Waiting as an experience
I must admit, I am really bad at waiting. If I am using public transport by myself I am reading the news on my phone. If I am doing my grocery shopping in Switzerland I always use the self-checkout desk, where everyone can scan their products by themselves. And if I turn on my Computer I get up to make some coffee – even though my mac book takes only few seconds to start. It feels as if my rhythm and the one of the service/activity are not congruent.
To try to give a definition I would say that waiting means „remaining inactive for a certain duration until an expected event is taking place”. This means there is a certain amount of time standing in between me and the thing that I actually want. And most of the time I don’t have any influence on the length of that time period, which means the “remaining inactive” is something I am forced to. The length of the waiting period, the importance the final event has to me and the characteristics of who is making me wait are factors that decide whether my waiting experience is a good one (joyfull anticipation) or a bad one (impatience).
As services are time-based and involve various actors, waiting is always a big topic. I think the following three are the most important pain points a user might experience while waiting in a service situation:
a feeling of being powerless not being able to help the situation
We are used to do our stuff at our own pace. If a service pace is not the same as our own we will either feel overwhelmed or paralysed. If the later is the case and we are forced to wait, it can be very annoying to not be able to help reaching the goal sooner.
not knowing when the waiting is over
Waiting can turn services that require only little effort from the user into time-consuming activities. The biggest problem there is that the waiting is only predictable to a certain extent. Everything that was scheduled to happen after the service in question, has to be readapted.
feeling of being forced to remain in an uncomfortable situation
Most of the time the situations in which we are forced to wait during a service are not the best. It might be uncomfortable, cold, hot, nosy, too still and most of all boring. The less room we have to make the best out of the situation, the more we perceive the waiting as annoying.
Of course there are a lot of attempts to help these problems: doctors have their own waiting rooms with magazines and water dispensers, there are screens at post offices that show the number of minutes someone has to wait and TVs in metro stations to entertain the waiting crowd with ads. And with the growing prevalence of mobile digital devices possibilities are increasing.
It’s important to see that the waiting is part of the service experience and can communicate all kinds of things. If we see employees goofing around instead of doing their job it means: “you are not very important to us, so we don’t care if you wait”. When Apple is releasing another gadget and hundreds of people are camping in front of the Apple-store, they say: “our product is so good that a lot of people accept the long waiting period”.
I am convinced, that the quality of a service is determined by the way the problem of waiting is handled and that this is a great opportunity for service provider to stand out against competitors.