How actual and perceived waiting time affects customer satisfaction

How actual and perceived waiting time affects customer satisfaction

Anna Oom |February 2 2022 8 min

One could argue that perception is reality. If people perceive that they’re waiting in line too long, they will become frustrated, and their entire retail experience will be diminished. And it doesn’t matter if the wait time was reasonable — it’s their perception that matters. Studies, as well as personal experience, show that waiting time, whether it is actual or perceived, directly affects customer satisfaction. To retain customer loyalty and satisfaction, smart retailers should look at the entire customer journey and eliminate as many time-consuming, waiting-in-line barriers as possible. Or if that isn’t feasible, they must at least create the perception that the wait time is reasonable and fair.

In today’s virtual shopping environment, it is more important than ever to give shoppers the best in-store experience. Not only will an unsatisfactory in-store experience leave the customer with a negative feeling, but that dissatisfaction is often transferred to other retail channels, impacting the whole brand.

The benefits of a positive customer experience, especially when wait times are involved, are overwhelming. According to industry stats, a totally satisfied customer contributes 2.6 times as much revenue as a somewhat satisfied customer and 14 times as much revenue as a somewhat dissatisfied customer.

It’s important to remember that the customer’s retail experience can start before they even walk through to doors and until they are well pass the exit. To that end, retailers must understand not only how to better manage wait times, but also expectations.

Virtual solutions over physical lines

With virtual queuing and online appointment scheduling, customers don’t wait in a line at all — at least not a physical one. Retailers use online and mobile options for things such as waiting, scheduling shopping experiences or click-and-collect pickup. Customers gain greater control by knowing before they enter the store when they will be able to speak to a qualified sales associate, a member of support, or simply make a return quickly and easily.

Virtual lines also mean that the issues associated with physical lines aren’t even present. The anxiety associated with physically seeing a long line melts away. The customer journey comes across as a more efficient experience that also feels safer since customers aren’t standing next to each other. Virtual queuing reduces wait times, encourages efficient customer flow, increases staff efficiency, and improves customer satisfaction levels — all before the customer even steps foot into your store!

A warm welcome

When a customer enters the store, they want to know where to go and they want a salesperson who is best qualified to help them. Rather than have customers wander around aimlessly, innovative retailers have a comprehensive approach to refining the customer experience upon entering the store.

Upon entry, customers should have digital signage and self-service kiosks to guide their in-store visit. Clear, relevant information sets the tone and creates a strong first impression. While the signage can help with store navigation, the kiosk can effortlessly connect the customer with an associate to best meet their needs. To avoid waiting, customers can browse throughout the store and receive a text once their salesperson is available.

This means there are no surprises. With clear communication and options for support, the customer feels more in control of their shopping experience.

In-line engagement

In an ideal world every shopper would have a store assistant catering to their every need. Maybe in some people’s worlds that’s true, but it’s not always possible. Long lines and lines that are perceived as “unfair” are often cited as top shopping frustrations.

When a line is necessary, the key to turning it into a positive experience is engagement. Media screens are often used to post wait times, line order, and other useful information. In fact, these monitors can even share videos about things such as safety protocols, hiring announcements, charitable causes, or even special promotions. Engaging, informing, and even entertaining, these screens might be the distraction that is needed to quell the perception of a longer wait time.

The last impression

For retailers, the last opportunity to make a good impression is at checkout. Regardless of how great a shopping experience has been up to that point, the customer’s positive experience can easily pivot with a long wait or improper line management.

When this happens, a customer’s dissatisfaction can manifest itself in several ways. Seeing a line, a customer might simply abandon their intended purchases and leave, costing you a sale. Some customers openly fume in line, poisoning the opinions of other shoppers. And, of course, there is also bad word-of-mouth both with friends and on social media. An unhappy customer experience can have far-reaching consequences to a brand.

While delivering a quick checkout experience could be as simple as establishing a designated counter for 10 items or less, today’s time-sensitive customers need more sophisticated solutions to long waits. Successful retailers understand this important part of the customer experience and are utilizing customer journey management solutions, also known as advanced queue management solutions, to improve wait times.

These customer journey management solutions brings everything together to create the most efficient shopping experience. Appointment scheduling, virtual queuing, digital signage, self-service kiosks and business intelligence from visitor tracking all combine to help retailers best manage their customer experience at check-out as well as through every interaction with the customer.

An enhanced experience

Although customer journey- and queue management solution can support these efforts, retailers must still proactively monitor, plan, and manage wait times throughout the full customer journey to create an enhanced customer experience.

The benefits are tangible. In today’s competitive retail environment, creating a satisfying retail experience for every customer is an imperative. Retailers who procrastinate about updating their queue management process will be as unhappy as their customers stuck waiting in line.

Read more about Qmatic's customer journey management and experience management solutions for retail with our guide.


Download the Customer Journey Management Guide for Retailers


Anna Oom

Anna Oom

Global Content Marketing Manager.

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