UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 7 December 10, 2005

Waiting In Line

My local Citibank has 12 teller windows. I have never been there when more than 3 had tellers behind them. I have never been there when there was not a long line.

There is a large chain of “super” Drug Stores here in New York called Duane Reade. They all have approx. 8-10 cash registers and I have never been there when more than 2 had staff behind them (Most of the time it is only 1). This is so universally true at every Duane Reade that I now refer to every other company that creates this illogical and customer maddening experience as the “Duane Reade of _____”

In both cases, managers are around that observe these long lines and never rally other staff to clear it or jump behind the register/window themselves.

Now, I am not the most patient person in the world but I do not think that anyone enjoys waiting in a line up to 10-20 minutes. Is that just the way it has to be to keep expenses down?

There is some hope: my local Whole Foods Market has over 35 cash registers (all staffed) and a person at the head of the line that continually directs people to the next open register. The line is often over 50 people long and I have never waited more than 5 minutes. More importantly, the presence of a crowd or long line does not prevent me for shopping there.

There is a hotel in Germany that picks you up from the airport, lets you order dinner from the car so it is waiting for you and they check you into the hotel when you get to your room.

How much effort does it really take to focus on that most important moment when your customers are about to pay you? Why would anything else come first? Your customers are experiencing your company from the moment they enter your office and ring your telephone number. Maximizing their experiences after that moment is up to you. Ignore them until later and they may have already left or hung up.

Are there any times when your customers are “waiting in line” to use your product or service? If there is, the most important big idea/innovation for you to execute this year would be to fix it.


User Profile

Howard Mann is the founder of Brickyard Partners, a business strategy agency based in Portland, OR. Prior to founding Brickyard Partners in 2001, Mann owned a premier international logistics company with over 140 Million in revenue, six U.S. offices and a global network of over 40 agents worldwide.

As that business came under severe pressure from the previous economic downturn and industry consolidation, Howard lead the company out from those treacherous times by returning to the basics that make every business great and completing 6 acquisitions that re-imagined the business so it was highly attractive to buyers. Finding that “secret sauce” did not come easily but has fueled his purpose to help other business leaders to never have to go through what he endured. 

Through real world experience and those hard times in the “trenches” of business he has learned that it is not following the latest fad, copying competitors or adding complexity that makes a business truly great. His pragmatic approach and knowing what it feels like to sit in the CEO/Owner chair is what makes his work so different and effective.

In addition to his strategy, marketing and communications work, Mann coaches a select group of entrepreneurs, CEO's and business owners. His highly focused workshops and keynotes help executive teams take aggressive action to unlock the true potential of their organizations and build remarkable businesses that endure. In good times and bad. Online and off.

Howard is a sought after speaker both in the U.S. and around the world. He writes frequently on his blog about the importance of the basics and reconnecting to the passion that too often gets lost as businesses mature.

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I wonder if that waiting in line has a substantial effect on top-line revenues. Do you avoid stores where you know you will wait a long while?

I truly believe that businesses have lost enormous amount of business from people that move on when they see the line is long and when they are left waiting on hold too long.

A buyer has a certain level of need when they call to order or go into a retail store. If the wait time surpasses that need then they move on.

It speaks volumes that “We answer within 3 rings” would be a powerful motivator for people to buy from someone.