The Effect of Queues on Customer Experience

by | Mar 6, 2016 | Customer Experience

Queues exist in infamy – and rightly so – they are the bane of any customer. The time wasted alone can be enough to counteract any number of customer journey enhancement mechanisms in place. In fact, the effect queues have on customer experience is so great, that it’s a situation of the tail wagging the dog, which is a rather apt idiom seeing as the word ‘queue’ comes from the Latin ‘cauda’, meaning tail.

Queuing theory, first published in 1909 by Agner Krarup Erlang and since then improved upon, has been used for decades to optimise queuing from an operational perspective. From an experiential point of view it can be rather impersonal and ineffective, converting customers into numbers rather than individuals with drives, attitudes and opinions.

Optimising queues from an experience point-of-view is most certainly not a chimera, but it does involve maintaining repeated engagement as customers and industries are inconsistent. Optimisation can be achieved, and maintained, through four intertwining steps:

  • Understand
  • Measure
  • Adapt
  • Manage


What made you abandon the queue? What did you enjoy most and least about the time you spent waiting? What suggestions do you have to improve the waiting process? These are some of the questions you should ask in this hands-on, face-to-face approach that will allow you to connect with your customers on a personal level.

This is of utmost importance because customers are not just another number. Becoming acquainted with their needs, wants and gripes affords you the ability to engineer a waiting process that is suited specifically to them.

This customer centric approach is highly endearing and can help evolve an otherwise bland waiting period into a pleasant, excitement inducing experience – the perfect set-up for a customer/service-agent interaction.


While queuing theory and other mathematical models of quantitative analysis are not ideal for designing experiences when used in isolation, they complement qualitative findings and provide hard and fast figures for benchmarking and informed decision-making.

Alongside the formulas that can be utilised from queuing theory there are some easily observable elements of the queuing process, which can be used to create metrics, averages and predictions for your customer journey:

  • Queue length – How many people are standing in your queue/s? This provides you with a baseline measurement to track your progress of optimisation.
  • Wait times – Again, this is a baseline measurement to track progress – bearing in mind that consumers tend to overestimate the time they have waited by 36% and how they feel during their wait is more important than their actual wait time.
  • Abandonment rates – This should always be kept as low as possible.
  • Peak service times – Understanding when these occur allows you to prevent bottlenecking by putting measures in place to compensate for periodic increased customer influxes.
  • Service times – How long, on average, does each type of service you provide take? Having the same number of service agents for services where one takes much longer than the other is a waste of resources and might be the cause of lengthy queues.
  • Service agent efficiency – Not to be used primarily for service agent auditing, rather seeing what your fastest and slowest agents are doing to create do and don’t guidelines for optimal service provision.
  • Service point utilisation – This helps you determine the most favourable number of service agents and/or service points.


Adapt or die. In this step, using the findings from the previous two steps, you transform queuing from a prologue of the customer journey to an integral part of it. There are various queuing paradigms that exist, each with their own pros and cons. The one you adopt for your business depends on operational or business objectives and the findings from the above – this also means that an entirely unique queuing system could be designed to cater for your consumers’ needs.  Whichever queuing paradigm you opt for; it should generally meet the following standards:

  • Keep consumers occupied or entertained – This keeps their eye off the clock and can even drive further interaction with the brand through promotional content.
  • Provide an air of fairness amongst queuing customers – The moment a customer feels others are being assisted sooner than them, they begin to feel cheated. This can be alleviated by communicating wait times and clearly demarcated waiting areas.
  • Create an atmosphere of ease and comfort – Playing relaxing music, providing comfortable seating and ensuring your service agents operate in a calm but efficient manner all contribute to creating a more enjoyable waiting experience.


This final step is an amalgamation of all the steps mentioned and a fundamentally on-going process. Adapting your queuing system to meet your consumers’ needs without continued understanding and measurement means changes can easily go unnoticed – changes which could threaten to invalidate your queuing system. Maintained engagement in the optimisation process is the key to staying on top of shifts in consumer needs and mitigates the likelihood of the situation of grabbing a tiger by the tail.


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