' ) P e r g a m o n

European Management Journal Vol. 14, No. 3, pp. 295-303, 1996
Copyright © 1996 Elsevier Science Ltd
Printed in Great Britain. All rights reserved
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Wai t i ng Lines as a
Market i ng Issue
MICHEL KOSTECKI, P rof essor of M ar keti ng, U ni ver si tb de Neuch~tel , Swi tzer l and
Subs t a nt i a l a mo u n t of c o n s u me r s ' t i me i s spent
wa i t i n g in shops, super-markets, ba nks , l aw f i r ms ,
a n d t h e l i ke. Wa i t i n g lines may i mp l y s i gni f i cant
ma r k e t i n g c os t s a n d ma n a g e r s s h o u l d k n o w h o w to
cope wi t h t h e m. Th e i s s ue i s pa r t i c ul a r l y i mp o r t a n t
in the marketing of services where the producer's
capaci t y to provide services just i n t i me a n d t o deal
wi t h cl i ent i n s e c u r i t y ar e s i gni f i c a nt d e t e r mi n a n t s of
consumer satisfaction. This paper discusses the
ma r k e t i n g c o n c e r n s t o wh i c h a wa i t i n g l i ne i s
l i kel y t o g i v e r i se a n d deal s wi t h t h e t e c h n i q u e s
wh i c h ma y be used to mi ni mi z e t h e detrimental
i mpa c t of waiting on customers' perceptions of the
service qua l i t y a n d t h e i ma g e o f t h e s e r vi c e f i r m.
Co p y r i g h t © 1996 Elsevier Science Ltd
Why Shoul d We Care More
about a Wai t i ng Client.'/
Wai t i ng lines are an increasingly i mpor-
t ant market i ng probl em. The mai n
reasons for this may be summari zed as
Cost of waiting tends to rise
Wai t i ng lines have a significant oppor -
t uni t y cost. The value of t i me spent
wai t i ng may be measur ed by t he goods
and services f or egone by not worki ng.
Wi t h t he i mpr ovement in pr oduct i vi t y
and t he associated increases in salaries
t he cost of wai t i ng t ends t o rise. This, in
t urn signifies, ceteris paribus, t hat t he full
price of t he service for whi ch a
consumer has t o wai t is increasing wi t h
t he val ue of time. This t endency is
addi t i onal l y rei nforced by t he t r end t o
see time as units of value and t o be
st r ongl y affected by what mi ght be
percei ved as wast e of it (Jones, 1988).
Pace of life
The social per cept i on of rapi di t y wi t h
whi ch services shoul d be pr ovi ded and
pr oduct s pr oduced is bei ng modified. In mos t advanced
countries, and especially in their urban areas, t he pace of
life is rapid reduci ng clients' pr opensi t y t o tolerate waits.
Consumer satisfaction is an i ncreasi ngl y important
determinant of business success
As mo d e m economi es progressi vel y t urn i nt o service
economies, firms increasingly market performance and
results rather t han systems composed of pr oduct s and
services (Kostecki, 1994). Long waits are likely t o affect
negat i vel y the performance evaluation of t he clients and
have t o be managed t o reduce their impact. By learning
h o w t o deal wi t h wai t i ng lines, service firms i mpr ove
consumer satisfaction as well as their i mage based on
time-relevant behaviour.
' I ' , , ~ . q # . , Tt , , n ,4 . . . . ~, . . . . . . .
E u r o p e a n Ma n a g e me n t J o u r n a l V o 1 1 4 No 3 June 1996 29.5
Time has become a major factor of competitiveness
The way in which the leading business firms manage
time in production sales and distribution represents a
powerful source of competitive advantage (Stalk, 1988).
Dealing with a waiting line is an integral part of this
critical skill of time management in service organizations
which produce goods that cannot be stored.
In most firms consumers' waits are an unresolved issue
Numerous companies lack a consistent policy concerning
client waits. This is a costly ommission, indeed. Waits
typically take place at the pre-process stage of the
service delivery and tend to have a strong 'first
impression' effect. The first impression is a particularly
important factor in shaping client's perception of service
quality. Consequently, efforts to reduce the negative
impact of waits on consumer's perception should be
optimized together with other elements of the marketing
mix so as to equalize the marginal returns on various
marketing activities.
Marketing, Waits Management and Clients'
Simple economics can be used to explain why it may be
argued that numerous business firms neglect waits
management in comparison with other marketing
activities. Image of a service (B) may be expressed as a
function of a marketing effort as defined by the
marketing mix (A4) and efforts to reduce the consumer's
dissatisfaction with waits (W):
B =f(M, W)
A rational manager aiming to optimize the client's image
of service quality respects the following condition:
dB dB
d M = d W
This means that the improved perception resulting from
the last monetary unit spent on marketing mix equals to
the perception gains resulting from the last monetary
unit spent on management of waits. However, many
service providers do not fully grasp the importance of
waits management for the firm's image and its sales
performance. Few firms integrate waits management into
their marketing strategies and even fewer businesses
analyse their client preferences in terms of waits or
establish a link between their staff's 'on-time'
performance and the price paid for the service by the
client. (An interesting example of such link is provided
by railways in Scotland where passengers are entitled to
a reimbursement of a portion of ticket price when a train
arrives late).
