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Waiting lines affect Customer Satisfaction in Service Delivery* M S Sridhar@

Former Head, Library & Documentation ISRO Satellite Centre, Bangalore

As most sociable living creatures, humans cooperate in larger groups (like war) even with those unrelated to them and probably wont see them again. Waiting line is one social activity that separates us from all other living creatures. Yet ants have amazing waiting or more appropriately moving lines! Without the cooperation of total strangers, a queue would break down and turn into chaos. More and more waiting lines, both in person and proxy (like online and telephonic customer services), have become inevitable in these days of widespread selfservice mode of service delivery. Waiting lines which do not require customers to be present in person (for example waiting lines of goods and proxies) are less problematic than queues of people. However, waiting lines on phones with recorded messages, advertisements and music could be even more irritating than physical waiting lines.

Services are intangible, heterogeneous, perishable and inseparable from participating customers. Like happiness, it is difficult to define and measure service quality, which is basically nebulous, relative, indivisible and has a tendency to deteriorate. There are a couple basic psychological aspects of people in waiting lines, which agitate, upset and occasionally cause abusive and physical exchange of words and blows.

1. Any unoccupied time of the customer in the waiting line is always felt longer than the occupied time. If a customer is engaged with some activity either by himself like those who read newspapers or do knitting, etc. or engaged by service personnel he will not feel waiting as longer. One of the funny but practical suggestions is to provide for a big mirror where people have to wait for elevators. 2. Preprocess wait is always felt longer than in-process wait. Customer does not take cognisance of time while he is served. If part of service delivery begins in some notional way much earlier in the queue, waiting becomes more tolerable. 3. Any anxiety of customer that he is unlikely to get his turn to receive service will be strongly disturbing his mind and hence some assurance about his chance of service delivery is required. 4. Customer uncertainty about how long to wait to get his turn (uncertain wait) is critical and cause agitation than finite wait. If only service centres declare that no customer need to wait for more than (say) 10 minutes in circulation counters of libraries for getting a service as a standard for service quality the anxiety of customer is substantially reduced. 5. Any open explanation about why one has to wait so long always relieves commotion in the mind of customer. Hence, unexplained waits appear longer and more disturbing than the explained waits. 6. Customers expect equitable treatment if not a special favourable treatment once stood in the queue. Any unfair waits like bypassing by others, appear hurting than equitable waits. Further, it is the perceived equality of customers has an important positive effect on customer satisfaction.

M S Sridhar

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7. The more valuable the service, the longer the customer is willing to wait. Waiting for fundamental/ esoteric requirements and scarce resources like money, art, health, food, etc. are more tolerated than other non-esoteric material or service like waiting for a reserved book in a library. 8. Customers having solo waits feel it longer and boring than those waiting in the company of others and groups. It is always better to allow customers to form groups without violating others right in waiting lines.

So what are the lessons for designing and operating a service counter? Reduce subjective delays and enhance service quality and customer satisfaction with (i) Provision for reservations

(ii) Make waiting a comfortable and less painful activity (iii) Reduce perception of actual waiting and increase expectation of waiting, i.e., not to under estimate the likely period of wait rather be realistic or slightly overstate and make real wait to be less than expected (iv) Arrange some absorbing/ interesting activity during waiting like some engaging displays near circulation counter (v) Avoid visibility of long queues (vi) Some preliminaries of service delivery process can be done during the waiting time itself (vii) Provide attention, concern and necessary information for reducing uncertainty and anxiety.


M S Sridhar

Guest Editorial in SRELS Journal of Information Management, August 2012, v. 49 (4) 341-342.
Address: 1103, Mirle House, 19 B Main, J P Nagar 2
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Phase, Bangalore 560 078

E-Mail: mirlesridhar@gmail.com

M S Sridhar

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