What Is a Virtual Queue?
The term “virtual” is thrown around a lot and often implies something super high-tech—such as virtual reality, virtual private networks, virtual desktops, and so on.
However, virtual doesn’t always mean complex. Sometimes, it simply describes a technology that replaces the need for someone to physically be in a certain place. With this definition in mind, the concept of a virtual queue should begin to seem helpful instead of intimidating.
Still, the idea of waiting in line without actually standing in a line may feel a bit unimaginable. Here is a guide to virtual queues and why they might be the solution that your company needs to improve line efficiency and the customer experience.
The Virtual Queue, Defined
A physical queue is simply people standing in a line awaiting their turn, whether they are at a retail store, the airport, an amusement park, a restaurant, a government agency, or anywhere else where there are too many patrons for all of them to be immediately served. Some places may not have a visible line but have people check in, then sit or stand in a defined (or undefined) waiting area.
A virtual queue is a line of people who are waiting in order but are not forced to wait in a designated space. Technology keeps track of the queue and enables customers:
- To walk through the store to browse products
- To avoid standing, or sitting, in a prescribed space
- To not be stressed out by the wait itself
How Does a Virtual Queue Work?
A crude predecessor to a virtual queue is the take-a-number dispenser you might find at a butcher shop or a bakery. Though a bit impersonal—nobody feels special when they are granted service by someone yelling “No. 57!”—this method gave customers a place in line and a little bit of freedom to do what they wanted before their numbers were called.
Virtual queues incorporate technology to move the take-a-number idea ahead by light-years. Patrons check in to the queue via smartphone or another device. Then, they receive notifications on their phones when their turn is nearing, or they can simply click a link to check how many people are in front of them in the queue.
At the time of check-in or while they wait, patrons can answer questions or leave comments about the service they need, thus giving staff members vital information to better accommodate them.
Virtual appointment scheduling works in much the same way—people book time online beforehand or when they arrive at the business, can communicate important details about their needs via the application, and are continually updated on their appointment status.
Why Your Organization Should Consider a Virtual Queue
There are some settings in which a physical queue or a waiting area is simply unavoidable—for example, an airport TSA line. However, if your industry or organization doesn’t have strict logistics around how people are managed while they wait, a virtual queue is worth considering for several reasons, including:
Physical Queues Can Be Unwieldy
Even well-organized queues take up space, can be difficult to navigate for customers not in line, and are intimidating and deflating when they’re packed. Virtual queues take the mass of waiting people—and all the hardware and furniture needed to help manage those people—out of the equation.
Customers Like Technology That Helps Them
The idea that people can use their smartphones—which they rely on for so much already—to avoid physically waiting in a long line is definitely appealing. In this way, technology gives customers more control over the experience.
Managing a physical queue isn’t always easy for employees, who may be forced to deal with angry customers, figure out whose turn is next, and make snap judgments about if, for example, they should open another service point. Virtual queues take over much of this management, leaving employees to focus fully on the customer in front of them.
It Provides Operational Insights
Virtual queues collect data on the number of customers seen, how long they waited in line, what kind of service they needed, how they interacted with the application, and more. These insights help you better manage not only the queue but also the overall operations of your organization. For example, if the system is telling you more people are waiting in the queue at a certain time of day, you can staff more employees at that time to handle the consistent surge.
It Increases Sales
Queue management systems boost efficiency, which often results in seeing more customers in the same amount of time and with the same number of or even fewer employees. Moreover, going virtual can increase customer satisfaction, meaning people will be more likely to return to your business for what they consider outstanding service. Often, sales increase and the bottom line improves.
Benefits of a Virtual Queue
Virtual queuing offers many advantages for customers, employees, and organizations alike. Some of these benefits include:
Shorter Wait Times
With employees focused on the customer at hand and armed with customer information that helps streamline service rather than the queue behind that customer, they get to the next person in the virtual line faster. As a result, wait times decrease.
Perception of Shorter Wait Times
Depending on circumstances, wait times might stay the same, or an unexpected surge of customers may keep wait times long despite any efficiency a virtual queue delivers. Because a virtual solution allows customers to wait from wherever they want — instead of being stuck in a physical queue or a waiting area—their perception changes, and they think they’re spending less time in the queue than they actually are. That slight change can make all the difference between a stressful wait and one that doesn’t seem so bad.
Customers who aren’t subjected to standing in a long line or waiting in a cramped lobby are generally happier. As a result, they tend to spend more, return to your business, leave favorable online reviews, and tell their friends and family how great you are.
Furthermore, because customers can explain their needs through the queuing system, they receive better—perhaps even personalized—service when they reach the front of the line. Virtual queues are inherently customer-centric, delivering a great experience to people who might be accustomed to expecting something not so pleasant.
A Better Employee Experience
Even the most enthusiastic employees can feel worn down by angry customers—and long lines can fuel that anger. Virtual queues improve the employee experience by improving the customer experience. In turn, employees improve the customer experience even more … and a nice cycle of service and mutual respect builds.
Less Maintenance of the Waiting Area and Service Space
Besides improving traffic flow through and around the waiting area, a virtual queue also minimizes the maintenance needed around the service space. If, for example, someone spills a 64-ounce soda while waiting in line, cleaning it up not only pulls resources away from other areas of the business but also creates chaos because the queue now must adjust around the mess. With a virtual queue, a spill may still happen, but cleanup will be easier and much less disruptive.
Live Interaction with Customers
In a physical queue, there’s little to no interaction between customers and employees until the customer reaches the front of the line. A virtual option can open up communication as soon as the customer enters the queue.
An advanced feature with some solutions allows the organization to send sales offers to customers’ phones while they wait. These promotions can be tailored to the customer and their needs, thus creating an opportunity for impulse buys and appealing to people’s love of instant value.
What to Look for in a Virtual Solution
A feature-rich virtual queuing system provides plenty of flexibility to adapt to your organization’s needs as well as the needs of your customers. Here are some of those essential features:
- Easy implementation and learning curve: The best systems are hassle-free with their setup and don’t require advanced expertise to get you up and running. They also are easy for your staff to quickly learn the basics and use the solution to its full capabilities before too long.
- User-friendliness for customers: If a virtual queue is too difficult for customers to use, they may become more frustrated than if they were standing in an actual line. Quality solutions emphasize the user experience by being compatible with any device and allowing people to easily input information and receive notifications.
- White-label capabilities: Customers may not trust a virtual queue from an unknown, high-tech-sounding brand—but they will likely feel more comfortable if your organization’s name is on the application interacting with them. The ability to white label puts users’ minds at ease while establishing that you care about the customer experience enough to offer this wonderful, time-saving service.
- Data and analytics: As already stated, queue management systems can do more than manage queues; they can provide real-time analytics of your organization’s operations. The best solutions offer ways to gather this valuable data, which can drive even more efficiency.
- Customization and scalability: No two organizations’ queuing needs are the same, so choose a system that lets you customize the experience to meet your requirements and connect with your customers. Your solution should also be able to grow as your business grows.
- Expertise behind the solution: Some queuing solution providers might have the technological skill to create an app, but they do so without a true understanding of the science and art of queue management. Pick a provider that backs up its software with years of queue expertise.
Qtrac offers all of these features and more. See a demo to see what our virtual queue management system can do for you.