“The longer you wait, the harder it is to produce outstanding customer service.”

­‐William H. Davidow;

How often have we heard about the importance of customer service? There has been a multitude of studies compiled showing the huge cost of poor service and the many benefits of having a keen focus on great service. I think we can all agree that delivering great service is the foundation of having a highly successful business. And yet, as I look at one after another customer service program, it is quite apparent that the focus is only halfway correct. These programs place all their focus on the team member to guest interaction and ignore the foundation of delivering great service: Wait Time.


The Cliff of Dissatisfaction

Many things drive poor service but research shows that in most cases the perception of extremely poor service delivery is usually linked to excessive wait time. How many times have you dealt with a guest who was upset because they had to wait an inordinate amount of time? Depending on the length of the wait it might be almost impossible to recover that guest and turn a bad experience into a great one. With each passing minute they had to wait they moved closer and closer to the precipice. And when the wait became intolerable they fell off what we call the “Cliff of Dissatisfaction.”


The Principles of Wait Time

There is one company who has a reputation for being an expert in managing wait time, The  Walt Disney Company. Across the world the Disney Theme Parks deal with millions of customers waiting to be thrilled or entertained. Given the challenges that Disney continually faces it’s no wonder that they have developed techniques for dealing with wait time management. At the core of their wait time philosophy is what they call Disney’s Eight  Principles of Wait Time. Below are listed the eight principles and a few specific examples of how they can be utilized in your business.


1.    Unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time.


One reason that there are video monitors alongside Disney queuing is to occupy those waiting. It makes sense that if you are dealing with guests waiting that you occupy their time to make the wait feel shorter. If you have long lines at entertainment events or high volume check-­‐in/out times having something such as monitors with trivia or pre-­‐ recorded  entertainment will lessen  the  perceived  wait time.


2.     Pre-­‐process waits feel longer than in-­process waits.


People don’t want to wait, they want to begin right away so any process which reinforces that they are in the experience and not waiting for the experience to begin will lessen the perception of waiting. This is why it’s important that immediately upon being seated in a restaurant guests are given a menu or why the server comes by to say they will be right with them. Both of these actions reinforce that the meal experience has begun. If it’s a high volume time at a food venue evenly spacing the service out will create in-­‐process activity and make the wait between courses feel shorter. (It’s these types of high volume times that you wouldn’t want a table to order everything at once.) This is a crucial component of dining called the service sequence.


3.     Anxiety makes waits seem longer.


Many times when a service breakdown occurs it is accompanied by anxiety. If you have a guest playing a slot machine that goes into a tilt (machine error) not only are they inconvenienced by not being able to play and their credits now stuck in a game but they also may be anxious not knowing if anyone is going to respond or not. This ties directly into the #4 principle of wait time…


4.     Uncertain waits are longer than known, finite waits.


Ever have a guest tell you they were waiting for 20 minutes when, in actuality, it was probably about five minutes. Given the scenario above where a guest is on the slot floor with a game that they can’t play and don’t know if anyone is coming or not five minutes might feel like 20 to them. Not only is their wait in this scenario uncertain but they are probably anxious as well. This is a double whammy making the wait time feel that much longer. Even if your slot attendants are backed up, having a team member let that guest know that someone will be coming in about five to 10 minutes will alleviate their anxiety and create a more finite perception of the wait time. This is the reason why Disney Theme Parks have signs along their lines stating that it will be XX amount of minutes till you reach the ride.


5.     Unexplained waits are longer than explained waits.


It is human nature to want to know why. Although no one likes to wait, if a wait occurs because of technical issues it’s a good idea to let your guests know. Simply informing someone as to why there is an above normal wait will make that wait more bearable. Conversely, if you don’t let your guests know why it will make it feel even worse.


6.     Unfair waits are longer than equitable waits.


I was at a major casino on the Las Vegas Strip not long ago on a busy Saturday night and went to the cage to cash out some table games chips. The casino had three windows open with two windows closed and a long line waiting at each window. Behind the cage you could see two team members not in a window focusing on paperwork. Being in the business I know that there are many tasks in the cage that must be done during each shift but the fact that you could see additional cage team members not opening available windows created the feeling that the wait was unfair. To this point guests in line started angrily asking why they weren’t opening more windows. The message sent to the guests waiting in the lines was that the casino could open more windows but was choosing not to. This created the perception of an unfair wait. It’s for this reason we recommend that, especially during busy times, paperwork be completed out of the sight of waiting guests.


7.     The more valuable the service, the longer the customer will wait.


If a guest hits a jackpot and knows someone will be there soon their wait perception will feel more palatable than someone waiting to get their game back into operation. This is because the perceived value at the end of the wait is greater. This is the reason why guests will stand and wait in long lines to get into a very popular nightclub. They perceive that the value to get into the club is worth the wait.


8.     Solo waits seem longer than group waits.


It just makes sense that you are more engaged and occupied in a group than by yourself. If you have a number of guests waiting for a dealer to open a table game have the floor person, while waiting for the dealer, introduce the guests to each other. That way, even if someone isn’t part of a group, they will feel like it.

The  Big Picture

Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. Having great one-­on­‐one service behaviors is extremely important in creating an overall exceptional guest experience. But interpersonal behaviors are just one aspect of delivering great service and unless you also manage the wait time experience you are doomed to fail. Just as there are processes utilized in establishing, training and reinforcing behavioral standards there also should be an equal focus on determining, communicating and measuring wait time standards. Because no matter how friendly and helpful your team may be, once a guest falls off that Cliff of Dissatisfaction it can become extremely difficult, and costly, to save them.


Frank Oppenheim is the co-founder and CEO of Metavallo, LLC. He has spent his entire life in the hospitality industry, working his way from front line employee to General Manager and Vice-President. His diverse experience gives him a unique personal perspective in understanding operations through the eyes of the team members. Frank utilizes his expansive subject matter expertise to lead a design and development team in creating a suite of powerful solutions which combine best demonstrated practices with cutting edge technology.