This piece was first published in #TheFutureByDesign. Click here to download the publication with insights from leading marketing, creative and advertising minds.
Society’s inclination to wait for a service or product is diminishing year by year. Any brand that can reduce the time gap to market (or make the wait more productive or entertaining) will be rewarded with customer loyalty.
In South Africa we are often faced with the irritation of unavoidable waiting, just in the daily commute – traffic jams due to accidents, potholes or traffic lights not working, be it from electricity outages or just service incompetence. Some people “zone out” to talk-radio, others listen to audio books or podcasts, and some spend time looking for shortcuts.
Call centres are the bane of most people’s lives. When ordering a phone line from Telkom, one can listen to the same snippet of muzak looped over and over for an hour before the call is picked up, or you give up trying. In this day and age that’s just not acceptable, especially when the alternative channel of using the website is simply nonfunctional. And some of the other telecommunications companies aren’t much better.
This has given rise to new service providers who offer to take the pain of waiting away from you – they will wait in the queue on your behalf to source the answers you require. Well, that’s an entrepreneurial idea, but it doesn’t solve the problem: call centres make your customers feel ‘invisible’, and your company comes across as a faceless, monolithic machine that wants to gouge as much money from its customers as it can.
What innovations are brands coming up with to manage the time gap? There are two or three options: the first is to use technology to leapfrog the queue. Some examples:
In the USA the Square app enables you to pre-order your coffee so that it is ready when you arrive. The app uses a location tracker so that it knows where you are. Using this data, it knows when to send the pre-order to the coffee shop, so that the coffee is ready by the time you arrive. The app’s prediction also keeps your cup of coffee from sitting on a counter long enough to get cold. Starbucks has released a competing app, and Taco Bell has its own app for pre-ordering and paying for a drive-thru meal.
In South Africa, the Waze app is starting to catch on, as it provides a real-time, crowd-sourced GPS system that warns of bad traffic situations.
One of the advantages that Uber has over conventional private taxis, is the quicker response time the system normally provides, especially in dense urban areas.
A second strategy is to provide a multi-tiered service that allows for ‘fast-laning’. And it’s not just about express checkouts at the supermarket – Swedish amusement park Liseberg released an app to go with its new Helix rollercoaster. Attendees can play the free game while waiting in the queue, and every 15 minutes the player with the highest score gets a pass to the front of the line.
Again, technology can play a part. Low cost airline Kulula.com encourages clients to check in online, resulting in faster, shorter queues at the airport.
But if you are going to redirect consumers to alternative channels make sure you can deliver on your promises – is it truly more convenient and faster? And are you being sensitive to your customers in the ‘normal’ lane, or are you just drawing attention to sub-standard service?
All your efforts to redirect or capture the market will come to nought if the promise doesn’t match the experience. This opens up opportunities for competitors to do it better and faster.
Thirdly, if waiting is unavoidable and the customer is ‘captive’, how can we fill the gap with services or information which will be to the benefit of the consumer? Some banks have TV screens showing humorous shorts and updates on the cricket scores. By comparison, a bank I visited recently had very loud promotional videos blasting the waiting area; it must have repeated ten times while I waited for a consultant. When I complained to the consultant she just shrugged and blamed the manager. So, care to guess which bank I’m planning on switching to?
If you can say to your customer: “We hate having to make you wait, but here’s a video clip to watch, or a game to play while you do,” your customer will feel that you understand his/her needs better – which leads to a greater sense of empathy and loyalty.
Modern technology can—and should—provide feedback to the customer on their progress. It’s bad enough having to wait, but why should one have to wait ‘in the dark’?
How will you fill the gap? Or will your competitors do this for you to gain a competitive edge over your brand?