Effective Queue Flow Management in 5 Easy Steps
The sight of a long line in your store or location could be seen as a sign of success. You have customers who are willing to wait for your product or service—and what’s better than that?
However, a packed queue doesn’t always mean customers are happy. Waiting a long time to be served isn’t fun (even if you can pass the time on your smartphone), and your product better be outstanding or else customers will feel short-changed. Some waits are worth it, but is that a risk you want to take?
What Is Queue Flow Management?
Whenever you have more patrons waiting to be served than resources (e.g., employees, cash registers, kiosks) available to serve them, a line will form and people will wait. Queue flow management helps determine how they wait, from the length of time to how and where the line moves to how the queue—and the service that will be rendered when someone reaches the front of the line—is staffed.
Queue flow matters because undefined, disorganized lines hurt the customer experience. People mostly accept that they might have to wait for service, but the longer and more chaotic the wait, the more irritated they become. Irritated patrons tend to buy less, are less cooperative with employees, and can come away with such a negative opinion that they may never return. Effective queue flow management improves the customer experience, which in turn can help protect the bottom line.
Benefits of Queue Management
Whether you manage queues with physical barriers or with a digital solution, effective flow isn’t just about prevention and control. Good queue management can actually boost the business, support employees, and create positive experiences. Consider these benefits:
- Employee efficiency: Queue flow management decreases the need for employees to take time from their other responsibilities to manage the line, even if that’s just calling out a number or trying to figure out who’s next in an undefined queue. Those extra few minutes add up over time and allow employees to concentrate and better serve the customer at hand—which also can save time and reduce stress.
- More sales: By allowing customers to digitally secure a place in line and then giving them the freedom to move about the store, queue management software encourages additional shopping and creates opportunities for more sales. Furthermore, customers who anticipate a long line may pick up just one item, figuring they don’t have time for any more shopping. Even if wait time isn’t reduced much, the absence of a physical queue reduces customer stress, practically telling people that it’s OK to shop.
- Customer loyalty: Businesses can lose customers if they get a reputation for having long, slow-moving lines. Eliminating that stress takes some of the dread out of the visit. Customers appreciate anything that makes their lives more convenient and less harried, which builds trust and brand loyalty while possibly inspiring them to tell friends and family what a great experience they enjoy with your business.
- Lower operational costs: It takes resources to set up, maintain, clean, staff, and manage physical queues. Queue flow management minimizes many of these costs and frees up employees for other tasks.
These are just a few of the benefits that great queue flow management delivers. Customers and employees alike are happier—and the bottom line improves.
Steps to Build Effective Queue Flow Management
Effective queue management isn’t as simple as buying a number dispenser or posting a sign that says, “Line Starts Here.” However, it is also not as complex as you might think. Here are five steps you can take to improve your queue flow management.
1. Consider self-service.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, self-checkout lines at grocery stores and other self-service options—for example, ordering and paying for a pizza for carryout from your smartphone, then picking it up from a dispenser without ever interacting with an employee—were gaining in popularity. Customers like self-service because it puts them in control, and businesses appreciate it because it reduces (but doesn’t necessarily eliminate) queues and doesn’t require as many employees to manage.
A challenge with self-service is that not every customer is a good fit for it—some people prefer service from a human, which inevitably means you’ll need to manage a queue. Digital check-ins and appointment scheduling can bridge that gap: Customers get a place in line from a kiosk or their devices, then receive a text message when their turn is near.
Businesses that are thinking about self-service should consider how much self-service they want to allow. Will you allow customers to make payments from their phones, or do you prefer they check in and be served by an employee? Again, knowing your customers will go a long way toward deciding what self-service option might be best for you.
2. Gauge wait times.
Effective queue management relies upon knowing how long your customers, on average, are waiting, and if the length of those waits is annoying people. Every organization is different: Ten minutes in a TSA line might not seem so bad, but 10 minutes waiting to reach the counter at a retail store can feel like an eternity.
Data on wait times reveals trends—for example, the time of day queues are at their longest—that should factor into your flow management. Perhaps you need more staffing at peak times, or maybe you’re overstaffing when lines aren’t so busy. Keep track of the data even after you make changes to see if they’re working, and keep striving toward shorter waits that lead to more efficiency and a better experience for customers and employees.
3. Vary your queues.
For a customer waiting in a queue, perhaps nothing is more frustrating than being stuck behind someone requiring minutes of attention when all you need is to do one quick thing and get out. That’s why grocery store express lanes (even if people don’t always have 20 items or fewer) and TSA PreCheck were invented.
Offering more queue options can ease waits for people who don’t need much of your time as well as the ones who monopolize your day. Besides being more efficient for your operation, a line to just pay a bill or drop off a prescription is appreciated by customers—and it frees them up to possibly spend their saved time browsing your store.
4. Train employees.
Managers may be responsible for designing and adjusting an organization’s queue flow, but front-line service employees are usually tasked with executing the strategy. Therefore, it is essential to train your workers to understand the principles behind queue management as well as the solutions—whether digital or otherwise—you’re using.
Even with a sound queue management strategy, there will be days when the flow becomes overwhelming. Good training gives employees the confidence to handle crazy lines and cranky customers and to adjust strategy as needed.
5. Embrace the analytics.
Wait times aren’t the only metrics that inform queue flow management. Sales numbers, employee efficiency data, customer satisfaction ratings, and more reflect the effectiveness of your queue flow. If lines get longer at the same time sales decrease, it might be time to adjust queue strategy—but you won’t know that unless you have the data.
Digital queue management solutions are great for compiling all the data you need to manage your flow. Easy-to-use dashboards provide easy access to metrics in real time, and alerts can be set so that when your queues are approaching critical mass, you and your team can take immediate action.
Queue Flow and Cash Flow
Customers who feel stuck in a long line aren’t spending—they’re simmering. Giving them ways to wait with less stress and the freedom to do their own thing creates a positive experience that might inspire them to spend more, or to at least return to your store. In this way, queue flow management affects cash flow. When lines are managed well, profitability increases.
This link between queue management and the bottom line is rooted in data. Qtrac is here to help you understand the data and build an effective queue flow management system. See a demo to learn more.