Digital Signage: Managing Perceived Wait Time

Customer experience has become a critical differentiator in today’s hypercompetitive and hyperconnected marketplace. And customers expect to be WOWed by brands. In a recent report, 86% of consumers said they would be willing to pay more for a better customer experience.

How long customers wait for a service, and what they’re doing while waiting, makes part of their experience.

Customers hate to wait. Impatience is human nature, and can’t be eliminated. Increased digitization has built a culture of expecting instant gratification. But sometimes it’s simply impossible to trim down the actual wait time. Doctors, tire shop owners, and retail managers can instead focus on managing the customer’s perception of how long they’re waiting by leveraging the power of digital signage.

The Differences Between Actual and Perceived Wait Time

Few business owners need to be reminded that long waits make customers uncomfortable and unhappy. Despite point of sale and queue technology that trim down wait times, the average shopper still spends over a year of their total lifespan waiting for service. While it’s definitely crucial to trim real waiting times, the perception of the wait that really matters.

Guests can handle waiting for something as long as they feel like the situation is being fairly handled. Nothing makes a real wait time feel much longer than watching someone from the back of the line jump ahead or to find out that unanticipated delays are going to add more time to the wait. While actual waiting times definitely threaten the health of a business, it’s impossible to effectively combat this damage unless you’re controlling how long guests think they’re waiting.

Guests perceive wait time periods differently depending on the conditions of the waiting room or area. In most cases, customers tend to overestimate the amount of time they’re spending in a checkout line or sitting in the waiting room of a dentist’s office. Yet there is a way to cause visitors to underestimate their waiting time instead, reducing the perceived time spent waiting for service. Keep the customer in a positive mood and they’ll wait longer without realizing it.

Managing Perceived Wait Time Quote

The Usual Methods of Controlling Perceived Wait Time

Of course, this information is not that surprising to anyone who’s actually watched a group of people lining up during a holiday sales rush. Time-honored ways of reducing the perceived wait time for customers include:

  • Offering reading materials like magazines to keep the waiting guests occupied.
  • Asking employees to converse with waiting guests or offer them samples of a product.
  • Mounting television screens playing DVDs or live television broadcasts to entertain visitors.
  • Spacing destinations further apart so less time is spent waiting and more time spent traveling, a technique leveraged by a Houston airport.
  • Playing music, which may actually create the opposite effect if it grates on the nerves of the listeners.
  • Arranging queues in a serpentine pattern to make them seem shorter, a trick used at Disney.
  • Creating shorter lines by splitting them up.
  • Hanging mirrors next to elevators and escalators to encourage primping instead of frustration.

Why Digital Signage Works Best

All of these techniques for managing perceived wait time are limited by the tastes of the consumers waiting. If a business doesn’t offer any magazines or reading material their customers actually want to read, the idea falls short and may not be worth the investment. In contrast, the entertainment material displayed on a digital sign takes just a few minutes to change thanks to the comprehensive content management software. The sheer attention-grabbing power of motion, color, and sound makes a digital sign far more distracting than a magazine or static sign, and that’s a good thing in the fight to control perceived waiting time.

The sheer versatility of digital signage makes it the best method for controlling perceived wait time. Not only does custom signage work great for distracting customers, it also doubles as the perfect tool for keeping the flow of service running smoothly. Businesses can reduce actual and perceived wait time all at once by properly using the power of digital signs. There are plenty of ticket dispensers and static signs for speeding up real waiting times, but none of them do much for the perceived wait times. In contrast, even the best distractions do little to get transaction finished faster. Why spend money on two different solutions when a digital sign tackles both problems?

With at least one digital sign in a waiting room, a hospital can share important health tips in between calling the next patient to the examining room. Cutting down on waiting room confusion and increasing communication convinces the customer that he or she will receive prompt service instead of being passed over. On top of satisfaction, businesses can also trigger secondary sales and impulse purchases with clever use of digital signage. Supermarkets that employ the right type of checkout lane marketing, through large and dynamic video and sound displays, can grab a greater part of the $5.5 billion annually spent on impulse grocery store purchases alone.

Ideas for Using Digital Signage in Waiting Rooms

There are hundreds of ways to keep customers entertained and informed with digital waiting room signage. Some of the best ideas include:

  • Playing any kind of video related to the business, or movies and documentaries for entertainment during particularly long waits.
  • Showing which customers or patient is needed next, in addition to directing said visitor to the correct desk or room.
  • Sharing information about the destination for airline customers waiting to board a delayed flight.
  • Leveraging the power of the labor illusion by showing the steps employees are taking for each customer, a technique that the USPS is using to great success.
  • Display a building directory, menu, sales flyer, or practically any other information that can be conveyed with graphics and sound.
  • Rotate crucial health warnings regarding viruses such as the flu while reassuring patients in the waiting room that they’ll all see a doctor as soon as possible.
  • Guide visitors through the steps necessary to sign up, check in, or make a purchase.
  • Remind customers to sign up for a loyalty program or offer discounts for customers who check in on social media.

It’s best to combine a few different types of content in one feed to keep customers entertained rather than annoyed by having to listen to a repeating message. Businesses should gauge the average waiting time for service, then create a loop a little longer than that time. For example, a restaurant that often has guests waiting 30 minutes for a table should create an entertainment loop of at least 40 minutes. This reduces repetitions and keeps the material fresh for each guest. Too many full loops can raise the perceived wait time instead of lowering it.

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