Long queue lines are a good problem to have: when your business is growing and attracting new customers, the checkout lines are bound to get busier during peak hours. However, to keep customers happy and maximize profits you need to reduce wait times.
Having queue lines isn’t the problem: it’s slow service times that prevent the line from moving efficiently. This can affect the customer experience and lead to lost sales. Luckily, we’ve got some actionable tips to help you.
How Customers Perceive Waiting Time
The Journal of Consumer Behaviour published a study on Customer’s perceived value of waiting time for service events. According to the study, the total wait time in any service situation (like a bank or restaurant) can be divided into three cycles. In a quick service restaurant (QSR) or coffee shop, the three cycles are:
Pre-process: Customer is in line waiting to make an order.
In-Process: Customer is at the counter, gives his order to the employee, and pays.
Post-Process: Customer waits for their order to be ready
Surprisingly, the pre-process cycle has the greatest influence on how customers perceive waiting times and service quality. A customer who has to wait 10 minutes in line before ordering will feel more dissatisfied than a customer who waits 10 minutes for their order to be prepared, even if the total service time for both customers was the same. Hence, this should be the first place you look to reduce wait times.
Research also shows that a customer’s perception of how long they waited has a much stronger influence on customer satisfaction scores (CSAT) than actual wait times.
The bad news is that people tend to overstate how long they waited since their perception is highly subjective and influenced by factors such as personality, expectations, being in a rush, etc. The good news is that:
- You can influence the way they experience waiting
- You can optimize your business operations to reduce the frequency of slow service times and long queues.
Step One: Influence customers’ perception of waiting time during unexpected service delays
There are several practical things that managers can do to keep customers happy during unexpected service delays, such as being short on staff:
- Give customers clear and conservative information that will help them estimate their wait time. This reduces their level of anxiety caused by the uncertainty of the situation.
- Under promise, over deliver. The restaurant host can give customers a longer than expected waiting time; say, 20 minutes. If customers end up waiting just 10 minutes, they will feel happier since they expected to wait twice as long.
- Fill “empty time”. By giving customers something to do while they wait, time goes by faster. This is what magazines in waiting rooms are for, but the best option today is to provide free Wi-Fi access to patrons, or make waiting games part of your brand culture (example: interactive screen games in movie theatres).
- Do not give the impression of making the same mistake twice. Apologizing to a customer a second time about additional delays will only make them more upset than if you admit to service delays just once.
Step Two: Reduce waiting time at queue lines
You can optimize your operations by using data already at your disposal: your video surveillance footage and POS transactional data. Here’s how.
Know your service level target
Call centres often use an “80/20” service level target, meaning that 80% of calls should be answered in 20 seconds. Service Level Target is: Percentage of X (customers, calls, orders, etc.) should be served/answered/completed within a predefined time threshold.
When determining what your service level target should be, you want to find the right balance between your desire to deliver quality service versus the cost you’re willing to bear to achieve it. For instance, a call centre that adopts the 80/20 rule has determined that it isn’t profitable to hire additional staff in order to answer 100% of calls in 20 seconds. In most cases, it isn’t profitable to operate at full capacity all the time so it’s acceptable to have some service events outside of your target.
Next: Using video surveillance and POS data as performance metrics and queue management
Now that you have your service level target, you can begin tracking actual service times using your POS data and surveillance video.
Whichever queue management system you decide to use, be sure that it integrates surveillance video since this is the best way to investigate what caused delays in service speeds or why a customer abandoned the checkout line. On Solink’s cloud video surveillance system we’ve got the ability to search for POS transactions that have an Order Entry Time above your target time, and you’ve got video surveillance footage for context, too.
Next: Make changes and compare progress over time
Once you have the data, you can look at your store’s performance over a period of time and find any trends or outliers. Investigating these situations will uncover operational bottlenecks or other issues that cause slow service times.
Tips from your peers: reducing wait times
Based on Solink’s actionable insights, our customers offer these great tips for improving wait times:
- Optimize staffing levels: Trends in your sales history and service speed will help you to predict how busy you will be certain days or shifts of the week. 66% of Solink users say they save between 1-10% on staff expenditures by reviewing their Solink platform regularly.
- Identify staff training needs: you can achieve better throughput by providing staff training in the areas that are needed most. Identify the employees or stores that have slower service times compared to the rest and investigate the transactions with slowest order time or longest time between orders. 42% of Solink users report saving 12 hours a month using Solink’s video surveillance and POS integration data to identify problems like this.
- Find inefficiencies or bottlenecks: By removing an inefficient step or a bottleneck in the operational process, you can shave seconds, or even minutes, from the average order time. You don’t have to leave these discoveries to chance if you have the right analytical tools. 92% of Solink users report that they save between 5-20% on their business operations costs by reviewing their day with Solink.
Businesses are already collecting data that can help them improve operations and service times. It’s just a matter of using the right analytical tools to find the right information, making smart changes, and tracking the success of your hard work.