In my Operations class, we’re studying queues and customers’ experience of wait times. Our professor says,
Satisfaction = Perception – Expectation
This means that exceptional CX (high satisfaction) comes from exceeding expectations. The problem, of course, becomes that customers come to expect that level of service and it is harder and harder to exceed their expectations.
Our professor also shared David Maister’s Principles of Waiting, which affect both customer expectations and their perceptions of the wait. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time. In waiting rooms, provide TVs, magazines, forms to complete, etc.
- Preprocess waits feel longer than in-process waits. Get customers into the process, even if they cannot flow straight through.
- Uncertain waits are longer than know, finite waits. Tell customers how long the wait is. Perk: They might decide to come back later, evening out demand.
- Explained waits are longer than unexplained waits. Don’t leave customers guessing what’s happening or what will happen next.
- Unfair waits are longer than equitable waits. Nobody likes to wait, but it’s especially intolerable when it seems like other customers are able to skip the line.
Some interesting examples from class include a case where people complained about the wait time for elevators. The building couldn’t speed up the service, so it placed large mirrors in the waiting area. The complaints ceased. (Behold the power of vanity!) Another case involved an airline that received complaints about the wait time for bags to appear in baggage claim. They couldn’t speed up the service, so they moved the gate farther from baggage claim. The total waiting time didn’t change, but the composition did – customers spent more time walking to baggage claim and less time standing around the carrousel.
In managing customer expectations and actual wait times, companies need to balance efficiency, layout, expectations, and perceptions. These all influence they way the companies do business – and the satisfaction they provide their customers.