For example, numerous marketing studies show that
delays in restaurant billing are among the major causes
of client dissatisfaction with the restaurant service. Yet
'waiting for the bill' remains an unresolved issue in many
restaurants in spite of the fact that current technology
provides cheaper solutions to that problem.
Public services is another area in which the client (citizen)
waits are far from being resolved. Most public
administration procedures result in delays which are
unreasonable given the requirements of an efficient
decision-making process. One reason being that
bureaucracies have no motivation schemes encouraging
management of waiting line.
Note that numerous techniques which reduce the
customer's dissatisfaction with waiting are low-cost
remedies. They should be high on the list of budgetary
priorities because the returns on their use tend to be
particularly high.
The Nature of Wai ts in Service
Consumpt i on
From the client's perspective, waits related to service
production have three essential dimensions. (1) They
may be perceived as a negative experience implying
additional costs and efforts in terms of time, money,
physical and psychological efforts or sensory costs. (2)
They may be seen as a symbol of the service's
attractiveness. (3) They may also be considered as a
desired element of the consumption process.
Waiting is, thus, not always a negative experience.
Consumers may be willing to wait because they desire a
break (e.g. in a theatre) or because they want to mark a
difference before starting a new activity. Waits may at
times increase the consumer's satisfaction because the
consumer prefers to slow down the consumption process
(e.g. in a restaurant) or to be better prepared for the
forthcoming consumption.
Waits are also means of stressing the importance of an
activity (e.g. a church ceremony), improving consumer
concentration or increasing the perceived value of a
service (e.g. waiting to be seen by a medical doctor of
outstanding reputation). In the latter circumstances, a
waiting line may be a means of attracting new clients.
Such a proposition may sound absurd but it is not when
the symbolic role of the waiting line is considered.
Indeed, at times a waiting line may be seen as a symbol
of product attractiveness. A shop full of people attracts
others and customers gathering around a merchant
draws additional shoppers to join the crowd. A waiting
line becomes a marketing asset. The rule of a buying
collective is applicable.
T a b l e t T h r e e Di me n s i o n s of Wa i t s i n C o n s u mp t i o n
of S e r v i c e s
1. Negat i ve exper i ence (addi ti onal cost and effort)
2. Symbol of ser vi ce at t ract i veness
3. Desi r ed break or more t i me in t he consumpti on process
2,96 European Management JournalVo114 No 3 June 1996
p .
, D
Would-be customers
Fi gur e 1 Demand Cur ve of an I I n' Pr oduot
A consumer who is part of a buying collective feels less
responsible for his buying decision. He decides to buy
more easily when the people next to him do the same.
An example of the application of a buying collective rule
is a banker who grants important credit to a given
investor because other banks do the same. The more a
client waits for a given product (at least within a certain
threshold), the more attractive may be the product's
perception. If a customer does not know much about the
offer (and in many cases of services he does not) the
wait-attractiveness association is a rational one to follow.
The above interpretation is consistent with some
recent developments in consumer behaviour theory.
Bikhchandani et al. , (1993) suggest that the consumers
analyse information to make satisfaction-maximizing
choices but may prefer to observe other consumer
behaviours when information is expensive. Sargent
(1993) considers that consumers deduce through
observation certain rules of behaviour which are not
necessarily rational but simple and right in most cases.
Both propositions may justify a frequent wait-
attractiveness association.
Becker (1991) notes that customers may also want to
acquire goods or services that are popular and in. Once
something has become in, other consumers want the
product precisely for that reason. Becker identifies some
striking properties of a demand curve for such an in
To start with, the curve is likely to slope downwards in
the normal way. The lower the price the greater the
demand. At a certain price level (P*), the good' s
popularity itself generates more demand because it
reaches a new in status. This enables the producer to sell
more even if the price is increased (the curve slopes
upwards). But eventually another price level is reached
where further increases would outweigh the good' s
popularity (P). If the producer desires further increases in
sales, prices must be lowered (the demand curve slopes
down once more).
The longer the waiting line, the more attractive seems to
be the purpose of waiting; thus waits may encourage
sales or stimulate search for information. Such
(exceptional) situations are well known by numerous
firms. Tourists clearly have a preference for crowded
rather than empt y restaurants. A crowd of clients is often
taken as a sign of success and nothing is better for
success than success. Certain producers of luxury
watches make their clients wait longer than necessary
(in the meantime informing about the progress of the
order) to stress the unique and personalized nature of
their product.
