Nobody likes a lineup, but there are ways to make them less onerous. One way is to make the time spent waiting shorter. The other is often just to make it feel shorter. Above all, to avoid disgruntled customers, the line must feel fair.
I have been to some truck stop McDonalds where there is so little clarity over which cash registers were open, who was waiting to order and who was waiting to collect their food that the vibe was like a prison chow line, or the bank run scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life”. You can do better, fast food!
Let’s look at our options through the lens of SCAMPER, the ideation technique. Each letter in the word SCAMPER invites us to think about the problem differently. Let’s start with S, for Substitute.
Many delicatessens use tickets to keep track of who to serve next. This substitutes the ticket for you physically holding your place in line. I’ve encountered similar printed tickets at car licensing bureaus and the courthouse (don’t ask).
Some restaurants will issue a pager, or a flashing coaster, that alerts you when your table is ready. Not only does this relieve you of the chore of standing in line, it creates a revenue opportunity since the best place to wait is at the bar.
After the deli, the velvet rope lineup at the bank is the next most civilized lineup. It removes the risk of lining up in the wrong queue by combining all the queues into one.
The technical term is the serpentine queue, and I’ve seen it used at Walmart, Tim Hortons and other august institutions.
The mathematics of telephone network analysis were first developed by a Danish engineer Agner Krarup Erlang. He was able to mathematically determine the theoretical number of lines and operators were required to create an efficient network.
Erlang’s formulas that calculate how many phones lines and operators are required for smooth service are called queueing theory. His work is widely adapted to this day to study all manner of queues.
Disney theme parks may be obsessively clean, but they still can pull a dirty trick to keep their customers happy. One sleight of hand is to overstate – to magnify – the remaining time that people have left in queue to a ride. The happiness that results in arriving at the ride “early” is found to offset much of the annoyance at having to wait.
It would appear that Apple has also learned this technique, albeit to an absurd degree. I must admit I was relieved when my OS X Yosemite install did not take the reported 901,899,661 hours and 18 minutes!
Put to another use
Waiting for something? Can that time be put to another use?
The story goes that a New York multi-storey building operator tired of the complaints about long wait times at the elevators. His solution? Putting mirrors adjacent to the elevator doors. A little preening can be a great pastime.
This article by the New York Times highlights the agony of the wait. The Houston airport received so many complaints about waiting for luggage to show up to be claimed that after feverish efforts to reduce the delay delivering the baggage, they instead just increased the time it takes to walk from the plane to the baggage carousels.
By increasing the distance to be travelled, the airport took the time that left their passengers idle and annoyed and found a way it could be put to another use – a brisk walk. Complaints dropped considerably.
One way to reduce the complaining about queues is to eliminate them entirely. That’s the idea behind the various kiosks you see at fast food restaurants like McDonalds. Just like their ATM forebears, these machines are inexpensive enough to be deployed in sufficient numbers that you are unlikely to have to join a queue to use one.
And finally consider the full service restaurant. In the reverse of the typical queue, the person taking your order and payment comes to you!
Download a free printable guide to SCAMPER
Developing the quantity and quality of ideas needed to innovate in a rapidly changing world can be daunting. I’ve prepared a free guide to producing more ideas than you thought possible to initiate the innovations you need in your job, your business and your life.
Click here to get your free downloadable guide to the SCAMPER’s 7 Powerful Idea Generators, which includes seven examples of idea generation involving Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Delicious!