How the virtual queue improves safety in a post-COVID world.

Vaccination rates are rising, the masks are coming off, and offices everywhere are opening back up to pre-COVID capacity… but that doesn’t mean the pandemic is over. As the world continues to recover from the effects of this deadly disease, maintaining a careful and close guard against further outbreaks will be the key to moving to a truly post-COVID world.

Fortunately, the lessons learned during the height of the outbreak will continue to serve us well in our ongoing efforts to get back to normal — or, more accurately, to a new version of normality. One of the most prominent measures in the battle against COVID was the concept of social distancing, and one of the easiest and most effective ways to employ social distancing is to get rid of lines and queues.

Think of your office before the pandemic: how many times was your lobby filled with customers waiting their turn in line? It’s probably a scene that gives you a slight sense of panic after spending the past year and a half avoiding crowds and gatherings. And there’s no reason to go back to it now! The pandemic forced rapid digital transformation in just about every industry, with businesses and government offices finding ways to provide services online that were once only available in person. But even for those things that must absolutely be done face to face, there’s no reason anyone should wait in a line ever again.

Thankfully, queue management software and digital scheduling assistants can be used to replace the physical waiting line with a virtual one. The way they work is fairly straightforward, at least on a surface level: instead of showing up and waiting in person, a customer either makes an appointment online or at a self-service kiosk in your office (more on that later). Once they’re in this queue, the system will send them updates on their place in line via their phone. Instead of waiting in your lobby, they’re free to leave and go about their day until it’s their turn for service.

Reducing queues in Orange County

As an example, the Tax Collector and Licensing Office of Orange County, Florida, instituted one such virtual line system. Citizens schedule their appointment in the system, and it provides updates on their place in line via text or voice messages. The system will also notify users of any changes or delays, which helps keep traffic flowing smoothly throughout the day. It even lets them change their appointment times without losing their place in line, while simultaneously shuffling around other appointments to prevent unnecessary downtime for your staff.

“Since we implemented the Qless solution, we have 35 percent fewer people waiting in line for service at any time,” says Jim Cochrane, Chief Information Officer for the Orange County Tax Collector.

Reducing lines by over a third is enough to make a meaningful impact when it comes to social distancing: just think about how many offices are operating at two-thirds capacity right now as part of post-COVID precautions. If you can cut down on your in-office traffic by a third without reducing the number of customers you serve in a day, you’re essentially operating at full strength while still adhering to reduced capacity.

 

Self-service

Now, about those self-scheduling kiosks — they don’t have to be anything fancy. A tablet and a stand of some sort will do just fine. And they’re key to making the virtual waiting system work, as they allow walk-in traffic to claim a place in the virtual line without any additional technology needed. Once someone has registered via one of these kiosks, they’ll have their place in line just as if they’d scheduled in advance, and they’ll be free to leave and attend to other matters (or just wait somewhere that isn’t your office lobby).

As we move past the depths of the pandemic, you’re going to hear a lot about “returning to normal”. But that really isn’t what your goal should be. Instead of returning to long lines and crowded offices, why not move forward and embrace a future where virtual queues are the norm? It won’t just be easier and more convenient for your customers, it’ll be safer too, as continued social distancing and other pandemic protocols will help protect us all from future outbreaks.