How to Improve Your Patient Queue Experience
Waiting rooms, across a spectrum of businesses and industries, often annoy people who are stuck waiting in them. For example, in healthcare, a Binary Fountain survey found that 43 percent of patients said the time spent waiting was the “most frustrating part of visiting the doctor.”  https://www.binaryfountain.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Binary-Fountain-2018-Consumerism-Survey-Infographic.pdf
This frustration isn’t limited to medical providers. Any long or miserable time in a waiting room can lead to a bad experience that resonates long after the customer finally receives service.
Your patients or customers deserve better. Virtual queuing and appointment scheduling technology can deliver an improved experience for them and boost your organization’s operational and revenue strategies.
The Risks of Having a Poor Patient Queue Experience
Customers who visit your brick-and-mortar location expect good service. An unpleasant wait can ruin their expectations before you can even impress them with that service. Consider these negative consequences:
Customers forced to wait in less-than-ideal conditions may feel more than simply inconvenienced; they can become genuinely frustrated and mad. When that happens, the risks to a successful interaction multiply:
- The customer may mistreat employees, who are already under pressure in today’s retail environment—and who won’t hesitate to find another job if they are dissatisfied with their current one.
- Even if they aren’t feeling belligerent, customers might become unfocused when their turn finally does arrive, thus requiring more time to be served and extending the wait for everyone after them.
- Customers may simply give up and leave, which eases the queue but denies you a sale.
Poor Customer Flow
Customers who see a crowd of people in a waiting room may decide waiting isn’t worth it—and immediately walk out. The irony is that the wait might not be that long because you have enough people to serve the queue, but the chaotic scene may be enough to cause a negative impression.
Crowded waiting rooms also can cause confusion in that customers—and employees—may not know who’s next. Trying to manage the queue pulls employees away from other duties, and solutions such as take-a-number machines are impersonal.
As the COVID-19 pandemic ebbs and flows, businesses can’t help but look at a crowd of people jammed into a small waiting area and hope that nobody is contagious. Even with vaccines and better masks, customers may still be skittish to be indoors among other people for a long time.
Pandemic precaution has also led to customers permanently practicing social distancing—even if your business or local health mandates aren’t requiring it. That can create even more confusion in a waiting room, with people refusing to sit down and the space looking more crowded than it actually is.
Managing a crowd of impatient patients isn’t easy for employees, who often get the brunt of customers’ dissatisfaction. Seeing more customers walk in only builds upon that anxiety.
Employees under stress also make mistakes and aren’t as efficient. They begin to see customers as the enemy instead of people they should be serving to the best of their ability.
Customers Lost Forever
Irritate a customer enough, and they’ll stop being a customer. That holds true for just about any part of your business, but the waiting experience shouldn’t be the thing to sink someone’s opinion of your organization. Unfortunately, that outcome happens more often than it should …
Moreover, a customer lost to a long wait might leave bad reviews online and tell others to avoid your organization. In this way, not providing the best customer waiting room doesn’t just cost one customer—it could cost you many.
A Solution: Virtual Queue and Appointment Scheduling Technology
Many organizations—from healthcare providers to customer-facing government facilities to retail businesses—are turning to a virtual queue strategy to transform the waiting room experience for their patrons. The technology is simple to use but produces powerful results:
- Customers enter the waiting room and check in to the virtual queue, usually by scanning a QR code or entering information at a kiosk.
- The system keeps track of who’s in the queue, the services they need, and their place in line.
- Customers are sent text notifications to their smartphones on estimated wait times and are alerted when their turn is coming up so they can return to the service counter.
Many organizations have also adopted digital appointment scheduling to bring order and efficiency to their waiting rooms. With this technology, customers book appointments online on their own devices, then receive notifications on the status of those appointments up to their scheduled day and time of service. If they need to cancel or change their appointment, they can do so through the system, and they can book a future appointment after their first one is completed.
Benefits of a Virtual Patient Queue
Virtual queuing (and appointment scheduling) helps create the best waiting room experience for the patient, customer, guest, patron, or anyone else who uses the system. Some of the benefits include:
- Better queue management: With a digital solution, the queue almost runs itself and doesn’t require constant supervision, which frees employees to focus more on the customer in front of them.