Obviously, waits as a symbol of service attractiveness is
a difficult and risky tool as it may be easily perceived as
a sign of disrespect, manipulation or arrogance. More
social psychology research is needed to provide rigorous
and operational guidelines for particular market
segments and industries that exploit the symbolic
dimension of waits in their marketing.
In most cases, however, a wait is perceived by a
customer as a negative experience. The cost of
consumer's waiting (C~,) is composed of (Ct) the time
cost of waiting (i.e. the value of time spent on waiting)
and (Ca) the discomfort of waiting (i.e. the effort of
waiting resulting in physical and mental fatigue, the
feeling of frustration, anxiousness, unfairness, etc.).
Cw = Ct + Ca
The corollary of the waiting cost to the consumer is the
negative impact of the waiting line on a service provider.
First, consumer waits usually increase the perceived price
of a service (as expressed, for example in terms of
opportunity cost) and reduce demand below the level
that would have existed in the absence of a waiting line.
Second, waiting lines may have a negative impact on
service quality and image of the service supplier. Both
explain why the issue of managing the demand and
supply is an important managerial concern in services
where production and consumption have to coincide
with each other.
Lovelock (1988), Sasser (1976) and others have
extensively discussed how to balance demand against
available capacity in service organizations reducing in
that way the waiting time. Ideally, a manager should
invest in the efforts to reduce consumer's waits up to the
point when the return on the last unit of investment
equals the marginal benefit from the wait reduction
However, the equation above, although in most cases
correct, is insufficient to guide manager's action.
Different approaches are thus needed to deal with the
Lauer (1981) distinguishes 'clock time' from 'social time'.
The former is an objective, external non-social referent
for the unfolding of behaviour. Social time grows out of
social relations behaviour and is influenced by feelings,
beliefs, desires and cultural context in which waiting
takes place. A pioneering study by Maister (1985)
suggests that the waiting experience is context specific.
In marketing, what matters most is the consumer's
dissatisfaction with waiting rather than any account of
the waiting costs.
European Management Journal Vo114 No 3 J un e 1996 2 9 7
Determi nants of Dissatisfaction with
What are the main factors which influence consumer's
dissatisfaction with waiting? Three concepts might be
useful for understanding the basic anatomy of
consumer's dissatisfaction with a waiting line: (i) the
tolerable waiting time (ii) the expected waiting time and
(iii) the perceived waiting time.
Tolerable Waiting Time
Tolerable waiting time (Tt) is a maximum duration of
wait that a consumer is willing to accept. Tolerable
waiting time depends on a number of variables:
The value o f the consumer's t i me
The higher is the value of the consumer's time, ceteris
paribus the higher the time cost of waiting (C~). This
explains why in the low-income countries the tolerable
waiting time is more than in the high-income countries,
or why students are prepared to wait longer than
prosperous businessmen for city transportation. The
tolerable waiting time is also affected by population size
effects. As a city grows larger, the value of its residents'
time rises with the wage level and cost of living (Hoch,
1976). This explains why a tolerable waiting time for
certain services is substantially longer in small towns
than in large cities. Moreover, there are considerable
cultural and psychological differences in attitudes
towards waiting lines, punctuality and time. Certain
nationals (e.g. Brazilians) are less concerned with waits
and 'being on time' than inhabitants of other countries
with a comparable per capita income.
The value o f the service or product to be purchased (V~)
Consumers are generally prepared to wait longer for
high-value services and products than for low-value,
routine ones. This partly explains why clients of
exclusive restaurants usually accept to wait longer to
be served than clients of low-cost restaurants. The
results of an empirical test estimating tolerable waiting
time for several categories of waits are presented in
Figure 2.
Tol erabl e
waiting t i me
1 e T o purchase
a newspaper
1 10
• To buy a ticket
to t he ci nema
To s~e a dentist
Val ue of purchase
Source: B a l e d on a questionnaire admi ni st ered to 120 students
of the University of NeuchAtel (1992).
Fi gure 2 Tol erabl e Wai t i ng Ti me f or Di f f erent
Val ues of Purohase
Besides the value of the service, the tolerable waiting
time is also influenced by the price-quality ratio, and the
relationship between the duration of the wait and the
duration of the service process. The more attractive is
the price-quality ratio and the longer is the service
process the longer an average client is prepared to wait.
Intensity o f a need (I,)
Consumers are prepared to wait longer to satisfy the
needs that are intensely felt. A man who crosses a desert
is prepared to line up for a bottle of mineral water for
longer than a man who has just had a drink. The issue is
particularly important in purchases strongly affected by
their situational context combined with rigid pricing (e.g.
taking a taxi when it rains).
