Service & Experience with J. N. Halm: Waiting guaranteed!


…Waiting time guarantees and customer experience

This is far from an ideal world. I have said it once and I will say it again. This world is far from ideal. If it were, in the very least, there would be no queues. People will get what they want, exactly when they want it. People will not spend one of humankind’s most scarce resources, i.e. time, waiting for service. But the fact is, we all—rich and poor, high and low, men and women and everything in between—sometimes have to wait our turn to be served. Waiting to receive a service is a part and parcel of the customer experience—which is why businesses must always put a lot of effort into ensuring that the waiting experience is always a pleasurable one.

By and large, many businesses do their best to minimise the pain of waiting for service. Many businesses invest in better technologies to ensure that their operations are smooth enough not to cause any delays. However, it is a fact that in spite of all their best efforts, many businesses still have to grapple with customers having to wait for service.

Therefore, in physical settings, customers are made to feel a lot more comfortable while they wait for service. These comforts include some form of entertainment such as watching movies, listening to some good music, or even being offered some kind of culinary refreshment. Even on the phone, waiting customers are given some form of entertainment to keep them comfortable while waiting.

Aside making the waiting customer feel comfortable, these interventions serve to take the customer’s mind away from the true duration of the wait. It is a fact that when customers have nothing occupying them during the wait, the wait tends to feel longer than it actually is. The perception of time has a lot to do with activity. We all know of the saying, “Time flies when you are having fun.” The reverse can easily be that “Time slows down when you have nothing doing.” This is why it is important to occupy customers when they are waiting for service. One way to occupy a waiting customer’s time is by providing regular updates to the customer. This will help to break into the customer’s perception of the duration of time spent waiting.

But beyond making the customer’s waiting time both comfortable and engaging, is there not more that a business can do to make the customer’s waiting experience even more exciting? I believe there should be. What if a business could offer its customers a guarantee on when the service would arrive? Just as a product manufacturer can confidently place a guarantee on the product that it will be repaired or replaced if the product is not of a specified quality, I see no reason why a service provider cannot also provide a guarantee as to when the service will arrive.

A service provider should be able to confidently inform its customers that if it fails to provide the service within a specified period, it would compensate the customer, in one way or another. This waiting period guarantee could be in the form of a discount on the amount the customer is to spend. Or it could be some other form of compensation for the customer.

The waiting time guarantee I have in mind is not too different from what pizza delivery services and other fast food providers give to their customers. For some of these food delivery services, if the food does not get delivered within a certain time period, then the food is for free for the customer. I will not go as far as saying that all services should go for free if a business is unable to meet its time commitment. That would be asking for too much. After all, it takes money to create the product or service.

However, I am convinced that the guarantee will place some kind of positive burden on the business—a burden to perform. Besides, the “financial loss” that the business will have to make, if it is unable to perform as promised, the reputation of the business would also be on the line. The last thing any business wants is for customers to go around badmouthing it because it failed to keep a promise made to its customers.

A study published a couple of decades ago, specifically in the November 1997 edition of the Marketing Science journal, threw some light on the subject of waiting time guarantees. Titled, “The Impact of Waiting Time Guarantees on Customers’ Waiting Experiences”, the report claimed that providing customers with waiting time guarantees served to enhance the satisfaction of the customer during and at the end of the waiting period. However, the researchers claimed that this assertion held when customer’s expectations of how long they have to wait was less than the actual time they waited for the service.

It was further stated in the report that when the actual time for the service was beyond the time customers had expected to wait, the promise of the waiting time guarantee did not help much with the satisfaction levels of customers. As a matter of fact, it was found that the longer the customer waited, the more the positive feeling of the waiting time guarantee waned. In other words, the customer’s expectation of the waiting period seems to outweigh whatever the business promises in terms of compensation.

Of course, customers, human as they are, would love to be compensated for any delays in service delivery that they have to endure. However, they will be just fine with the business if it delivers on time. The promise of a compensation should the business fail to deliver on time does very little if the service is overly delayed. A business does not necessarily score very high on the experience satisfaction levels of the customer if the business first fails to deliver on time and then has to make up for that failure with a compensation.

This information should be of immense interest to any service provider. What customers are saying, if the results of that study are anything to go by, is that delivering the service on time is more important than any compensation for delays. Timely delivery must be cardinal to the service offering of each and every business. There is a reason why responsiveness is a key element in the popular RATER Model of Customer Satisfaction. The customer’s experience is tied to the time it takes to receive the service.

The above-mentioned study also brings to the fore the importance of managing the customer’s expectations. Customers will almost always come into a transaction with some kind of expectation. The customer’s impression of the experience is directly tied to that expectation. With regards to the issue of time, customers will come into the experience with an expectation of the time it will take to be served. This expectation could be based on past experiences, what the customer has been told or just the customer’s own assumptions about how long a service of that sort should take. The challenge for the business is to ensure that the service arrives before the time that the customer has in mind.

This challenge is made the more arduous when one considers the fact that the customer might not tell the organisation the time frame he or she has in mind. It is up to the organisation to find out. Without the organisation knowing what time frame the customer has in mind, the control of the situation remains with the customer. To regain and maintain control, the organisation must set and communicate the time it will provide the service.

However in setting this time, the organisation must ensure that it leaves room for unforeseen eventualities. Even if every indicator points to the fact that the service would be delivered in 10 minutes, it is advisable that the customer is told that the service would be delivered in about 15 minutes or even 20 minutes. That additional time can then be used to cater for any eventualities.

However, and more importantly, the organisation can actually use those extra minutes as the guaranteed time for delivery. Knowing that it has the capacity to deliver in 10 minutes, the company can confidently guarantee customers that it would deliver the service in 15 or 20 minutes, without any fear. Those extra 5 or 10 minutes could be the difference between customers walking away from the experience excited or walking away angry.

Waiting for service is not easy on any customer. Many businesses forget that the loss of time easily translates into a psychological cost for the customer. This cost is what causes the stress and anxiety customers experience when waiting for service.

Good things might indeed come to those who wait but for the customer waiting time has its limits. Beyond that limit, the customer might not wait at all, with or without a guarantee. If a customer has no other choice than to wait, then it falls on the business to guarantee that the service will be delivered on time.

Leave a Reply