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Right on cue, there’s a long line of bad service

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.

54 comments so far

  • As if retailers give a hoohoo about customer service. Nor do restaurants. Remember, this is Oz you're talking about, not the USA.

    Who needs customers? Right, Gerry Harvey?

    Date and time
    July 04, 2012, 1:41PM
    • OZ, where minimum wage standards exist and rent for retail stores is many times higher. Lets put things in context eh?

      Date and time
      July 04, 2012, 3:25PM
    • @ Ben
      What do awards have to do with it?!?! Mazz is right, Australian service is very very sub-standard, and this is proven to be a fact by the number of consumers who at the first chance they got side-steped retailers in shops and went online.

      Your own agrument actually supports Mazz's argument for 2 reasons: 1) higher wages should = better service 2) higher fixed costs (rent and so on) mean every customer in your shop is that much more important and should be treated accordingly.

      Melb guy
      Date and time
      July 04, 2012, 5:40PM
    • Right on Mazz!
      There are no queues in the USA.
      Especially not : at airports for check in, immigration and security; disney land theme parks or any other toursit attraction....
      I believe waiting for service was actually invented there too!

      Date and time
      July 05, 2012, 9:00AM
  • Unfortunately many businesses still dont get it. In a bank or post office the first experience is the long line and in the supermarket it is the last experience - both destined to remind you of how poor the experience overall was. Sure self checkouts assist, but when a store has built up to 20 checkouts and only 2 or 3 are working at any time what does that say to customers - "we don't really care - we know you will wait because we are cheap [sometimes], you have invested time filling your trolley, and we'll take your money anyway". New technologies will help but until they are used widely we rely on poor management more concerned about cost cutting than their customers. Offer a super efficient system and stores would not need to bribe you with worthless loyalty points and other gimmicks - you will be rewarded with the best gift of all - time. But will they listen...........

    Date and time
    July 04, 2012, 1:58PM
    • >encourage businesses to go digital
      >businesses cut service staff as a result
      >complain about how long it takes to find an open register/service assistant

      You can't have it both ways, my man.

      Date and time
      July 04, 2012, 2:05PM
      • I see your point and agree, but then when everybody starts using the incredibly low-cost queue avoidance methods they introduce, will they follow the lead of the banks ($2+ to use an ATM), airlines (ridiculous add-on costs for using virtually anything to do with booking a flight) and ticket booking agencies ($7 to download a computer generated pdf ticket) and start seeing it as a nice little earner?

        Harvey K-Tel
        Date and time
        July 04, 2012, 2:05PM
        • Why not, I would if I were them. And I'd pay $2 to skip a 30 minute queue.

          Date and time
          July 04, 2012, 4:50PM
        • a charge PER TICKET to buy them online at the cinema, rather than just an (unecessary) booking fee

          chewing salty razors
          Date and time
          July 05, 2012, 11:19AM
      • In shops I simply turn around and walk out. When they realise that instead of cutting costs they need to increase revenue then we will all be better off.

        Date and time
        July 04, 2012, 2:18PM

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