Accessibility o f a like service f r om an alternative source (A~)
Factors such as waiting time for a like service or product,
substitutes offered by competition or other conditions of
access and purchase in an alternative source (i.e.
exclusiveness or uniqueness) also influence the tolerable
waiting time. The problem has two somehow different
aspects. First, a waiting consumer will substitute a source
of supply which requires waiting for a source of an
equivalent supply where no waiting is necessary if such
source is easily available (substitution effect Se). Second,
even if such a source is not easily available, but it is
known to exist, it is enough to create a ' prototype' effect
(Pe) which results in an increased dissatisfaction with a
waiting line. The reduction of the tolerable waiting time
that might be attributed to As will, thus, be due to the
combined influence of the substitution effect (S,) and
' prototype' effect (P,).
Discomfort o f wai t (Ca)
Consumers accept waiting more easily when they feel
comfortable than when discomfort (Ca) is high. Tolerable
waiting time will thus be higher in places where clients
are seated, well treated or reassured rather than in places
where the opposite is true.
Pace of ~
Tolerable waiting time is also influenced by the pace of
life i. e. the social perception of rapidity with which
things should happen. Milgram (1970) notes e.g. that the
psychological and social norm in urban environments is
to focus on one's goal and literally walk towards it as
rapidly as possible. In certain countries, the pace of life is
slower than in others and so is likely to be the tolerable
waiting time for a particular range of products. Hence,
the tolerable waiting time will be a function of the
following form:
T , = f ( I . , A . , V p , C , , C d , e ~ )
where, Tt = the tolerable waiting time, I, = the
intensity of a need, As = the availability of the like
good from an alternative source, Vp = the value of the
good, Ct = the time cost of waiting, Ca = the
discomfort of waiting and P! = the pace of life.
2 9 8 European ManagementJournalVo114 No 3 June 1996
Table 2 Swiss Clients are Less Tolerant While Waiting at the Post Office than While Shopping
A st udy conducted among the cl i ent s of the Swi ss post offi ce (PTT) and cl i ent s of one of the l eadi ng Swi ss ret ai l ers, Mi gros,
suggest s that the t ol er abl e wai t i ng ti me is subst ant i al l y (by 30 per cent) great er in the case of Mi g ros than in the case of a post
A seri es of i nt er vi ews i dent i f i ed the f ol l owi ng reasons to expl ai n the above bias:
(i) Cl i ent s usual l y pref er shoppi ng to goi ng to the post offi ce because shoppi ng has l uci d attri butes f or them.
(i i ) Many Swi ss consumers go to the post offi ce to pay t hei r bi l l s -- an act i vi t y whi ch they do not par t i cul ar l y appreci ate.
(i i i ) At post offi ces, it f requent l y happens that cert ai n wi ndows are cl osed and peopl e on the other si de pay no attenti on to
the wai t i ng l i ne.
(iv) PTT, bei ng a publ i c monopol y, is f r equent l y percei ved as an i neffi ci ent, bureaucrat i c hi gh-cost servi ce provi der and
cl i ent s get more easi l y annoyed.
(v) Numerous Mi gr os stores have shop reservat i on systems (' take a ti cket' ) for some of its stands (e.g. butcher or cheese
stand) and fast l i nes f or cl i ent s who can be r api dl y served. Such opti ons are not offered at the PTT.
Source: Face to face i nt er vi ews conducted wi t h 60 cl i ent s in the French-speaki ng part of Swi t zerl and, Marketi ng Lab, (1994b).
The tolerable waiting time is an important segmentation
criteria in sectors such as airlines, banking, restaurants, or
certain retailers. A research conducted among furniture
store clients revealed that 52 per cent of them were
willing to wait for a week or less for furniture delivery; 8
per cent requested their furniture to be delivered within a
maximum of 3 days and only 39 per cent agreed to wait
for t wo weeks or more (Marketing Lab, 1994a; 1994b).
A relationship bet ween a client's satisfaction and his/her
wait for banking services is presented in Figure 3. It is the
manager's decision to opt for a particular bench mark of
the maximum waiting time. The average waiting time in
US banks is evaluated to be 1.5 to 2.1 minutes for 92 per
cent of customers. It is what a customer considers
reasonable to wait for an average banking transaction
requiring personal contact. It may be observed that the
degree of consumer dissatisfaction increases substantially
once the 3 minute limit is exceeded.
Bank B /
.:i:ii!i?i~l Bank A
. . . . . . . . . ; 7 : i : : ~ = : ~ ! ; = : = : i
I I I I t
2 4 6 8 10
Average waiting time 1.5-2.1 minutes for 92% of customers
Source: McKinsey (1992), Service Sector Productivity,
Washington DC, McKinsey Global Institute.
