Why we have queues - and what to do about it

Why we have queues - and what to do about it

Sven-Olof Husmark |April 5 2014 7 min

The reason queues form, in essence, is simple: there are more customers than people to serve them. In many, if not most, instances this is a good thing. How they are queuing, though, may be down to a range of factors.

Queues that form spontaneously may follow a route that is dictated by space constraints or layout. Cultural differences have an impact too; some cultures are more happy queuing and less likely to push forward.

If queues are an everyday occurrence in your business, then the chances are you will have already introduced some form of queue management, perhaps dictated by the number and layout of checkout systems or the presence or absence of ticketing and information systems. Depending on your objectives, however, the system you have in place may well not be the best one. If your priority is productivity you may want to maintain a particular queue length to ensure your staff is always working.

If your priority is customer service, you may want to do away with queues altogether, as far as is possible. To achieve your objectives, then, it helps to have a basic understanding of the different types of customer flow configurations you can use.

There are two main types of queuing: linear queuing and virtual queuing:

Linear queuing

Linear queuing is when your customers wait physically in a line. It is the oldest and most common way to manage queues and waiting, and encompasses a number of variations:

  • Single-Queue-Single-Service-Point (SQSSP), or ‘first-in-first-out’, where the goal is to serve the customers in the order in which they arrived. This is typically found in service centers with few customers, such as coffee shops and fast food restaurants.
  • Multiple-Queue-Multiple-Service-Points (MQMSP), which offers the possibility to segment customers based on service needs. Customers who require services with longer expected service times can be separated from those with faster requirements.
  • Single-Queue-Multiple-Service-Points (SQMSP), where the supply of service is distributed logically to the customer who queued first. A slow customer may affect delivery overall but customers will always be directed to the first available counter.

Linear Queue

Virtual Queuing

A virtual queue is invisible in the sense that your customers are identified on arrival, say by their name or social security number, but not confined to any particular waiting spot, so they don’t know what position they have in the queue relative to others. This requires your customers to be either greeted and queued by a member of staff or entered into the queue through a meet and greeter, ticket-printer, self-serve kiosk or mobile application. You then give them an assurance that they will be served at an appropriate time. As with linear queuing, virtual queuing encompasses a number of variations:

  • Agents call the next customer when service to the current customer is finished. If there are several agents, customers could be called from the same queue (as in SQMSP) or from different queues based on some type of segmentation (as the MQMSP).
  • Staff can pre-call the next customer before service to the current customer has actually finished. The effect is that a buffer zone with a waiting customer is created behind the currently served customer.
  • The buffer zone is a common area where the next few customers to be served are pre-called, but each waiting customer is assigned to a member of staff in appropriate order only when the currently served customer at a service point is actually finished.
  • Complementing these scenarios is also the “mobile queue management” where a customer is not waiting in the physical location at all, but instead keeps their place in the queue via a mobile app or an SMS solution.

Virtual Queue

Designing a queue management solution

Designing the most efficient queuing system is clearly a complex process and not one that can be approached with a one-size-fits-all approach. If you can incorporate it into a wide customer journey and experience strategy that covers all areas of your store, branch or hospital design, from doorstep to service, then you can have a major impact on your bottom line - without it costing you a fortune.

Managing queues, be it with traditional queue management system, appointment booking or mobile solution is an integral part of Customer Journey Management and compared to many other process-led business improvements this is a relatively low-cost measure with clear and tangible benefits. But perhaps its most important benefit is the impact it has on something which is invaluable, yet largely intangible: your customers’ experience of your brand.

If you are interested in finding out more about queue management systems and how they improve customer satisfaction and organizational efficiency, download the guide below.

Download the Queue Management Guide


Sven-Olof Husmark

Sven-Olof Husmark

Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer, 2013-2017.

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