Literally and metaphorically, “wait” is a four-letter word. It evokes all the times your mother told you to, drab waiting rooms populated with dusty magazines, backed up lanes on the freeway and clogged lines in the grocery store. Just thinking about it can raise your blood pressure.
Recently, waiting for my turn at the deli counter I fixed on the sign by the ticket dispenser that read: “Please take a number so we may better serve you.” Tired and a bit stressed after a long day, I remember thinking to myself: “I have no interest in being a number.”
Often the first interaction a customer has with your business is waiting on the phone, in line, or in a room. So what is a small business person to do to create a positive first impression? How can you avoid practical but demeaning “take-a-number” strategies?
This situation got me thinking. With all the time and effort businesses invest to get customers to their doors, you want your first impression to be positive. Maybe start by replacing the numbers with something cool like, say, superheroes or movie stars. If you’re not going to call my name, I’d much rather hear the butcher yell, “Batman? Batman? Is there a Batman here?” than a number.
Some industries just get the need to turn a waiting into leisure or even entertainment. As a whole, salons and spas are places where waiting sets the stage for the core service. Spas offer soft music, plush furniture, pleasant lighting and the ubiquitous cucumber water. Salons always offer hot and cold beverages while you wait. Even Bird’s Barber Shop, where I take my kids, offers something for everyone with “free wi-fi, classic arcade games, a music nerd's ultimate mixtape soundtrack and a free Shiner Beer with every cut.”
While companies like Disney have whole departments dedicated to improving the waiting experience, small businesses won’t necessarily have those resources to bring to bear. So, here’s a few examples of small businesses making a valiant effort:
1. Seattle's Pike Place Fish Market – Who would have ever thought that people would travel from around the world just to wait to buy a dead fish? Born from a business coach’s suggestion to make the struggling market “world famous,” the flying fish deliver the goods. People want to wait. In fact, customers often buy fish just so they can watch the fishmongers hurl it.
The Pike Place Fish Market customer experience. Image Copyright 2012 Pike Place Fish Market.
2. University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center – Probably nothing has done more to reduce the agony of waiting than smart phones. It strikes me as a genius move that the Michigan surgery center did away with last year’s copies of Sports Illustrated and AARP magazine and provided iPads loaded with apps, games and magazines for their patients to check out.
3. The Adam Hergenrother Team – Burlington, Vermont based real estate agent, Adam Hergenrother welcomes new customers with parking spaces reserved in their name, a personalized greeting in the lobby and popcorn and a beverage menu while they wait for their appointment.
4. Tom’s Restaurant – At this 70-year old Brooklyn, N.Y. institution, it not uncommon to see happy customers lining up out the door and around the corner to wait hours for a coveted table in the small family diner. New Yorkers happy to wait? Sure the homemade cherry-lime rickey’s and deep-fried crab cakes are fabulous, but that’s not the only reason. Smiling staffers work the line, cracking wise and offering steaming mugs of coffee, fresh sliced oranges and warm baked cookies to prospective diners.
5. The Alamo Drafthouse – This Austin-based dinner and movie chain has achieved cult status as much for its daring movie selections as for it immense commitment to making the wait an enjoyable customer experience. The owners hired movie aficionado Tommy Swenson to create unique 45-minute “preshows” for each film. Audiences sit down to an original montage of rarely seen movie and TV clips that echo the feature film. Visit the Alamo’s YouTube channel or simply search for “Alamo Drafthouse Preshow” for a taste of what has movie-goers eager to arrive early and wait for the movie to start.
In The Millionaire Real Estate Agent, we wrote that great business people mastered the “moments of truth” in customer service—the waiting experience is one of these. In fact, it may be your first interaction with your next customer. So take a moment and ask how your business can inject some fun into the waiting game. What is the message on your answering machine? Is your hold music Muzak® or music to your customers’ ears? Do you have a line or a waiting room and, if so, how can you make it a better experience?
The businesses above are just a few that came to mind. Who else is doing a great job creating a waiting experience their customers look forward to?