Service Line with J. N. Halm : The Line-Sitters

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HALM
J.N. Halm is a columnist with the B&FT

Queuing by Proxy

As at the time of penning this piece, I have still not gotten my new Voter ID sorted out. I know it is my civic duty to get it. I know I have to make the time to go get it done. However, the truth is that the queues I see as I drive by daily scares the bejesus out of me. I find myself so busy these last couple of weeks that the thought of spending the whole day in those winding lines is something I just cannot bring myself to going through with.

Aside the length of the queues, I also cannot shake off the thought of these places being breeding grounds for you-know-what-virus. As a law-abiding citizen, I know I must put aside all these fears and go get my name in the new registrar so that come December 7, I can also exercise my right to decide who leads this nation for the next four years.

Just a few days ago, a friend of mine came up with a suggestion that I am seriously considering. It seems that could be the solution to my predicament. He suggested that I get someone to sit in the queue for me so that when the one got to the front of the line, I would just go take the one’s place and then get through the process with minimum fuss. I chuckled when he brought up that suggestion but the more I think of it, the less terrible of an idea it feels.

What is even making me give that plan some serious consideration is the fact that my good friend says that is how he got his card done. He made his son sit in for him and when it was almost the boy’s turn, he called his dad and my good friend went and got his new Voter ID. Unfortunately, I do not have a child old enough to go sit in line for the better part of the day for me. I might have to get a “professional” line sitter and pay the one to do the job.

It might seem like a joke to talk of professional line sitters but I am reliably informed that it is no laughing matter at all. There are people making money from sitting in line for others, especially during this registration process. It does not come as a surprise because this practice has been going on for years.

Ask those who had to visit the UK and US Embassies in years gone by for their visa interviews and you would hear stories of how cement blocks, rocks, gallons and buckets were used as line sitters. The popular stand at the Accra Sports Stadium also had this tradition of people sitting in for others or of stones and buckets representing people who had formed queues more than 24 hours before that crucial football match.

Early this year, I came across a study that stated that line-sitting was gradually emerging as a business model. Yes, you read right—people are actually running line-sitting businesses. One such company is the New York-based SOLD, Inc. SOLD is the acronym for “Same Ole Line Dudes”. This company markets itself as “a team of professional line sitters whose primary aim is to reduce your wait for anything”. Whether it is to wait in line for the hottest Broadway ticket, the latest Nike Air Jordans or the fresh iPhones, the guys from SOLD will sit in the line for you. There are even reports that some politicians even hire line-sitters who will sit in certain hearings for these politicians.

The truth is that we could all do with the services of line-sitters at one time or another. Their importance becomes clear when one has to be at more than one place at the same time. Unless they have some serious X-Men level superpowers, customers cannot be at two places at the same time, no matter how much they would have loved to. This is where the line sitter comes in. A line sitter can help out a very busy customer for a small fee. I am aware this is something that many businesses do not even think about—but they should, if you ask me. As customer service becomes more and more complicated, it is no more about the traditional way of providing customer service.

Times have changed—and changed for good. Businesses that intend to make and leave very positive marks and impressions on their customers must go beyond the norm. Those are the businesses I am writing to. Nothing should stop a company from liaising with a line sitting company to offer that very important service to its customers.

For a second, just picture this. You badly need to get your hair done for a very important occasion. You get in to the hairdresser’s salon but the place is jam-packed. You have to join the queue but you know that doing so will mean missing out on going to try that dress at your seamstress’ place across town. You are so frustrated. You do not know what to do.

What if at that moment, in your moment of despair, the hairdresser tells you that there is someone a phone call away who can come in and sit in the queue for you so that you can go across town to your seamstress’ place. What if the hairdresser told you that the sitting-in-line service would cost you just a little extra? Would you not love it? That will be customer service on a different level.

According to a study published in the February 2018 edition of the Management Science journal, adapting this line-sitting business can really provide a win-win-win for all involved—the business, the customer and the line sitter (or line sitting company). Titled, The Economics of Line-Sitting, the study proved that businesses tend to make more money when they liaise with line-sitting companies because customers, who these businesses would not have normally served, will now have access to the service. Secondly, the line-sitting company makes money as it provides a much-needed service. Finally, the customer gets to be at two places at the same time while paying something small. Win-win-win.

The afore-mentioned study drew a contrast between line sitting as a practice and the practice whereby people pay extra so that they are able to skip any queues, popularly referred to as “priority purchasing”. Although both practices can result in the business making more money, the truth is that priority purchasing is an elitist practice meant for just a segment of the market.

It is an accepted business practice meant for just a select few—although, it can come across as a discriminatory by customers. However, line-sitting is such that any customer that can afford it, gets to use it. In comparing the potential of either practice to increase the revenue of a business, the researchers found that line-sitting does more to the organisation’s bottom line than priority purchasing.

In the tech-soaked world we find ourselves in, the possibilities for great customer service are endless and this includes line sitting. The use of the latest technological advancements in enhancing the customer’s experience is such that we have not even began to scratch the surface of what is possible. It is therefore no wonder that currently there are line-sitting apps available.

One very popular app is called LineAngel. According to the company’s website, the LineAngel app allows customers to hire a line sitter to wait for them in long lines. The Los Angeles, California-based company was founded in May 2015. With a simple click of a button, customers can link up with line-sitters nearby to go and sit in line for the customer.

QLess is another software that helps customers wait in lines without being at the premises of the organisation. By making it possible for customers to form queues virtually, QLess affords customers the opportunity to do other things while waiting. The software gives customers timely updates and notifications to show where they are in the line. As the customer gets closer to the front of the line, he or she can begin to head towards the place.

The issue of time spent in lines and queues is no laughing matter. The results of an interesting 2012 study released by the 166-year old, American timepiece manufacturing company, Timex proved that waiting for one sort of service or another is really causing humans lots of time. Although conducted among Americans, the study gives a good indication regarding what happens around the world. For instance, the study showed that on average, human beings spend approximately 6 months of their lives waiting in line for things. This approximates to about 3 days every single year—spent by people just queueing up for some sort of service.

Anyway, let me see if I can get someone to go sit in line for me, I need to cast my vote this December. Come to think of it, what about setting up a business of line sitters? I could make some money. You never know, I might be on to something here. What would I call it?

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