that nearly 70 percent of consumers associated waiting in line with negative emotions like annoyance, frustration, and impatience. 

I wrote last year about the urgent need to modernize queues for the digital-first consumer, detailing how virtual queue management solutions integrate findings from psychological research to make waiting less taxing for the everyday shopper. Virtual queues allow visitors to wait from anywhere using their devices and do anything they like while they wait. By converting previously unoccupied time (standing in line) into something productive, virtual queues give newfound agency to individuals, making a wait feel shorter overall.  

Not only are virtual queues effective at reducing both actual and perceived wait times, but they’re also far preferred by consumers. Waitwhile’s consumer survey last year found that most shoppers prefer virtual queues to physical lines. Yet, only 15 percent of consumers said that they were able to wait virtually the last time they encountered a line. 

As a society, we’ve made tremendous progress in removing daily inconveniences with inventive solutions and technological advancements. Yet, progress has been comparatively slow when it comes to the age-old problem of waiting. Even though virtual queues have been proven to improve the customer experience, retailers, on the whole, have been slow to integrate them into daily operations, frustrating consumers and damaging brand loyalty.  

Time is quite literally running out for retailers to modernize the waiting experience. Human impatience is a growing problem, and today’s consumer is increasingly fickle. Inaction on declining customer satisfaction is no longer tenable, and businesses need to revamp their approaches to queue management to meet the needs of the modern consumer. 

To surface tactical solutions for businesses, Waitwhile recently conducted a follow-up to last year’s consumer survey, The State of Waiting in Line. Here’s some of what we found. 

Consumers Actively Avoid Businesses That Have Lines

Even the expectation of having to wait has a powerful effect on consumers. Waitwhile’s survey this year found that 82 percent of consumers avoid going to businesses because they see a line or think there will be one. For most consumers who change their plans because of queues, only slightly more than half (58.2 percent) will return to that business in person or online to complete their purchase or service. Alarmingly, more than 40 percent of these consumers will go to a competing company or give up shopping altogether to avoid lines. 

These data provide crystal-clear evidence that queues have a direct negative impact on businesses’ bottom lines. Most consumers despise waiting and will alter plans to avoid lines. Companies that regularly have physical lines and no alternative waiting mechanisms in place—like virtual queues or appointment booking options—are out-of-step with consumer expectations and actively damaging their reputations.

Impatience is Climbing at an Alarming Rate

Part of the reason consumers overwhelmingly avoid businesses with lines is because of the negative outcomes associated with waiting. For the second year in a row, Waitwhile found that waiting in line is associated with negative emotions by the vast majority of consumers.  

Interestingly–and critically–we also found that impatience has skyrocketed this year. We observed a 179 percent increase in consumer impatience compared to last year, even as negative emotions have remained relatively stable YoY (67 percent this year vs. 69 percent in 2022). This finding suggests that consumers are shifting from boredom and annoyance toward impatience. 

Much has been written about how technology is ruining our patience and shortening attention spans. The digital world has skewed us towards expedience–we’re used to getting what we want in a matter of clicks. This has created unrealistic expectations for consumers that they carry into brick-and-mortar experiences.   

Technology plays an interesting and contradictory role here. Undoubtedly, digital queue management systems improve waiting experiences and can even eliminate physical queues. Still, this tech is solving a problem partially created by technology itself.  

We already knew that consumers don’t like to wait. With impatience rising so drastically YoY, the need to reassess customer flow management practices is even more dire.  

Long Lines and Wait Times Impact Employee Morale 

This observed growing consumer impatience comes at a particularly sensitive time. Anxiety and uncertainty are both at all-time high levels. As a collective, we operate with shorter fuses, and even normally calm people are having a harder time keeping cool.  

According to The Conversation, this double-whammy of increasing impatience and high-stress levels “ultimately sets up challenging, and sometimes unrealistic, expectations of those who are trying to serve us.” Frontline workers are bearing the brunt of the burden, having to deal with frustrated or angry customers regularly.  

A few months ago, I wrote about how this phenomenon contributes to low employee morale and a considerable workforce shortage in retail. Waitwhile conducted a study of frontline retail employees earlier this year that shed light on the magnitude of this problem. Nearly 70 percent of retail workers regularly deal with frustrated or angry customers. More than 1 in 5 retail employees face incivility at work daily.  

Critically, frontline workers said long wait times are the main reason customers get upset, and nearly 75 percent said they are a persistent problem at work. The regularity with which workers need to face consumers frustrated by lines and wait times is immensely concerning–and likely contributing to retail’s Great Resignation and talent shortage.  

Tackling Impatience with Tech 

Businesses are overdue for innovation when it comes to outdated queue management techniques. The best news is that solutions already exist. Virtual queue management systems are flexible tools businesses can employ to reinvent the waiting process. Rather than having visitors stand in physical queues, virtual queue management solutions provide alternatives allowing guests to join a digital line, wait from anywhere, and do anything they’d like while waiting. 

Waitwhile’s research has revealed that physical queues burden consumers, who are subsequently straining the capacities of frontline workers. As a result, consumer-facing industries are struggling to retain talent and hire new workers. 

Current approaches to queue management are unsustainable. Businesses must act quickly to eliminate lines and provide consumers with alternatives. Modern virtual queue management solutions deliver on consumer expectations while bringing critical efficiencies to business operations. 

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