Do too many businesses make you wait too long to buy their products or services?

Do too many businesses make you wait too long to buy their products or services? Photo: Penny Stephens

A week at the Gold Coast during school holidays feels like a never-ending series of queues. Long lines to enter theme parks were followed by even longer lines for rides. There were big queues at airports, restaurants, hotel check-ins and check-outs, and taxis after the football.

Don’t think this is another rant about woeful customer service. Long queues at tourism attractions are unavoidable when you and thousands of other families go on holiday at the same time and place.

But surely one of the great opportunities in Australian business is to kill the queue.

What’s your view?

  • Do too many businesses make you wait too long to buy their products or services?
  • Is the problem worsening as service and retail companies cut staff?
  • Which companies have the longest queues, either in-store or for their call centres?
  • What has been your worst experience waiting in queues?
  • Have service companies been slow to use technology to reduce queue time?

Think of it this way: every minute wasted in a queue is a minute of dead time for a service business, and a lost opportunity to get more money out of a customer’s wallet before they leave the store.

The 30 minutes spent waiting for a theme-park ride is 30 minutes that could be spent buying other theme-park products, or being hassled by children to buy things.

The 15 minutes wasted queuing for movie tickets might be the difference between going to the popcorn bar or avoiding it because there is no time. The 10 minutes wasted waiting for a sandwich at a city café is 10 minutes that could be used to buy another coffee.

Aside from lost sales, each wasted minute detracts from the customer service experience. For example, being on hold for 20 minutes while waiting for a call-centre operator feels like torture. It’s little wonder that so many people buy things online to save time.

One might argue long queues are unavoidable in seasonal businesses or in those that experience spikes in demand during certain times. That is partly true. Also true is that some service industries have been slow to capitalise on technology that reinvents the customer experience.

The banks introduced automatic teller machines years ago and utility companies quickly encouraged customers to pay bills online. Airlines encourage passengers to book tickets and check-in online and cinemas increasingly using technology to reduce queues. Supermarkets let customers order online.

Yet so many service businesses still force customers to line up and buy goods the same way they have for decades.

The theme parks are an example. Why can’t patrons download a theme park app upon booking tickets online, use their smart phone to reserve a “digital spot” in a line for a ride, and receive an alert 10 minutes before the ride? Yes, there are complications, but it sure beats waiting in line for half an hour, and would help the theme park’s sales and improve the customer experience.

Why can’t you order food online at more cafes or takeaways, receive an alert when it is ready, and have your credit card charged if you don’t show?

My point is, Australia’s service industry must embrace technology to reinvent the customer experience. Product-based companies seem to be years ahead of service ones in this regard.

If anything, queues seem to be getting longer at many stores. Anybody who has wasted 10 minutes queuing to use a department store change room, or even longer trying to find an open cash register to pay for something, knows this pain. It adds up to annoyed customers or lost sales.

It’s no exaggeration to say I spent at least a day of a week’s holiday at the Gold Coast stuck in queues. Multiply that by thousands of tourists and I’d guess the Gold Coast loses millions of dollars in tourism revenue each year because of unnecessary queues.

It’s a good lesson for all businesses: how can technology make it faster and easier for customers to buy products or service, so they have a better customer experience and more time to spend?

And where there is dead time in the customer experience, how can it be reduced. Maybe the answer is as simple as putting menus on the table so customers do not wait 10 minutes to receive one. Or giving customers an incentive to buy services earlier or later, and thus smooth demand.

Perhaps it involves smartphone applications and new store technology, or being more brutal about rewarding customers who book online and punishing those who do not (such as in airport check-ins).

It’s such an opportunity for service businesses. My Gold Coast holiday, as always, was good. If not for a day lost in queues, it would have been great.