Making the Most of Customer Wait Times

Making the Most of Customer Wait Times

In 2009, our own Rob Barry, Confero Account Executive, spoke with the Wall Street Journal’s “The Numbers Guy” blogger Carl Bialik forhis Waiting Game article. Rob provided insight from his experience managing mystery shopping programs for grocery store clients. Technology is moving at a much faster pace than 2009, and customer waiting time is a topic worth revisiting. 

Whether you manage a bank, restaurant, service or store, you know that it’s not realistic to reduce wait times for customers in every circumstance. If your company is one that prides itself on impressive and personalized service for every customer, wait times are inevitable. There are ways, however, to create more enjoyable waits for customers and generate additional sales at the same time. 

Customers Waiting in Line

Developing customized mystery shopping programs across many industries has allowed us to see a variety of wait time strategies.  Through measurement of these strategies and our own observations, here are ways that some organizations convert tiresome wait times into positive customer experiences:


  • Automotive or food service companies arrange retail space so that customers view the employees working, whether it an associate who cooks a food order, or an employee who repairs or washes your vehicle.  This is a great way to show customers the quality behind your service while at the same time eliminating boring waits.
  • At some Chick Fil-a locations, employees stand near the drive thru entry point and key in orders with a POS tablet. This means that employees greet guests faster; transmit orders inside sooner; and customers perceive shorter waits. 
  • Any industry can improve waiting experiences.  We heard recently about a busy medical practice that offered sandwiches and drinks to a congested waiting room, surprising patients in a very positive way.
  • In transactional situations such as a bank teller line, employees offer to help with a small part of the transaction, or “work the line” by greeting customers and talking with them. Customers feel less neglected; and it helps associates get to know customers while they wait.
  • In some retail stores, employees use mobile POS systems to scan customer information while in line, so that customers save time when reaching the register. Other retail stores, including Apple, use mobile POS exclusively, and there are no checkout counters at all, meaning no lines!

Outside of employee involvement and POS strategies above, using social media can generate positive waits.  As David Huffman points out, savvy companies capitalize on the fact that customers often look for something to do during wait times. Strategies include signs with QR codes, so that customers may scan the codes while waiting.  The QR code links to a video that welcomes new customers or provides additional service information for returning customers.   Some restaurants display posters that encourage waiting customers to text a key word in order to receive free food on a future visit. Regardless of whether you use employee interaction, QR codes or invitations for texting, these methods can greatly enhance customer wait times, turning them from mundane into satisfying experiences.

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