One of the more frustrating elements of waiting is not knowing how long or what the steps are ahead. “Known unknowns” can cause anxiety and frustration. Fortunately, those in service businesses are starting to understand that if they can give transparency, it will alleviate anxiety. More selfishly, it will also reduce unnecessary inquiries and load on agents.
Airlines paved the way of reducing “gate lice” (those crowding a gate area and potentially bugging gate agents about upgrades and other questions) by putting upgrade and standby status on boards close to the date. More recently, these were made available on apps.
Having spent more time recently in different waiting areas, there’s some low hanging fruit to dramatically improve the experience of those waiting. The first is estimated wait time. Some places where you need to take a number have staggered queues and wickets (I’m thinking Service Ontario, DriveTest, the passport office). These places might have letters and numbers and stagger. You might be W76 and A99 will be called before you. Psychologically, if you see W72 on the board, you might think “wow, there are only 4 people ahead of me” when there might actually be 20 or 30.
The other area is when there’s no numbering system, like in a hospital ER. You just wait for someone to show up and call you and hope that nothing gets missed behind the scenes. There’s no transparency or knowledge of where you are in the system or process and no estimate upfront of how long things will take.
Yet, many of these waiting areas have LCD TVs with CNN or CP24 blaring. It would be the perfect spot to put a status display board. Adding a paging system or an app would be great to give peace of mind in case you can’t hear someone saying your name in a crowded waiting room.
What’s interesting is where these systems are and aren’t in place. Twenty years ago, when I was getting my braces adjusted, the orthodontist had such a system in his office. I can’t recall seeing any queuing innovations in services that were monopolies, like in Toronto area hospitals or in any government services. Take a ticket, take a seat. Or… just wait to be called or “how dare you ask” if you inquire.
There’s probably an opportunity for a bolt on service that makes queueing better for everyone involved and doesn’t require invasive procedures to implement.