How Long Wait Times Affect The Bottom Line

Three universal truths for humanity:

1.  No one likes paying taxes
2.  No one likes going to the dentist
3.  And no one - nobody - likes waiting in line

Now, the first you have to do for the good of society and to avoid going to jail. The second you should do for the sake of good health. But the third...well, the third one, no one wants to do, and quite often they won't. When people walk in to a retail business and see a long line, they often march right back out - taking their dollars, their loyalty, and their business with them.

The reality is that long lines kill business.

Mobile telecom company Vodafone Spain projected that lengthy lines at its retail locations were costing them 7,500 lost customers per day, resulting in lost profits totaling a half million dollars annually. With roughly 2,000 customers queuing up at its stores each month, the company estimated that for every three customers who left because of long lines, only one would return - but it could be more than three months before that person came back.

Why are customers walking out and not coming back? It comes down to one word: choice. People choose a shopping experience based on what their priorities are. If they're looking for price and selection, but can afford to wait a minimum day or two, they go online. On the other hand, people who engage in a retail experience are generally looking for two things - immediacy and personal service. They can't afford to wait. Perhaps they need a smart phone repaired, or they're picking up a few essentials for the evening meal at the grocery store, or squeezing in an errand during lunch.

For these customers, a long line upon arrival completely undermines their fundamental reason for making the trip in the first place, and they are likely to go elsewhere where the lines and the wait are shorter. Because they can.

So what can a business do to satisfy these fickle flight risks? Remember that as in most business dealings the experience matters as much or even more than price, quality, and selection. Below are 3 suggestions on how to help your customers and, in the process, keep them loyal to your business:

1.  Give them a choice - Implement a system that allows them to schedule an appointment to return at a time that's convenient to them if you're too busy to serve them immediately. That could be in an hour, a day or next week, assuring them that when they arrive for their appointment they'll go to the head of the line. You can even configure your solution to allow them to set up appointments before they arrive - kind of like "call-ahead" seating. Hey, it works at fast-casual restaurants, so why not at your business? When you give your customers a reasonable alternative and a choice in how to manage their time, you satisfy their need for personal service and grant them greater them control over their lives.

2.  Let them "express" themselves - Integrate a solution with your in-store Wi-Fi that allows customers to immediately queue up in the checkout line the minute they arrive at your store, with an estimate of their wait time. This will allow them to spend time browsing your aisles instead of standing in line. The system could be programmed to provide periodic updates and reminders so they know exactly how much time they have left to arrive at the checkout stations promptly. Again, the goal is to allow them to use their time doing something they want to do instead of wasting doing something they have to do.

3.  Go deep - The systems and solutions you employ to help manage traffic and expedite service to your customers can provide rich insights into how you can improve operations even further. You can capture what products and services people want to buy and when, as individuals and in aggregate. Notice that at certain times on certain days you experience in a flood of customers seeking certain specific items? This provides an opportunity to adjust everything from staffing to inventory to meet that demand and send your customers away quickly and happily with their purchases.

There's no one right way to retain customers - but long lines are a surefire way to lose them. And once they leave, there's a good chance they won't be back. A new approach to queuing - one without a physical queue - can play a key role in keeping people coming into your store, not walking out.