Figure 8 Maximum Waiting Time in Staffing Models
of US Banks
Expected Waiting Time
Expected waiting time (Te) is the duration of wait as
evaluated by the customer at the moment of his decision
to wait or not to wait. The consumer evaluates the
expected waiting time looking at such factors as the
number of people in the line, the speed with which the
line is moving, his previous experience with waiting, the
average waiting time for a given service (e.g. you expect
to wait on average about 10 minutes for a city bus), the
urgency of the service (e.g. you expect to be served
faster in the case of an urgent car repair than in the case
of a regular routine check-up), waiting time of other
clients, etc. A customer will wait when
( T , < T , )
i.e. when his expected waiting time is less than his
tolerable waiting time. A frequent manner of managing
Table 3 Determinants of Clients' Dissatisfaotlon
with Waits
Characteristics of the Wait
Long (clock time)
Longer than expected
Uncomfortabl e
Human context (company, atmosphere)
Pre-process (versus process)
Poor performance of the provi der (poor organi zat i on,
carel essness of the staff)
Li mi ted choi ce (e.g. monopol y)
Servi ce of l i t t l e val ue and not uni que
Qual i t y of cl i ent s-producer rel at i onshi p
Client Characteristics
Urgency (i nt ensi t y of a need)
Negati ve frame of mi nd
Path of l i fe (atti tude t owards wai ts)
Anxi et y
Boredom (tedi ousness)
European Management Journal Vo114 No 3 June 1996 2 99
expect at i ons whe n unexpect ed waits occur is t o tell t he
cust omers t hat t he y are request ed t o wai t and t hen take
t hem rel at i vel y rapidly. The mos t i mpor t ant factors
i nfl uenci ng t he di ent s dissatisfaction wi t h waits are listed
in Table 3.
Managing a Waiting Line
The best mar ket i ng appr oach is t o keep t he cust omer
happy f r om t he ver y begi nni ng. Indeed, cust omer
satisfaction is mos t frequent l y characterised by t he so
called ' first-impression effect': it is easier t o keep satisfied
a ha ppy cust omer t han t o r ender ha ppy a cust omer who
has al ready been dissatisfied by l ong waits. Let's start
wi t h a brief revi ew of wai t s management .
Act ual wai t i ng t i me ma y be reduced by managi ng t he
offer or t he demand. The first opt i on is ext ensi vel y
di scussed in t he manageri al literature and compri ses (i)
mai nt enance of reserves in pr oduct i on capacities, (ii)
leasing of equi pment t o deal wi t h unexpect ed increases
in demand, (iii) hi gh degr ee of flexibility of l abour due t o
ad hoc and part -t i me empl oyment , (iv) client ori ent at i on
in human resources management (serve t he client before
doi ng paper work) and (v) reduct i on in service quality t o
cope wi t h t he increased demand (e.g. a wai t er does not
pour a dri nk whi l e under t i me pressure).
Demand management t echni ques
ai med at r educi ng cust omer
wai t i ng t i me i ndude (i)
reservat i on syst ems, (ii) seasonal
pricing, as well as (iii) pr omot i on
and communi cat i on campai gns
t o level demand over time.
Numer ous wai t i ng lines are also
caused by price rigidity. The
Communi cat i on is essential for appropri at e management
of waits. Psychol ogi st s suggest t hat t he consumer is less
likely t o become nervous when t he wai t i ng t i me is
explained and justified t o hi m t han when it seems t o be
arbitrary and unjustified (Papalia and Olds, 1988).
Moreover, frustration is likely t o induce aggression,
especially when it is i nt ensi vel y felt, unexpect ed and
caused by negligence. Communi cat i on has a central role
t o pl ay in dealing wi t h such situations. It enables (i) t o
explain waits, (ii) t o apol ogi ze and take responsibility for
waits, (iii) t o reduce clients' insecurity wi t h waits and (iv)
t o indicate t hat t he service staff cares about the client.
Unexpect ed delays shoul d be announced and their
durat i on shoul d not be underest i mat ed because t he so-
called ' appoi nt ment syndr ome' makes things even worse:
when appoi nt ment time is passed, even a short wait is
annoyi ng. For example, a 1994 st udy reveals t hat 94 per
cent of the clients of furniture stores in Switzerland
consider t hat t he delivery shoul d take place wi t hi n t he
agreed t i me peri od (appoi nt ment syndrome) (Marketing
Lab, 1994b).
When explaining waits, it is advisable t o refer t o t he
client's benefit whenever possible e.g. ' we are ver y sorry
for t he current delay in our flight depart ure but t he delay
is taking place t o make your trip mor e secure and
pleasant' .
Wai t s which are
at t ri but ed to poor
organizaHon or carelessness
of the st af f seem
mor e t he val ue in use exceeds t he price (the value in
exchange) t he l onger is t he wai t i ng line (e.g. a line at t he
ent rance of a swi mmi ng pool on a hot day).
