It’s called the service industry for a reason: Customers don’t just choose to do business with you for your products, but also for the overall experience, which includes customer service. In cases wherein products and prices are relatively on-par across the market, customer service can be the factor that decides whether consumers choose you versus the competition. Based on research from the Rockefeller Corporation, approximately 82% of consumers leave the store when they are dissatisfied with the services.
A common thorn in the side of consumers is the wait time, particularly for restaurants, retail, convenience stores, and other store-based businesses. Waiting is a task that no one wants to go through, especially in the age of digital where people have been conditioned to get everything at lightning speed.
Waiting doesn't just mean the timeframe it takes to ring up a purchase or serve food; it also involves perceived waiting time. According to a study in The Journal of Consumer Behavior, perceived waiting time covers three cycles – waiting to make an order (or to be attended to), giving the order or interacting with the staff, and waiting while the order is prepared or the service is rendered. When all of that is added up, customers can feel like they have been waiting a significant amount of time.
To keep your business competitive and your customers happy, here are four ways to improve customer wait time.
How to Improve Customer Wait Time in 4 Steps
1. Make the wait time more engaging
Time feels longer, slower when you’re bored. Customers feel like they’ve been standing around for 20 minutes when it hasn’t even been five. More than the actual waiting time, it’s the perceived wait time – how customers view or feel the length of their waiting time – that can draw bad press for your business. Invest in entertainment methods to distract your customers from watching the time tick by.
Family-centric diners may design paper placemats with games that families can play while waiting for their food, sports bars may have multiple TVs showing different games, and fine dining restaurants may hire a live band.
Retail stores and convenience stores typically have racks between counter lines with small goods to entice consumers to pick up some last-minute items. Some also have monitors playing videos of their ads or company information to keep customers distracted as they learn more about the brand.
If budget allows, you may consider learning from airports and amusement parks. Many airports like the Houston International Airport and Singapore’s Changi Airport invest in activities to engage passengers while waiting for their flight. Amusement parks also make the waiting part of the experience better with interactive games or story-based videos.
You may not do these specifically, but think about how you can keep your customers entertained and engaged in a method that is true to your brand identity.
2. Process transactions quickly and accurately
When a business takes too long to process transactions, the line builds up. An excessively long and unmoving queue can potentially turn off new arrivals or deter customers from completing their purchases. Cut down the waiting time by completing transactions accurately and swiftly.
A point-of-sale system is a powerful tool that helps drive efficiencies across various business functions. A POS system scans product barcodes, automatically logs the transaction, and computes the total cost with taxes for easy and accurate processing. This reduces the risk of human error, trims time off each customer interaction, and keeps the line moving.
A trusted POS system can also accommodate diverse payment methods, so customers can pay any way they want to and not waste time digging for coins. Plus, POS systems are jam-packed with other features that simplify daily tasks and provide insight on business patterns such as real-time inventory management, staff management, and customer relationship management.
For example, a point-of-sale system can show you which time slots are peak hours. This insight tells you that these are the periods you should schedule more staff to manage the influx of customers.
It’s also important to train staff to stay focused, and process transactions both quickly and correctly. Customers waiting in line may think that they aren’t being prioritized if they see store personnel acting without urgency or engaging in idle conversation. Ensure that employees are F.A.S.T. – friendly, accurate, sympathetic to customers, and thankful for their patronage and time.
3. Consider alternative interaction and transaction avenues
Waiting time doesn’t only pertain to waiting in line at the counter; it also means waiting for your order to arrive at a restaurant or waiting for staff to return from the back after checking on an item you inquired about in a store.
You may consider adopting self-service outlets that let customers handle their purchases on their own. For example, large grocery stores may set up barcode scanner kiosks along some aisles to let customers double-check prices or review product information without having to flag down an employee. Some convenience stores have self-checkout stands where customers can scan their products and pay for their purchases without lining up at the till.
Staff assigned on the floor may also waste a significant amount of time looking for items or checking their availability in stores. A mobile or handheld POS system is useful in assisting personnel wherever they may be because they will have all the necessary information at their fingertips. When a customer asks if a certain product is available or would like to know when it will be restocked, your employee can pull up the answer after a few quick taps.
4. Have a queue management system
Part of what makes long, seemingly unmoving lines frustrating is the lack of control – customers dislike not knowing what’s happening and how much longer they need to wait. For businesses that typically have long waiting times, it’s best to manage your consumers’ expectations with a queuing system.
Queue systems can be as simple as issuing a ticket and calling out their number once it’s their turn. Some businesses, particularly those that offer multiple services like tech and mobile stores, use digital registration and queuing where customers input their purpose for visiting and get queued to a specific counter depending on their needs.
Customers get a sense of how long they must wait based on the number they receive and how fast they see the line is moving. Then, they can decide their next steps accordingly. For example, if there are still 20 people ahead of them but the numbers are moving quickly, then they can assume that they won’t have to wait long. But if there are 10 people ahead of them but the numbers only move every 15 minutes, then they may opt to do some shopping first. This way, their wait time can be spent productively instead of just sitting in a waiting lounge.