Wait Time Can Make Customers Upset, or it Can Be Used to Make an Impact

Imagine you are visiting somewhere for the first time and you walk in the lobby to someone 20 feet in front of you chewing gum and waiting for you to get directly in front of them before they will even speak to you. They take your name and tell you they will call for you (yelling for you is the most likely outcome). While you wait for the 20-30 minutes you were told would be the wait time, no one speaks to you. No one asks if you have been there before, thanks you for giving them a shot at earning your loyalty and no one gives you a chance to ask any questions a first-time patron might have. While you wait for what seems like days you see people who came in after you go in, so you begin to think you have been forgotten, or that they called your name and you didn’t hear it. You go back to the person taking names and ask them how long it will be, they look at you with disgust and tell you, “I told you 20-30 minutes and it’s only been 15.” Now imagine how you would feel sitting down at a table or how angry you would feel when you finally get into your appointment. Think about how likely you would be to go back to this place, not likely right.

Companies spend millions of dollars figuring out how to attract customers to their business, only to mess it up when they walk in the door. You may have the best product in your category, possibly winning a customer for life as soon as they experience your food or get their hands on your item. There is one problem that you may have and it will cause people to have a negative opinion of your offering, even if it is amazing! Wait times. Waiting in your lobby to get in and spend their money will send a message to your guests, one which you may never have an opportunity to rebound from.

Ignoring the Wait Time Sends Three Messages to Your Customers

  1. We don’t know what we are doing
  2. The quality of staff here is poor
  3. We don’t really care about YOU, just your money

Think about a restaurant, doctor’s office, clothing store, barber, meat counter, cell phone retailers and so on. They all have the same problem; while you wait for even a short time, it feels like you have waited FOREVER! I cannot tell you how many time, as I am sure is the same for you, that people have come up to me and asked, “how much longer?” and “how many people are in front of me?”

After hearing these questions a few hundred times I wondered if there was a way to share this information.
We tried installing TVs in the lobby with a list of people’s names on it; they didn’t read it.
We tried to pager system with vibrating “it’s your turn alarms”.
We even tried handing out notecards with estimated wait times and a few promotional items to browse while they waited.
None of these worked. We still had upset customers asking questions and sitting down with a negative attitude when it finally was their turn.

Send the Right Message to Your Customers

Communicate to them that they WANT to wait. That this wait is worth it! Over 20 years of managing stores with a lobby where customers have to wait to be assisted, I have come to one conclusion. It will instantly improve public perception and keep people from leaving, to never return. The solution isn’t rocket science. It isn’t a fancy system with pagers that vibrate when it’s their turn, nor is it a video game or trivia system for people to pass the time. The solution is simple…


Talking to your customers sounds easy and plain, but it works. When I first started doing this I would walk around to each guest and introduce myself as the floor manager and would SHOW THEM where their name was on the list and give them an estimate about how long the wait would be. I would describe (not point) the person who was ahead of them in line so they knew who would be up before them. This seemed to work well, we were seeing marked improvement in customer service scores and less upset customers.

I Still Felt Like We Could do More

I tried something new. I assigned the responsibility for customer wait time frustration to the person taking the names. Their responsibility was to keep these people happy while they waited. You should be hiring quality people, not just a body to fill a spot, right? Would you trust just anyone being the first impression a potential new customer sees when they walk in? If you know that this position is important and have someone who is amazing up front, then they will have the ability to check people in AND keep them happy. I assigned my greeters more responsibility than writing a name on a list. Not only would they keep the list of people, they would also continuously check in with them. I told them I expected them to be remembered by those in line. Now they would tell each person where they were in line each time a person was pulled from line. If you were in line and 7 people were ahead of you, they would check in with you as you moved to numbers 6,5,4,3,2 and then telling you that you were next!

This may seem like overkill,  but customers LOVE it!

The ONE thing to NEVER do

The greeters were also FORBIDDEN from “cattle calling” or yelling their name across the room like it was a livestock auction. The greeter should know who each person is and be able to approach them, thank them for waiting and tell them their table or salesperson or doctor will be seeing them now.

The waiting game is one you can lose as soon as your guests enter your business. You must have someone up front who CARES about how the greeting happens. Make sure they understand that when the customer finally gets past the wait and into the establishment, they should be on a first name basis with your greeter/host. Whomever you have up front CANNOT stand behind the podium growing roots in the dirt. They must walk around engaging your customers and asking them if they need anything while they wait.

As you grow your business, do you want people leaving being blown away by how tremendous your service was, running out to the door calling their friends or family to tell them they finally visited you and it was out of this world? Or, when they leave, you happen to be in the front of your business and you say “see ya next time!” and as they push the door open they say “not likely.”


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