Mi n i m i z i n g C l o c k Wa i t i n g T i me
Business firms frequent l y undert ake substantial efforts
and i nvest ment s t o reduce their clients' wai t i ng t i me and
gai n compar at i ve advant age. Ameri can Express, a
l eadi ng pr ovi der of credit card services, deci ded t o
i nvest i n mo d e m t el ecommuni cat i on t echnol ogi es in
or der t o reduce t he clients' wai t i ng t i me for credit
approval t o 7 seconds, i ndependent l y of t he count r y
wher e t he client is located. An appropri at e hardware and
soft ware syst em t o achieve such performance was
devel oped by Digital at a substantial cost.
It is n o t o n l y h o w l o n g the client h a s to w a i t that m a k e s
h i m irritable, it is t h e t i m e the client t h i n k s h e h a s to
wait. T h e latter is referred t o as the 'perceived w a i t i n g
time'. N u m e r o u s m a n a g e r i a l t e c h n i q u e s a n d a p p r o a c h e s
m a y b e u s e d t o r e d u c e the p e r c e i v e d w a i t i n g time.
Anxi et y m a k e s waits seem
longer. To reduce a wai t i ng
client's anxiety (i) get started
even if you have t o i nt errupt t he
service later (ii) use a reservation
syst em (iii) reassure t he cus-
t omer whenever possible (e.g.
t hat ever ybody will get i nt o t he
plane or use a syst em of seat
reservation), (iv) do not increase
customers' insecurity by your wor ds or actions (e.g. avoi d
taking away flight passengers' passports if it is not
absolutely necessary). Cust omers' anxiety may also be
increased because t he ot her wai t i ng line is movi ng faster
('He was served before me'). Compani es shoul d be careful
about t he way t hat t hey treat their VIPs. They shoul d
preferably be separat ed not t o annoy ot her passengers.
Perceived wai t i ng t i me for an administrative service may
be reduced by sendi ng a letter acknowl edgi ng recept i on
of a request, explaining t he decision process concerni ng
t he request, i nformi ng t he concemed person about t he
present stage of t he procedure, not i f yi ng a possible
delay, apol ogi zi ng (to value t he clients' status) and
explaining it. A restaurant waiter, while serving anot her
client, may reassure a newcomer by taking a few
moment s t o gr eet him, place hi m and promi se a rapid
service. Less experienced staff may be used t o gr eet a
client and t o increase process waits in or der t o reduce
pre-process waits. Moreover, solo waits seem longer.
Communi cat i on may be well used t o make wai t i ng
clients talk t o each ot her and t o pr omot e t he feeling of
gr oup waiting.
3 0 0 European Management JournalVo114 No 3 June 1996
The perceived time of waiting is also influenced by
numerous characteristics of service delivery. Waits which
are attributed to poor organization or carelessness of the
staff seem longer. It is thus important that the service
staff communicates that it cares about the clients and
takes necessary precautions to avoid unfavourable
perception of its performance.
The Wai t i ng Cl i ent and t he Pe r c e i ve d
Or gani z at i on of Wor k
Clients of the largest Swiss retailer of food products are
particularly annoyed when forced to wait because a
cashier has to go back to the shelves to check the
product price (Marketing Lab, 1994, b). A manager of a
small bank subsidiary located at a railway station
observed that waiting customers' dissatisfaction
increased each time certain bank employees were seen
accomplishing administrative duties while clients were
lining up. The manager decided to reorganize the bank
office in such a way that the waiting clients were unable
to see the bank employees busy with paper work or on
the telephone. This has reduced the number of client
complaints about the waiting line.
Firms may assume an active role in managing their
clients' waits in order to reduce their dissatisfaction. The
major issues involved concern aspects such as: (i) should
one opt for a single waiting line or multi-server lines, (ii)
should a system of reservation, information acknow-
ledgements of waits be used, (iii) how to distribute waits
between pre-process waits and process waits, (iv) how to
occupy and give a compensation to waiting clients, (v)
how to manage the client's image of a waiting line (such
as perceived length, speed, etc.), (vi) how to motivate
inter-personal contacts during the waits, (vii) how to
improve the client's perception of the organization and
the performance of service provider.
Queuing is considered as an acquired social trait. In
regions such as Latin America or Southern Europe, the
propensity of a crowd to organize into a waiting line is
smaller than in the Nordic countries. Such propensity is
positively influenced by the extent to which a culture
values equality and social order, and abhors 'waste of
time'. (Compulsive, legally enforced queuing (e.g. for a
bus) was developed in the United Kingdom during the
two World Wars and passed on to the United States,
Canada and some European countries). A firm may
decide to organize its clients' waits either as (i) multi-
server queues where each serving station has a separate
waiting line or (ii) a 'snake' line where all serving stations
serve one single-file queue. It is a corollary of Murphy' s
Law that the line you join in a multiserver system is
always the slowest (McCloskey, 1982). Obviously, the
average waiting time is in fact the same whether there is
a multiserver queue or one single-file queue.