- Less havoc: Customers aren’t wondering who’s next, where they should stand or sit, and how much time they must wait until being served. Employees also aren’t trying to guess whose turn is coming up—which is important because guessing wrong can lead to more stress. Even in a crowded waiting room, virtual queuing replaces chaos with order.
- Smaller crowds: Virtual queuing gives customers the freedom not to use the waiting room. They can go for a walk, get a cup of coffee or a snack, visit another part of the store (if it’s a retail setting), or anything else besides waiting in a designated spot. A smaller crowd is easier to navigate and doesn’t scare off future customers. For people in the queue, the freedom to move around—knowing they’ll be notified when their turn is near—puts them in control of the waiting experience.
- Less maintenance: Crowded waiting rooms can become messy and need to be cleaned, both during business hours and after your location has closed. With fewer people waiting because they’re free to move about, waiting areas get less beat up and don’t require as much effort or manpower to maintain.
- Efficiency: Virtual queuing can save time, making customers more cooperative, employees more focused, and the waiting room more orderly. The efficiency gained lets businesses serve more customers in the same amount of time—which, in the long term, helps the bottom line.
Of course, a better customer experience creates repeat customers who tell friends, family, and online review sites about the excellent service you gave them. Although this boost to your reputation isn’t always easy to measure, it’s there and can benefit your organization.
Must-Have Features of a Virtual Patient Queue
Not every virtual queuing platform comes with the features to handle your queue management needs today and in the future. Here’s a look at several crucial components of the best solutions:
Virtual queuing won’t benefit customers if they can’t figure out how to enter the system. Look for a platform that offers easy ways for people to check in:
- QR code
- SMS (text) messaging
- Manually, with an employee entering the customer into a system
Whichever check-in method(s) you use, be sure signage in the waiting area clearly explains what customers need to do to enter the digital queue.
Appointment Scheduling Ease of Use
Any appointment scheduling platform you offer should be as easy for customers to use as virtual queuing is. It should be accessible and functional on smartphone-based web browsers so that people don’t become frustrated when trying to book an appointment. It should also give customers plenty of options to schedule appointments, provide important information pertinent to their appointment, and cancel and rebook as needed.
A virtual queuing platform that is too difficult for employees to figure out won’t get used to its fullest, which cuts into your investment and won’t provide much of a benefit to your customers. The best solutions deliver an intuitive user interface (UI) that staff can quickly learn so they can take advantage of every system feature—and inspire employees to want to use it because, ultimately, it helps them, too.
Your organization is unique, and how your customers wait for service is likely also unique. Therefore, you should be able to configure a virtual queue or appointment scheduling system to match your and your customers’ needs. Quality platforms offer this flexibility at your fingertips—you can adjust settings with little fuss but maximum effect.
Virtual queuing systems should offer the ability to send a variety of notifications and alerts to customers’ phones, including:
- Reminder texts telling the customer estimated wait times, updates on any delays, and when to start returning to the service counter
- Questions for the customer to answer so that employees are ready to provide the best service possible
- Digital offers and promotions, such as coupons, notices of upcoming sales, special holiday hours, and more
- Invitations to take customer satisfaction surveys after the service is completed
A critical part of this feature is that communication is going back and forth between the customer and your staff. In a crowded waiting room, these interactions are usually impossible.
Data and Reporting Capabilities
Generating solid data on customer behavior proves difficult for many organizations. Virtual queue management systems offer a way to get these analytics about not only how their customers wait but also what they’re waiting for, how much they’re spending, and more.
Moreover, the best platforms let you track this data in real time. For example, if the system is showing that more customers than expected are waiting for a certain service, you can divert employees to help with the surge. In this way, you’re managing your overall operations while you manage your queue.
Your queue management system should also make financial sense, providing a nice return and not breaking the bank. Check out our guide How to Avoid the Hidden Costs of Purchasing a Queue Management System to learn more.