People waiting in lines, what are you waiting for?

People waiting in lines, what are you waiting for?

Jeff Green |September 15 2016 6 min

Freakonomics recently posted a podcast and article called “What are you waiting for?” The piece theorizes that standing in lines is a “sloppy — and frustrating — way for supply and demand to meet.” It offers some provocative thinking about why people wait in lines and the value of doing so.

Shortly after it posted, I was meeting with an executive from one of our key clients in the Motor Vehicle space. He asked if I had seen the article and if I had any thoughts on it. Qmatic is the leading customer journey management technology solution provider in the world, so of course, I did. Much of what drives innovation at Qmatic comes directly from our insights about managing physical experiences that involve lines.

I loved the article. It is a great narrative on the concept and, as Freakonomics content so often does, this piece makes us think about our world a little differently. But what made me want to blog about the piece is the dialog it has led to with clients. 

The client who brought it to my attention challenged us on the idea of LIFS (Last In First Served). Specifically, he asked, “Would it work for us to do that in our DMV branches?” The short answer is no, for the simple fact that the typical service location only maintains control over its environment through its capacity to serve.

Capacity to serve is a simple ability to understand how much process time it takes to service customers, by unique service, and in what intervals.

We’ve yet to find a client that says they seek to make people wait. In fact, they map customer journeys and experiences to try to create the best possible perceived wait time and to make the queuing process as efficient as possible. But many service environments deal with factors that are outside their control.

DMVs typically run into key issues with lines because of the capacity to serve. Specifically, they lack control over the pace at which citizens come into the locations. For example, when a citizen goes into a municipality office for a permit, it is up to that citizen to enable the process. They might be required to offer proof of identity, provide payment, or provide documentation. The agency can put all kinds of processes in place to work quickly, but those efforts only succeed if the customer is prepared.

Finding the Fix at the Failure Point

We’ve all been in a grocery store and in a real hurry. Have you ever begged other people to let you move ahead of them in the checkout line, only to realize you’ve forgotten your wallet? Or worse, your card won’t swipe for some reason? It doesn’t take long for a line to form behind you because of these process issues, but where is the failure point?

At Qmatic, we help to solve many common line management problems and many that are unique to segments like municipal agencies, healthcare organizations, and retail locations. The solutions might include streamlining omnichannel functions or offering alternatives to traditional physical queuing like online sign-in, virtual check-in via smart device or app, or even simple self-service kiosks. Creating efficiencies from the very start of the appointment process can remove much of the line process, freeing people to occupy their waiting time however, they wish.

In a great example that parallels the Freakonomics topic, the Pennsylvania DOT recently implemented Qmatic solutions in their Norristown branch. Citizens can get updates via SMS, check-in virtually, and manage their time remotely. Soon, they will be able to download the Myfunwait ® app, which will give them a game to play while waiting for their DMV service. It also will keep them notified of their status in the queue and let them know when it’s their turn. Solutions like these definitely are taking the concept of waiting in lines to a new (and better) dimension. 

It’s true that waiting in lines is frustrating and represents a failure at some point in the customer journey. At Qmatic, we create solutions. The first step in that process is understanding the reasons for the issues and then identifying the resources that can take the customer journey beyond the lines.



Jeff Green

Jeff Green

Chief Operating Officer.

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