The main motivation to opt for one single-file queue is
the value of equality and risk aversion. In multiserver
queues a client, lucky enough to chose a fast line, can get
served before a client who has chosen a slow line. With
risk-averse people, it is thus better to spread the cost of
the unusually lengthy case over all the people than
burden more heavily the few who happen to chose the
slow line. Therefore one single-file queue will always be
better (ignoring administrative cost): same average wait,
lower variability. In Europe, the most common kind of
queue in fast-food restaurants, cinemas or banks are
multiserver queues. Single-file queues tend to have been
more frequently adopted for two decades in North
Comfortable waits feel shorter than uncomfortable waits.
The waiting client's comfort is, thus, an important
concern in reducing the perceived waiting time.
Check- i n at a Swi ssai r Hot el
Clients of a Swissair chain hotel in New York tend to
arrive in groups after the landing of a Swissair flight.
This creates organizational problems for the check-in
services. The hotel managers dealt with this situation in
a number of ways: arriving clients were invited to sit in
the lobby while filling in their registration forms. Drinks
were rapidly offered to the waiting customers and their
luggage was taken care of.
Uncertain waits and unfair waits feel longer. First, cus-
tomer's perception may suffer from the so called
'appointment syndrome' discussed above. Second, waits
are perceived particularly negatively when the result of
the wait is not certain (will I get my cinema ticket?).
Third, the dissatisfaction with waits clearly increases
when the perception of unfairness intervenes (why is he
served before me?). Unoccupied and unexplained waits
feel longer. Factors such as solitude (lack of company),
boredom or lack of activity contribute to the dissatis-
faction with waits. 'Boredom', noted the philosopher
William James, 'results from being attentive to time
going by'.
A service producer may intervene among the waiting
clients in order to encourage interchange among them or
occupy them. Reading material or TV sets in the waiting
halls or music are frequent examples. However the
T a b l e 4 Ac t i v i t i e s of Wa i t i n g P a s s e n g e r s a t Ge n e v a
Ai r p o r t
Readi ng a book 60%
Readi ng a newspaper 80%
Worki ng 52%
Shoppi ng 79%
Phoni ng 50%
Goi ng to a r est aur ant / bar 63%
Stayi ng in a l ounge 47%
Doing nothi ng 32%
Source: Mar ket i ng Lab, 1994.
Note: Di rect i nt ervi ews with 180 passenger s conducted in
December 1994.
European Management Journal Vo114 No 3 June 1996 301
T a b l e 5 T e c h n i q u e s t o R e d u c e C o n s u me r ' s Di s s a t i s f a c t i o n wi t h a Wa i t i n g Li ne
Key words Comments
Mi ni mi z e t he wai ti ng
Pl an t he wai t i ng
Apol ogi ze
Reassur e
Demand management techniques such as season pri ces, or
reservation systems are used or production is adjusted to t he
changing needs.
The ser vi ce pr ovi der rapi dl y responds to the waiting line by
redi st ri but i ng the wai t i ng ti me bet ween other stages of the
producti on process.
Pr ovi de information as to why and for how long t he wai ti ng is to take
pl ace.
Take t he r esponsi bi l i t y for the waiting line and apol ogi ze for it.
Reduce consumer' s anxiety by telling him that you know that he is
t her e and assuring that he will be served.
Make sure that the si ght of staff doing another job is not taken by the
consumer as a si gn of car el essness.
Manage t he wai t s
Act i vat e
Group wai t i ng
Pr ovi de comfort
Bef ai r
Single or multi-service line: i ntroduce an adho c reservation (ticket)
or improving customer's comfort, control the speed and
appearance of the line, provide comfort.
Give the consumer a task (e.g. fill in a form) or offer him
entertainment (e.g. an opportunity to watch TV).
Graciously offer a drink or an extra servi ce.
Encourage a f eel i ng of community among the waiting consumers.
Make sure that the wait is not attributed to poor organization of work
or car el ess staff.
Make sur e that the wai ti ng consumers are treated f ai rl y and that
di f f erences in t reat ment are j usti fi ed.
activities provided to occupy a waiting customer should
offer benefits related to the service provided (health-
related press in a doctor' s waiting room), rather than
unrelated (e.g. music on the phone). About 96 per cent of
the interviewed passengers at the Geneva airport (180
people) considered that it was easier to wait when there
was something to do than when there was nothing to
do. The passengers' declared occupation pattern is
presented in Table 4.
A service producer may also occupy its waiting clients
by getting them involved in the production process (e.g.
answering a questionnaire before seeing a medical doctor
or taking a self-service breakfast at a hotel.
