I kept thinking about whether to write this article from the perspective of the customer or the service provider and realized that there are no major differences. The existence of a queue is obviously a source of stress for both. In fact, studies have been done on the psychological impact that time spent in the queue has on customers and the results can provide valuable information to companies trying to improve customer interaction.

The century of speed, the age of services, the consumer society are some of the phrases that describe the world we live in and make us understand that today everyone wants more and faster and the challenge for companies to serve the expectations of their customers has led to the creation of a discipline in itself: Customer Flow Management (Customer Flow Management) orQueue Management.


There are many researches and studies, many papers written on this topic and they aim both at understanding the process itself by dividing it into stages and types of queues, at understanding the customer perception and the psychological processes involved, as well as at finding the most efficient methods to address queues in order to reduce time and to make the employee-customer interaction more efficient. Queues differ in type (physical queues and telephone queues, queues for purchasing products/services/accessing information/problem solving, etc.) and dividing them into categories helps us to better understand the area of interest as queue “behaviour” differs according to many criteria.

I will continue to refer to telephone queue, and because we are all customers for various companies it is impossible not to have been asked at least once to wait in line either to be picked up or to be given an answer to the question or problem raised. I have yet to meet a single person who is happy to be in a queue but before we throw stones we need to understand what they are, how they work and why these queues exist.

What is a telephone queue?
Queuing is a feature of telephone exchanges that allows more calls to be taken than available operators and kept on the line until they can be picked up.

Reasons for the queue

1. Availability and consideration

Queuing allows callers to wait until they are picked up by an operator if everyone is busy at the time of the call; if the company you are calling does not have a queue and the person(s) answering the number are already engaged in other calls, you get a busy tone and have to call again and again until a line is free. Another big disadvantage of not having a queue is that you have no control over when you’ll get through to them, as a first-time caller may get a free line just as you’re getting ready to call for the nth time.

If the company’s phone system is integrated with the CRM (customer database), when you are picked up the operator already has your history (services/products accessed, past interactions) in front of them, so explanations are considerably reduced.

Reporting and evaluation

The existence of a queue allows companies to have detailed reports about callers: how many people call in a given time, which are the busiest hours, how long they wait on average until the call is answered, which makes it possible to optimize the timetable and the allocated workforce so that you, as a customer, are better and faster served. The reports also allow an evaluation of the employees: how many calls they take during the working hours, the average duration of the calls, allowing over time to increase the quality of the employees and thus a better service for you.

How to make waiting bearable

When you are engaged in an unpleasant activity it seems to take forever but if you do what you like time passes very quickly. There is quite a big difference between real time and perceived time and serious companies use various techniques to make the time their customers spend waiting as efficient as possible. Many of the techniques can only be applied to physical queues (TV monitors or magazines placed in waiting areas, various activities that can be undertaken while waiting, etc) but there are solutions for telephone queues too:
-classically, music was used during the waiting time but recent studies show that music, used excessively, can increase the caller’s stress level
-you can be informed about new promotions or new events of the company you call
-there are also more creative solutions: a sports club runs, during the waiting period, the highlights of the previous week’s matches (in one memorable incident a customer shouted to the operator, when he was picked up, to put him back on hold because he was about to score the favourite team)
-it’s known that a wait with no time horizon is perceived as longer than one where you know from the beginning how long it will take and this can be solved very elegantly by queuing: you are told how many times you are in line and how long it will take; a time horizon is also necessary if you are asked to wait until you get an answer to a question or a solution to a problem: if the wait is prolonged it is mandatory that the operator takes you off hold and informs you of the reason for the prolonged wait.

Together with an IVR (interactive voice response), a queue can revolutionise the way a company’s customers are treated. The answering machine can take simple and repetitive calls (e.g. where and how to pay the bill, what are the opening hours and address, or any other repetitive question that has a simple answer) so that customers who really need to reach the operator can wait less. By having this IVR in place you can see the load at department level and you can supplement people exactly where they are needed. Calls can also be recorded for future reference.

On top of that, if you call a company where an answering machine answers and you end up waiting in a queue, be glad; the discomfort of the moment is, in the medium and long term, in your best interest and indicates that the company you are talking to is interested in offering you a quality service.

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