2012.33 | Killing Queues Completely

If you haven’t reconsidered your queuing strategy in a while, and even if you have, you should check out this article or the audio podcast on priority queuing by Benjamen Walker.   Many organizations are offering options to pay to avoid waiting and Benjamen discusses the morality and utility of such models, examining amusement parks, toll roads, colleges, airports, retail and banking.

From my perspective, if an organization can find an opportunity to match a benefit like someone’s time to a cost they are willing to pay, that’s a great win.  Where I think caution should be taken is on whether allowing those express queues impacts the underlying customers.

As some of the contacts Benjamen interviews point out, organizations may be  making lines longer or negatively impacting their business in some way by causing a detriment to valuable clients that could result in a long term corporate problem.    The ultimate win is if a consumer can get what they want with NO queue at all and the regular business is positively impacted.

A few examples:

  • Ordering online and shipping to home – customer doesn’t wait in line for what they want, inventory at store may not be impacted, and the line in a store is reduced.
  • Self-checkout – customers that have a small number of items have more lanes available to check out.  While the process of checking out on your own takes longer, the total time in store can be reduced.  Small transactions are removed from the other queues.  As tendering is the longest part of a transaction, the throughput of other queues is increased.

The biggest lesson here is to always think of the larger picture.  Perhaps reducing a line isn’t about charging people for it or adding more lanes.  Perhaps its tackling a way to attack the positive root cause of too many customers wanting your service.  A few ideas I’ve wanted to see in the real world:

  • Starbucks / Coffee Shops – Separate lines for brewed coffee and espresso based drinks and food orders.  I know it would be more difficult to sort this out, but seems like the espresso beverages and food take longer to actually order and then fulfill.  Seems like an express for the brewed coffee might actually keep lines shorter to make everyone happy.
  • Airports – Separate lines for experienced travelers and new travelers.  Why not have specific lines for people who need more help?  As a frequent traveler, I often grit my teeth as I watch my flight time edge closer and those in front of me don’t have their boarding passes, or their passport open, or their customs documentation filled out. They will go no faster or slower, so why not focus on them and provide an option for frequent travellers?  Kiosks have certainly improved this, but there is room for improvement!
  • Drivers License Renewals – I went to the local MTO for my drivers license photo, and while this process has been streamlined incredibly perhaps there is still a chance to remove the wait almost completely.  When I went on a lunchbreak there were 18 people in line in front of me and 10 joined afterward.  Lots of windows are open, but given that all you really need from me is a photo, why not allow the entire transaction to be staged online and have a specific line for photo only?  Allow me to stage the transaction online including my credit card number I want to use to pay.  Give me a barcode to bring.  When at the office, scan my barcode, let me stand there and take the photo.  There was still too much back and forth of slips of paper and cards and receipts.

None of these are ideas flawless and they may be dead wrong.  While there have been some great strides around queuing avoidance (online ordering, online license stickers renewals, mobile boarding passes, serpentine queues), I think it can go further.

I encourage more experimentation around queuing ideas.  I think the public are open to trying out something different.  As a consumer if an organization asks me to try something different to see how it works, I’d be glad to try it.  Why not try some new ideas?  Why not post the results online or in stores?  Let customers know you care about making their wait shorter or non-existent.    Make the goal a complete elimination of waiting, even if that doesn’t seem possible.

It’s all about choice.  Make sure there are options, and perhaps you can make everyone happy.

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