Oc c u p y Yo u r Cl i ent
When managers of high-rise office buildings began to
get persistent complaints about waiting times for
elevators, t hey rarely invested in more rapid elevators.
They simply put mirrors next to the elevator doors to
occupy their customers. When one of the major airlines
at the Geneva airport got a spate of complaints from
passengers arriving on evening flights about how long
they had to wait for their luggage, it noted that the
supposedly objectionable wait did not exceed the
industry average (about 10 minutes). The real problem
was that the passengers only had 3 minutes to get to the
luggage carousel and had to wait another 7 minutes to
get their bags. To solve the problem, the airline simply
began parking its planes at the more distant location of
the terminal, so that passengers had to walk for another
3 minutes. The complaints stopped.
A firm may influence the distribution between pre-
process and process waits. Pre-process waits tend to
have a stronger impact on the perceived quality of a
service than process waits because anxiety levels are
usually high (e.g. 'Have they forgotten about me?'),
clients are most frequently unoccupied and there is a
'first impression' effect, i.e. a strong impact of the waiting
experience on the perceived service quality. The
advantage of process waits may be that they tend to
increase the perceived value of a service. (e.g. the
perceived value of a dentist's service tends to be higher
when combined with process waits).
A firm may also organize waits by maintaining a system
of tickets or informing the waiting clients about the
302 European Management JournalVo114 No 3 June 1996
pr ogr e s s of t he line (e.g. el ect r oni c i nf or mat i on board).
Empirical s t udi es s h o w t hat e v e n t he s hape of t he
wai t i ng line, i t s vi si bi l i t y a nd r api di t y o f mo v e me n t
i nfl uence t he cl i ent ' s pe r c e pt i on of t he wai t i ng t i me
(Lovel ock, 1988). The f eel i ng of pr ogr e s s in a line makes
t i me shor t er . Wa l t Di s n e y opt i mi zes t he clients'
pe r c e pt i on of t he wai t s b y mai nt ai ni ng a g i v e n line
pr ogr e s s and b y hi di ng a por t i on of t he line t o t he
ne wc ome r s .
Sol o wai t s feel l onger . Her e, t he obj e c t i ve of t he ser vi ce
pr ovi de r is t o p r o mo t e t he f eel i ng of g r o u p wai t i ng.
An n o u n c e me n t s concer ni ng de l a ys f r equent l y e nc our a ge
t he cl i ent s t o talk. Di s t r i but i on of dri nks or t o y s f or
chi l dren ma y al so e nc our a ge cont act s a mo n g wai t i ng
cus t omer s . Ag i t a t e d wai t s al so feel l onger . Pe r c e i ve d
wa i t i ng t i me i ncreases pr opor t i ona l l y t o t he client' s
agi t at i on. Si mpl e t echni ques such as ' t ake a numbe r ' or
ot he r f or ms of r e s e r va t i on s y s t e ms ma y be u s e d t o calm
d o wn t he client.
Concl usi ons
Cl i ent s ma y per cei ve wai t s as a s y mb o l of at t r act i veness
of t he offer, a des i r ed br eak in c o n s u mp t i o n or a ne ga t i ve
exper i ence.
Mo s t wa i t i ng lines are cos t l y, b o t h f or t he cl i ent s (val ue
of t he i ndi vi dual ' s time) and t he ser vi ce pr ovi de r
( cust omer ' s pe r c e pt i on of ser vi ce quality). It is, thus,
surpri si ng t hat s o little a t t e nt i on is pai d b y busi ness firms
t o opt i mi zi ng cl i ent s' wai t s.
Besi des t he t echni ques t o r educe t he act ual wai t i ng t i me
t hr ough ma n a g e me n t o f t he of f er and t he demand,
busi ness firms h a v e at t hei r di sposal a wi de r ange of l ow-
cos t t echni ques mi ni mi zi ng t he pe r c e i ve d t i me of wai t s.
Subst ant i al i mp r o v e me n t s in pe r c e i ve d qual i t y ma y be
obt a i ne d b y a ppr opr i a t e or gani zat i on of wai t s,
c ommuni c a t i on st r at egi es, or pl anni ng of clients' wai t s.
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Universitk de Neuchatel,
Facult~ de Droit Des
Sciences F, conomiques,
Pierre-~-Mazel, 7, CH-
200I, Neuch~teL
Michel Kostecki holds the
Chair of Marketing at the
University of Neuch~tel.
In the early I980s, he
was Investment Manager f or an investment group
owned jointly by Consolidated Gold Field and
Dresdner Bank, and during the Uruguay Round of
Multilateral Trade Negotiations, he was Counsellor
at GATT. He has been a Professor of Economics and
International Business at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes
Commerciales at Montreal University and a Research
Associate at Harvard Business School.
European Management Journal Vo114 No 3 June 1996 303