When queues can be a positive competitive advantage
I have just returned from a week’s holiday (vacation) in New York. No, I’m not going to share with you my holiday snaps, but rather some very interesting insights into customer service. Travelling to and staying in New York was a revelation in terms of customer service and how it can really work. Now when we go on holiday we can often return with glowing reports of superficial benefits which perhaps just look better because we’re in a relaxed frame of mind, but on this trip there really were some positive learning points.
I don’t want to concentrate on every aspect of my trip, but rather on one which we typically “accept” but negatively remember long after the event. That is queues.
What I saw during my trip was how queues can actually be turned into a form of competitive advantage.
The classic queue
My first experience was pre-departure of my flight to New York. We travelled with Aer Lingus via Dublin. At Dublin airport you actually go through US immigration. Yes, it’s just like the United States with American officials and American uniforms.
The queue took about 5 minutes, the process another 5. On arrival at New York we didn’t see any immigration officials at all. We simply got off the plane, picked up our baggage and were at our hotel an hour later. Yet we frequently hear about the length of queues at US airport immigration. Our experience gave us a very warm feeling towards Aer Lingus even before boarding knowing that arrival in the US would be hassle free. No queuing. Competitive advantage.
The iconic site queue
Once in New York we saw many of the classic sites. We’ve done the same in many European cities such as Paris, Rome, Venice and London. Sites good, queues an ordeal.
Let’s take a couple of classic New York sites.
First Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island which have to be reached by boat. At first glance we wondered how we were going to get on any of the ferries – there was a huge volume of people, yet we never queued more than about 15 minutes and could see progress all the time. How were the queues managed? Friendly staff actively moved visitors quickly and efficiently. Ferries arrived every 15 minutes. Despite the volume of people, movement was constant.
Second, the Empire State Building. Again, transport is required – in this case, two lifts (elevators). Again, it was summer, there were a lot of tourists and the queues should have been long. But the queuing system worked extremely well, visitors encouraged to move quickly by an army of polite queue managers. Again movement was constant.
The Broadway queue
Last but by no means least, Broadway! We went to a sell – out performance of Les Miserables and even here queuing was a “pleasure”. Massive interval restroom queues were managed by queue assistants (never seen this before) and everyone made it back well before the second half. After the performance many of the stars came out to sign autographs, posed for photos. Every member of the audience who stayed on got their photo/autograph – no crush, no disappointment, just some officials in the background ensuring the process worked smoothly.
So what did I learn? Firstly, queues can be a deal breaker. I remember turning away from both the Vatican and the Doges Palace. It just wasn’t worth the long wait. You can find out how to beat the queues here . But surely this is not the point (of good customer service).
New York attractions have big footfall but also effective queue systems. They recognise bottlenecks and work around them. And there was something else. People in the queues seemed to understand that everything would move more quickly if they were co-operative.
There was no pushing, shoving or annoyance when an official asked people to move more quickly. Educating customers can be a positive benefit for all and people queuing can contribute to the experience.
So what does this all mean for customer service and what can we learn?
- Think about bottlenecks in your service provision and how solving these can result not only in a more pleasant experience, but one that is so surprising that customers positively enjoy the experience and tell everyone they can.
- Think about how simple processes can turn difficult situations into easy ones.
- Ensure that staff roles include easing the bottlenecks – multi tasking can make the process easier for everyone.
- You can educate customers so that they “perform” more effectively. So in the queuing system, customers knew their place and their role and the outcome.
- Find the competition’s weak spots in terms of bottlenecks/service delivery and innovate in a way that turns their weak spots (the norm) into your positive delivery (real competitive advantage).
I’d be interested to learn how you have turned bottlenecks into positive experiences.
Market Echoes runs in company strategic marketing workshops which can help you to highlight your service bottlenecks and what you can do about them.