Call Center Customers: The Waiting is the Hardest Part

The gap between customers’ perception of waiting time and actual waiting time has been clearly conceptualized but rarely measured. It was not until service firm management expert David Maister identified eight “propositions” relating to what he called the psychology of waiting lines that these ideas were fully conceptualized. Maister’s eight propositions are:

  • Unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time.
  • Pre-process waits feel longer than in-process waits.
  • Anxiety makes waits feel longer.
  • Uncertain waits seem longer than certain waits.
  • Unexplained waits seem longer than explained waits.
  • Unfair waits seem longer than equitable waits.
  • More valuable the service, the longer people will wait.
  • Solo waiting feels longer than group waiting.

In one study several years ago, two researchers (Jones and Dent) found that more than 70% of all service customers were clearly concerned about waiting times. Most researchers suggest that the main reason why consumers are not prepared to wait too long is that the average workweek has increased which means that, in the U.S. at least, there is less leisure time.

In addition, the growth in the service sector itself has turned weekends into workdays and working days into 24-hour operations. They conclude that “as consumers experience a greater squeeze on their time, waits seem more wasteful than ever.” It is ironic that the shift of more workers into employment in services is actually modifying an increasing number of consumers’ attitudes towards queues and queuing.

Kathryn Jackson, Ph.D is president of Ocean City, NJ-based contact center consultancy Response Design Corp.

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