My Lines [of feeling]

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Appointment systems are, in practice, troublesome queue-management tools. They suffer form the problem that some customers may make appointments without showing up a problem endemic to airlines, hotels, dentists, and hair cutters and also from the fact that it is often difficult to decide how far apart to schedule appointments.

If they are too far apart, the server is left idle waiting for the next appointment. If they are too close together, appointments begin to run behind and, since they cumulate, tend to make the server further and further behind.

This is a particularly acute problem because a customer with an appointment has been given a specific expectation about waiting times, and a failure to deliver on this premise makes the wait seem longer than if no appointment had been made. This does not mean that appointment systems should never be used.

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They are, after all, a way of giving the customer a finite expectation. It should be recognized, however, that an appointment defines an expectation that must be met. On a cold and snowy morning, when I telephone for a taxi, I begin with the expectation that my wait will be longer than on a clear, summer day. Accordingly, I wait with a great deal more patience because I understand the causes for the delay.

The explanation given may or may not exculpate the service provider, but is it better than no explanation at all. Most serving personnel are repeatedly asked about the circumstances in waiting situations. However, knowing the length of the wait is not the only reason a customer wants an explanation. As the Federal Express advertisement points out, waiting is also demoralizing. Waiting in ignorance creates a feeling of powerlessness, which frequently results in visible irritation and rudeness on the part of customers as they harass serving personnel in an attempt to reclaim their status as paying clients.

In turn, this behavior makes it difficult for the serving personnel to maintain their equanimity. Naturally, justifiable explanations will tend to soothe the waiting customer more than unjustifiable explanations. A subtle illustration of this is provided by the practice of many fast food chains which instruct serving personnel to take their rest breaks out of sight of waiting customers.

The sight of what seems to be available serving personnel sitting idle while customers wait, is a source of irritation. As Sasser, Olsen, and Wycoff note, one of the most frequent irritants mentioned by customers at restaurants is the prior seating of those who have arrived later.


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In many waiting situations, there is no visible order to the waiting line. In situations such as waiting for a subway train, the level of anxiety demonstrated is high, and the group waiting is less a queue than a mob. Instead of being able to relax, each individual remains in a state of nervousness about whether their priority in the line is being preserved. As already noted, agitated waits seem longer than relaxed waits. It is for this reason that many service facilities have a system of taking a number, whereby each customer is issued a number and served in strict numerical order.

In some facilities, the number currently being served is prominently displayed so that customers can estimate the expected waiting times. However, in many situations customers may be ranked in order of importance, and priorities allocated that way. A good example is a walk-in medical facility which will frequently break the FIFO rule to handle emergency cases. Also familiar is the example of the restaurant that has a finite supply of two-person, four-person, and large tables, and seats customers by matching the size of the party to the size of the table.

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A final example is the use of express-checkout lanes in supermarkets, whereby customers with only a few items are dealt with a special server. All of these cases represent departures form the FIFO system. In some, the priority rules are accepted by the customers as equitable and observed-for example, the supermarket express checkout. In other illustrations, such as the restaurant with varying sizes of tables, the priority rule that seats customers by the size of party is less accepted by the customers, and frequently resented.

The rule may serve the restaurant, but the customer has a harder time seeing the equity benefit.

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Similarly, special service facilities for important customers may or may not be accepted as equitable. For this reason, many service facilities physically separate premium servers for example, first-class airline check-in counters form the sight of regular customers sot hat the latter will not resent the special service rendered. A slightly different example of the equity problem in queue management is provided by the serving person who is responsible not only for dealing with customers present in the serving facility, but also for answering the telephone.

How many of us have not had the experience of waiting while a receptionist answers the telephones, and consequently felt a resentment that some distant customer was receiving a higher priority than we who have made the effort to come to the service facility? The example can be extended to those people who answer their telephone while you are in their office. The example of the supermarket express-checkout counter reminds us that our tolerance for waiting depends upon the perceived value of that for which we wait.

Special checkout counters were originally provided because customers with only a few items felt resentful at having to wait a long time for what was seen as a simple transaction. Customers with a full cart of groceries were much more inclined to tolerate lines. Airlines, too, have discovered this principle and provided separate lines for those with simple transactions such as seat selection , medium-difficulty transactions baggage check-in , and complex transactions ticket purchase or modification.


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  7. Specialization by task does not necessarily reduce the aggregate amount of waiting in the system; however, it serves well to allocate the waiting among the customer base. It follows from this principle that waiting for something of little value can be intolerable.

    This is amply illustrated by the eagerness with which airline passengers leap to their seats when the airplane reaches the gate, even though they know that it will take time to unload all the passengers ahead of them, and that they may well have to wait for their baggage to arrive at the claim area. The same passenger who sat patiently for some hours during the flight suddenly exhibits an intolerance for an extra minute or two to disembark, and a fury at an extra few minutes for delayed baggage.

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    The point is that the service the flight is over, and waiting to get out when there is no more value to be received is aggravating. A similar syndrome is exhibited at hotel checkout counters. Just as preprocess waits are felt to be longer than in-process waits of the same time duration, so are post process waits; these, in fact, feel longest of all. One of the remarkable syndromes to observe in waiting lines is to see individuals sitting or standing next to each other without talking or otherwise interacting until an announcement of a delay is made. Then the individuals suddenly turn to each other to express their exasperation, wonder collectively what is happening, and console each other.

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    What this illustrates is that there is some form of comfort in group waiting rather than waiting alone. This syndrome is evidently in effect in amusement parks such as Disneyland, or in some waiting lines to buy concert tickets when a sense of group community develops and the line turns into almost a service encounter in its own right; the waiting is part of the fun and part of the service.

    Whatever service organizations can do to promote the sense of group waiting rather than isolating each individual, will tend to increase the tolerance for waiting time. Similarly unmentioned are cultural and class difference in tolerance for waiting. It is said of the English, for example, that if they see a line they will join it.

    I hope, however, that the managerial reader will have gained a greater appreciation both for the psychological complexity of queues, and for the fact that the psychological experience of waiting can be managed. The propositions given here can be researched not only by academics for their general applicability, but also by managers for application in specific service situations.

    The main point of this chapter is that the waiting experience is context specific. So thank you so much and best wishes. Thanks so much for yet another great post! This blog is so full of insightful and up-to-date information that I find myself coming back every day to read and reread your posts, and gradually I gained enough confidence to make my first pitch.

    You did a great job. This quote.. I got this quote on time.. Every quotes is just so amazing, Small but deep meaning, Pls share more kind of motivational quotes,. I come time and again to this post and never fail to get inspired.. Great collection of quotes Lydia!

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    Amazing quotes so inspiring quotes and wonderful thank you very much for sharing I loved your blog. This blog post is really amazing. I loved it!


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