Operations Management

Managing Queues in the Service Industry

Written by Andrew Goldman for Gaebler Ventures

Long customer queues can lead to dissatisfied customers and lost business. Take measures to reduce your queues and improve your operation.

How well you manage your queues in the service industry can have a tremendous impact on your customer service and ultimately your bottom line.

Managing Queues in the Service Industry

Clearly, nobody enjoys waiting in long lines. A customer that has to wait for a long time to be serviced is less likely to repeat their business. Just like in business, time is precious. Make sure you understand the impact of your queues and the effect they have on your customers and your business.

The first step is to train all of your employees on the importance of exceptional customer service. Without customers there is no business and without repeat customers there's no potential for growth or even sustainability. Your employees should be trained to greet all of the customers with a smile and a helpful attitude. There's nothing worse than waiting in line only to be serviced by a smug employee. Make sure your employees understand this.

Once your staff is trained, you should begin gathering data on the nature of your demand and your queues. By understanding when your queues form most often, you can create a staffing plan that meets this demand. You may find most of your customers come into your company during lunchtime. If this is the case, you would want to stagger your employee lunch breaks or have break times before or after the peak period.

Efforts should be made to reduce the cycle time per customer. Cycle time can be viewed in two different ways. First how long does it take for a customer to walk through the door, wait in line and then complete the transaction. The second way to view customer cycle time is to take a look at the amount of time it takes to service a customer once they've reached the teller. By reducing this time, the overall cycle time will be reduced.

There is quite a bit of literature on the nature of queues and their technical analysis. You may want to explore this level of detail as your company grows and your operation becomes more complex. In general, it is better to have one line that feeds multiple service employees as opposed to many separate queues that feed into individual tellers. Banks have taken this approach and it means that the line will move at the same pace as opposed to different lines moving at different paces.

Standardizing your employees work will help move the queue along as well. Make sure you understand the nature of their work and take measures to provide them with everything possible that will make the work more productive. For example, if you only had one stapler and employees have to walk around to find it, give each employee a stapler. This is a basic example, but it can be expanded to include computers, printers and other pieces of equipment.

The best way to understand the employees' jobs and their needs is to ask your employees. Incorporate them in your efforts. They are the experts at doing their job and they will have suggestions to improve the situation. Create problem logs to help identify issues as well. Anytime there is an issue, the employee should jot it down and solutions can be sought.

Set realistic goals for cycle time and queue length. By setting realistic targets and seeking to constantly improve you can reduce your queues and better manage your customer service. Remember, customers are everything and they don't like waiting in line. Make reducing queues a priority in your company.

Andrew Goldman is an Isenberg School of Management MBA student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He has extensive experience working with small businesses on a consulting basis.

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Conversation Board

Please share your experiences in managing queues in the service industry.

  • Dan posted on 7/13/2010
    I work in an organization where queues are inevitable...it proves quite a task to manage the queues as we handle so many different challenges, but we do as much as possible to make the customer feel comfortable. In your opinion, is engaging the customer on the queue helpful?
  • David posted on 7/17/2010
    Dan, I would say that it's extremely valuable to engage with customers in line if possible. It makes them feel cared for and sometimes you find they are not in the right queue so you save them the pain of waiting in the wrong line. We also try to preprocess people in the queue so they get service faster when they reach our customer service reps.

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