Retailers: Learn From the Houston Airport How to Lower Wait Times

You’ve likely heard the phrase, “perception is reality.” When it comes to wait times, no truer words have ever been spoken. One organization that knows this is the Houston International Airport. For years, the airport received complaints from travelers about the long wait times. After their flight, they hated having to stand around waiting for their luggage. The airport hired more personnel and improved their wait times, but the complaints kept coming in. No matter what the airport did, travelers hated waiting for their luggage to arrive after a long travel day. Over 85% of their time in the airport was spent at the carousels waiting for their luggage to arrive.

Innovative Approach to Reducing Wait Times

After looking at the traveler’s full experience, the Houston International Airport discovered a new approach – changing the layout of the airport. The new goal was to get travelers spending more time walking to the baggage carousels and less time standing, waiting. The idea behind the change was to give travelers something to do while they waited, so they didn’t feel like they were given poor service. It worked. Customers felt like they had prompt service and complaints went down to zero. Instead of spending six minutes waiting at the carousels, travelers spent seven minutes walking and only two minutes waiting. What does this mean for your retail store? Quite a bit actually. Here are the key lessons you can learn from the Houston International Airport success story.

  1. Faster work doesn’t always equate to higher customer service levels.

You could hire the best and fastest employees. Your talented personnel won’t matter if your customers are still standing around waiting in line. Even short amounts of wait time can feel like an eternity to buyers. More importantly, your employees will stress trying to finish the transaction faster and in turn, give your customer a poor experience. Don’t try to reduce wait times by speeding up the work performed by your employees. Instead, focus on the experience.

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  1. Distracting your customers can lower the perception of wait time.

Houston International Airport changed their customer’s wait time by distracting them with a longer walk through the terminal. What type of distractions can you give your customers to minimize the burden of waiting?

Visitors lining up for attractions at theme parks see this principle at work with queues that often use clever design and technology to make the line itself entertaining. – A Pawlawski, CNN

Impulse buy items are one way retailers distract customers and drive sales. However, these don’t always work effectively to reduce wait time agony. Instead, turn the wait into an experience. Give your customers something to do while they stand in line to make them forget they’re waiting.

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  1. Give your customers an experience from start to finish in your store.

The customer’s experience starts from the minute she arrives in your store. From the way she’s greeted to the line she sees waiting for her when she’s ready to try on clothes or checkout. It all contributes to her perception of your store. The Houston International Airport did a good job of changing perception by changing the customer’s experience from the first moment they stepped foot in their facility. You can do the same by changing the layout of your store and the interactions during the shopping experience.

Your Turn

Now it’s your turn. If you want to have the same type of zero complaint success as the Houston International Airport, it’s time for you to get serious about managing wait times. Download our free e-book called “What Is Your Queue Costing You? Queue Management for Modern Retailers.” In it, you’ll find solutions to manage your queues and change your customer’s in-store experience for the better. Queue Management for Retailers