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Guest Blogger: Paul Hagan | October 19, 2012

The Experience of Waiting

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Over the past several months, I've been leading a number of Customer Experience Ecosystem workshops, in which a cross-functional group of employees spend the first part of the day empathizing with customers and walking in their shoes while "mapping the customer journey."

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The "waiting experience" is one area I make sure clients don't overlook. Most companies require customers to wait at some point: waiting in line, waiting for an application to process, waiting for approval, waiting for a scheduled appointment, waiting for delivery, waiting for departure, or waiting for the next available agent. One problem is that most employees focus on specific interactions and completely overlook the fact that waiting is part of the customer's experience. Even when firms recognize the problem and turn their Lean process improvement teams on reducing the wait time, they can waste money when they fail to understand what customers experience. (Check out this recent New York Times article "Why Waiting Is Torture" that illustrates how firms can waste money improving operational metrics and fail to improve the customer experience.) This oversight explains why waiting is so often filled with negative emotions: frustration, anxiety, uncertainty.

What should customer experience leaders do? Design the waiting experience just as you would any other set of interactions. Here are a few tips:

- Map "waiting" as part of the customer journey. Understand the emotions that waiting cause customers today. Explore the processes happening behind the scenes to find out what's happening internally (or through partners) that unnecessarily increases waiting time or adds to negative emotions (such as different departments contacting a person with a piece of information that was already given to another company representative). Disney looks to technology to better manage lines in its theme parks, Amazon offers a call-back option so that customers can do something else rather than listen to loud hold music or messages to try the website for help (where many customers started), and Export Development Canada leveraged its Lean team to eliminate unnecessary steps in its bonding process and create predictability in time-to-completion.

- Look for opportunities to build positive emotions. Waiting doesn't have to generate negative emotions...instead it can create feelings of trust and security. Box Home Loans has its representatives call mortgage clients every couple of days throughout the entire origination process - even when they need nothing from the client - simply to let the customer know that they are still processing the papers and everything is ok. Such actions reduce the anxiety that customers can have about a process that needs to be completed in a short time frame. It also creates positive emotions such as trust in the process. The Portland Timbers seek to make lines a part of an immersive experience, having players sign autographs with those waiting and handing out coffee and pizza.

- Co-create the waiting experience with customers. Don't feel the need to design the waiting experience by yourself, inside the four walls of your company. Bring customers into your firm to help you co-create the waiting experience. Ask them how they feel about existing processes, what would turn negative emotions into positive ones, and the kinds of communications they want. As always, test your hypotheses, as good intentions don't always yield expected results...and can have some unintended consequences as this master's thesis study points out.

Have you seen examples of companies that have done a good job designing the waiting experience? Please share your thoughts about the waiting experience.

To gather more insights about how your organization can better understand the customer's perspectives, please attend Forrester's Customer Experience Forum West in LA on November 14 and 15. Or join my colleagues in London, November 6 and 7for Forrester's Customer Experience Forum EMEA.

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About the Author: Paul Hagen is a principal analyst at Forrester Research serving Customer Experience professionals. He blogs at http://blogs.forrester.com/paul_hagen

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