Frustrated customers waiting in line

Written by

Kat Elliott

Imagine, standing in a line to check out at your local retail store for twenty minutes before being helped by an employee. There’s nothing for you to do while waiting in this line with five other people besides think about other, more productive things you could be doing with your time, or other places you could shop without this intolerable waiting period.

The fact is that customers like having their time valued. They don’t want to wait for long periods of time when they’re just doing necessary chores. Not managing your business’s wait times can result in a drastic decrease in customer satisfaction and inhibit the long-term success of your business.

The negative effects of waiting in line


Long lines are something every business owner hopes for because it means the business is popular, sales are being made, and customers are willing to wait in line to purchase the items they want or need. At first glance, it seems like long lines are only beneficial to the business, but when you take a closer look, you can see the long-term effects.

It only takes one bad experience to lose a customer for good. According to The Washington Post, a long wait can damage a customer’s perception of a business, cause people to leave a line or avoid it completely, or discourage them from shopping at the store again.

This intolerance for waiting in line isn’t just limited to one type of business, either:

  •  Retail customers are only willing to wait an average of 14 minutes before being served
  • American hotel guests are only willing to wait 5 minutes, and exceeding that time frame can result in a 47% decrease in customer satisfaction
  • 57% of customers will leave a quick-service restaurant if the line to order at the counter exceeds five people, and 91% will leave if it exceeds ten people

That’s why, even though a long line might seem good at first, it can also dissuade any potential repeat customers and cost your business a lot of sales.


Lines and customer satisfaction


Taking into consideration how long your customers might be waiting in line at your business is important to maintaining a higher level of customer satisfaction.

Studies find that customers are willing to wait in a line if they’re already in it, but they won’t be very happy about it, not to mention it can affect their overall perception of your business. A negative perception will drive away new customers and is discouraging to the repeat customers you already have.

Too many negative perceptions can give you a reputation for poor customer service and the inability to handle large crowds effectively. This, in turn, can deter potential customers and prevent future sales.


Customers in line at kiosk

How to actually reduce the time your customers spend in line

There are two ways in particular that can significantly reduce the time your customers spend in line:

Hiring more staff

With more staff available to assist customers, the line can constantly be on the move. This method also contributes to better customer service, as customers are assisted by people who can listen to their concerns or engage them in conversation. However, while this method is effective, it does cost a lot of time and money. You not only have to take the time to hire the right people, but to effectively train them as well. Then, paying the hourly wages or salaries of more people is often too costly for many small business owners.


Kiosks offer an alternative for customers to check themselves out, place orders, or retrieve information without an employee’s assistance. Transactions are fast and efficient, allowing customers to move more quickly through the line and process. This also caters to the customer preference for being self-sufficient and having control over their interactions with businesses. In fact, one study found that 40% of customers prefer self-service over human interactions because it accommodates their preferences and decreases wait times, creating a more positive customer experience overall.


Implementing one of these solutions will help your business to more effectively manage customers during your busy times and increase customer satisfaction.


Benefits for your business

Reducing wait times at your business goes beyond just raising customer satisfaction and providing more positive customer experiences. Those positive customer experiences will encourage your customers to keep coming back to your business, creating loyalty and converting first-time customers into repeats.

Your repeat customers can also improve your customer acquisition rate at a lower cost. Rather than spending thousands of dollars on marketing, repeat customers can promote your business by word-of-mouth or through online reviews.

High customer retention and acquisition rates will then result in more sales and generate more revenue for the business. Looking back, all of this can be achieved just by taking steps to reduce the amount of time your customers spend waiting in line.


Key takeaways

For small businesses, long lines mean something other than a successful business. They can negatively affect your customers’ perception of your business and result in lost sales opportunities. Taking measures to reduce wait times, either by hiring more staff or by implementing a self-service kiosk, will result in an increase in customer satisfaction, improved customer acquisition and retention rates, and an increase in sales.

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