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The Queue Waiting Game (And Why It Doesn’t Have To Happen)

We’ve all experienced the Queue Waiting Game. We all understand the frustrations of being on hold, hoping for a break in the hold music, waiting for the voice of the customer services representative to come through on the other end. Queueing can be boring, frustrating, enraging, maddening, tear-inducing and can prompt incredibly strong reactions. Consequently, many organisations have gone out of their way to try and ensure they don’t lose customers specifically because of their queueing systems.

However, the Queue Waiting Game may now be a thing of the past. Here, we take a look at how chatbots are helping pioneer queue-less customer service calls.

Queueing without information

Considering that it’s not the most pleasurable of activities, a surprising amount of research has been conducted into how humans perceive and react to queueing. Much of it points to the fact that, though it may not feel like it when you’re actually doing it, queueing is largely a question of mind over matter. Two queues of equal duration can feel incredibly different depending on your state of mind, access to information, and previous experience with a business. In the words of MIT’s Richard Larson:

‘the psychology of queueing is more important than the statistics of the wait itself.’

This is particularly true when it comes to information pertaining to how long the wait may be, or where you are in the queue in relation to others. Without this information, we often feel powerless and frustrated, and are far more likely to walk away from the queue entirely. Our expectation, or complete lack of, can have a powerful impact on the way we perceive a queue and how we’re likely to react.

numbered queues

Numbered queues

For instance, any uncertainty surrounding the wait and how long it will take is likely to exacerbate stress. On the other hand, information related to how long we should expect to wait and any reasons for the wait is likely to improve our perception of the queue. For this reason, many businesses institute a numbered queueing system, in which all users know exactly where they stand and roughly how long they can expect to wait.

The numbered queueing system also appeals to another important human ideal – fairness. The queue system is underpinned by the principle of first come – first serve, and our attitude towards a queue will be dictated by how much we believe it to be fair and follow this principle. A numbered queueing system constantly reinforces this idea of fairness by reminding the customer that they’ve been assigned a number and will be seen in turn.

However, the numbered queueing system can be a dangerous one. By providing wait information, customer service departments create expectations. If they fail to meet these expectations, the consequences can be even worse than keeping customers in the dark.

woman holding up a smiley on a green post it note

Solving the queueing problem

The basic measurement of satisfaction with a service and its queue is said to be determined by the relationship between your perception of the queue and your expectations for the wait. This means that even though a business’ customer service queue may be considerably shorter than all other businesses of the same type, the user can still walk away disappointed if the waiting time exceeds their expectations.

At this point, it may seem like it’s impossible to keep those queueing happy. However, there is an alternative. Rather than making callers feel powerless with no information, or raising expectations with potentially disappointing details, just do away with queues altogether. By implementing certain automation technologies – primarily chatbots – it’s possible to resolve many problems before they reach a human advisor, minimising the number of people who require one and eliminating any queue.

No queues

Automation can minimise queues and, if implemented correctly, may mitigate them entirely. Chatbots can be delegated many of the simple, repetitive tasks human agents often find themselves completing. By using digital technology in the initial stages of the call, it’s possible to direct those callers who can be helped by chatbots and other technologies towards the correct communication channels. Consequently, there are less callers trying to talk with a human representative and more users who have their problem solved without the need for queueing.

Secondly, chatbots allow for 24/7 customer assistance. As all initial services are automated, there is no need to restrict the hours in which those seeking help can call. This should have the effect of distributing calls more evenly throughout the day, easing the pressure placed on the queueing system at peak times, and offering greater flexibility to users.

IVR (Interactive Voice Recognition) can also be used to reduce and, in some cases, eliminate queue waiting times. As it’s easy to switch on or off, you can look on it as the perfect extra staffing option; using IVR to cover peak times such as Monday mornings. IVR can be optional, giving service users the option to return to a ‘real person’ at any time and can also be dovetailed with SMS tracking and a caller ID system, which can effectively shift the user to a preferred option of a chatbot and/or mobile web. (You can try this now by giving our demo line a call on 0333 332 3020).

Many organisations, institutions and businesses are at the stage where intelligent use of digital technology could make the Queue Waiting Game a thing of the past. Chatbots, in particular, have a key role to play if this is to be the case. They’re the means by which much of the heavy lifting will be done, freeing up human labour to tackle those problems that applications aren’t yet nuanced enough to solve.


While you may be able to control the length of time a customer waits in a queue, there’s no real way of controlling their expectations. While it might be possible to manage them for a while using all the tried and tested tips, tricks and techniques, there’s no foolproof method to setting expectations and, consequently, no foolproof means of avoiding customer disappointment. Unless you do away with queues completely.

Chatbots and IVR (or a combination of the two) offer a cost-effective, efficient and flexible solution to customer frustrations with queueing. Rather than wait powerlessly without any idea when they’ll be seen, or be disappointed by missed targets, customers can begin the process of resolving their customer service issue the moment they pick up the phone. In some cases, a human representative will still be required. In many, the problem will be solved without needing to consume a human agent’s valuable time and resources. Rather than playing the Queue Waiting Game, isn’t it just better to start fixing customer problems straight away?

By |2018-03-16T11:47:19+00:00March 2nd, 2018|Blog, Channel Shift, Customer service|0 Comments