What is Queuing?
“Queuing” is a fancy term for “Waiting in Line”. It’s the oldest way of providing an orderly method for people to get a scarce resource whether that’s waiting for a drinking fountain in school, for a check-out clerk in the grocery, or a toll booth on the highway.
There are many types of Queuing solutions, including those that modify the traditional “Take a Number until you are Called” approach. For example, allowing customers to “register” for the queue from a tablet in the store, or from a mobile device prior to going to a location all can help. Customers may also be able to add themselves to a “wait list” or register to receive a text message prior to being served. All of these approaches balance the needs of the business, while hoping to minimize the impact on the customer.
In busy stores, a combination of appointment scheduling and queuing approaches can be used. For example, an electronics or cell phone store may allow scheduled appointments for repairs or sales, but still allow walk-in customers who register at the store when entering. Or, “same day” customers can register in the “queue” prior to arrival (“line jumping”) but also must register when they arrive. All three approaches can be combined to provide customer convenience.
How does Queuing work?
Queue management solutions allow customers to register for a virtual spot in line. This means they don’t have to physically wait in line, and can wait in any convenient location.
The customer’s place in line is represented by some type of token. This could be a printed ticket, or appear as a notification on their mobile phone via an SMS message or mobile app. The token is presented when they arrive at their booked appointment. In cases where there is a mix of pre-scheduled appointments and walk-in customers, both may get notifications or appear on a display showing that they are "next up" to be served.
The most common workflow for queuing is as follows:
- Customer registers to get in the queue. The customer registers at a kiosk, uses their mobile phone to scan a QR code, or uses a mobile phone to "get in line" as they approach a location.
- Customer waits. The customer waits for their turn. Depending on the situation, they might wait in their car, in a waiting room, or as they approach a location if they have pre-registered.
- Customer is notified. When it’s the customer's turn, they are notified either by seeing their name on a large TV display, receive an SMS or app notification, or have an employee contact the customer via phone or in person.
- Customer checks in and receives service. There may be a customer check-in process, which can also be used to track the time taken for the appointment. Similarly, there may be a "check-out" step after the appointment, as well as the opportunity to send a feedback or rating request to the customer.
Behind the scenes, the business that receives the request will use a queuing solution to manage all aspects of the process. This system will typically have algorithms to calculate wait times, which may be displayed or made available to customers. For example, if a mobile app is used, the customer may be able to "check the estimated time" they have to wait to provide assurance that they will be served. In some cases, the customer should be given the option of cancelling their place in line as well.
Other rules may be enforced, for example, placing customers with advance appointments ahead of walk-ins on a queue display. Or, a business can simply stop accepting requests for queuing when a wait-time threshold is reached.
Beyond these basics, some booking systems require a “check in” when they arrive at a location. This check-in can occur on premises by the user accessing a kiosk, or can be done by an employee with an app. With ticketing solutions, this check-in can be done via a QR code which will invalidate the "ticket" of the user.