Making time fly: ISU professor studies how to moderate waiting time with customers

Jan 25, 2008

We've all been there. You decide to go out for dinner and after being seated, you can't get service from the wait staff. Or you're at the airport waiting on flight delays and stuck in the customer service line, desperately trying to get answers.

Most people hate to wait. An Iowa State University marketing professor who studies waiting time and its emotional effect on consumers says how the experience goes may determine whether a customer comes back.

It may even create opportunity, says Deanne Brocato, an assistant professor of marketing at ISU.

"Even when you have a service failure (like longer wait times), what we see is that you can create a stronger bond with consumers, based on how you deal with it," she said.

Brocato worked with a research team on a study examining the waiting experiences of 844 customers in the banking and hair-cutting service industries (405 banking, 439 hair cutting) from two medium-sized metropolitan areas in the southeastern United States. The researchers found that five factors moderate perceived waiting time dissatisfaction and regret among consumers:

-- How wait time is filled
-- How customer anxiety is addressed
-- Whether commitment to the customer is demonstrated
-- Perceived justice
-- Quality physical environment

Brocato collaborated with Julie Baker, an associate professor of marketing at Texas Christian University; Clay Voorhees, an assistant professor of marketing and supply chain management at Michigan State University; Brian Bourdeau, an assistant professor of marketing at Auburn University; and J. Joseph Cronin, Jr., The Carl DeSantis Professor of Business Administration at Florida State University, on the study. They have authored a research paper, which is currently under review by an academic journal.

The paper cites a 2006 study by emarketer.com which found that consumers would rather clean their bathrooms, sit in traffic, or visit their dentists than stand in line. When they became too frustrated with waiting, 32 percent of consumers in that study reported that they left without purchasing anything, and 31 percent complained to a manager, staff or other customers.

The researchers provide the following advice to service firms on how to more effectively manage their customers' waiting experiences:

-- Distract customers from focusing on the wait. "If customers do not pay close attention to the delay, they may be less likely to think about how long they are waiting," wrote the researchers. They site examples of how airports now broadcast cable news on monitors in terminals, and how some restaurants provide customers with menus early in their wait.

-- Identify potential sources of waiting anxiety, and address them specifically. If customers are anxious because of the uncertainty over the wait, the authors recommend that managers provide them information about the estimated wait time and/or causes for the wait. Research also has shown that music can effectively reduce anxiety. And when customers' anxiety is due to situations unrelated to the service experience -- such as being late -- managers may be able to develop a process for identifying customers who have situational constraints and provide a way to expedite the service.

-- Decrease customers' perceptions of wait inequalities. The study suggests that, when feasible, managers might design different queues for different customer segments (i.e.: express, frequent flier gold/platinum, etc.) to ensure the procedures are deemed fair -- providing proper education and/or signage in the process.

-- Identify and insulate customers with affective commitment. "Customers with an affective commitment to a service organization provide a service firm with a strong customer base," the researchers wrote. "Therefore, management should make every attempt to see that this group of customers is not dissatisfied."

-- Design a more desirable atmosphere in which to wait. The study recommends that managers design comfortable places where waiting customers can sit and that they should make sure the temperature and noise levels are within customers' range of comfort. "Large windows overlooking a beautiful view and/or interesting art on the walls may distract customers from paying close attention to the time spent waiting for service," wrote the authors.

Brocato also sees self-service as another effective wait time option.

"There's another paper that I'm looking into where people go into the self-checkout and they actually are waiting longer, but they have control over their wait," she said. "So when you're in control, the wait seems shorter."

And when it comes to waiting, customer perception apparently is everything.

Source: Iowa State University

Explore further: Best of Last Week - Zero friction quantum engine, twisted radio beams and Ebola outbreak update

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Apple sees record demand for new iPhones

Sep 15, 2014

Apple on Monday said it had received record pre-orders for its new iPhone models, and that some customers will have to wait for the larger-screen versions of the smartphones.

For gamers, waiting can be the hardest part

Sep 11, 2014

When it comes to video games, are they better late than never? At this week's GameStop Expo, the video game retailer's annual consumer-centric event, more than 3,000 attendees had the chance to test drive ...

Recommended for you

Ig Nobel winner: Using pork to stop nosebleeds

Sep 19, 2014

There's some truth to the effectiveness of folk remedies and old wives' tales when it comes to serious medical issues, according to findings by a team from Detroit Medical Center.

History books spark latest Texas classroom battle

Sep 16, 2014

As Texas mulls new history textbooks for its 5-plus million public school students, some academics are decrying lessons they say exaggerate the influence of Christian values on America's Founding Fathers.

Flatow, 'Science Friday' settle claims over grant

Sep 16, 2014

Federal prosecutors say radio host Ira Flatow and his "Science Friday" show that airs on many National Public Radio stations have settled civil claims that they misused money from a nearly $1 million federal ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

nilbud
not rated yet Jan 25, 2008
Why oh why do they not just hand you beers until the wait is over. If the queue is long enough you could be nicely toasted when you reach the counter, after having a pleasant chat with your new buddies in the queue.