If you’ve ever worked in customer service, you already know that long wait times frustrate most customers. Doctors’ offices, marketing agencies, salons, automotive garages, restaurants, law firms and many other businesses must manage how much time their clients spend in reception areas.
In some cases, asking your customers to wait is unavoidable. But as a business owner, you have the power to make this part of the customer journey stress-free and even enjoyable.
How to improve customers’ in-person waiting experience
Here are four tips for upgrading your reception area and making waiting a more positive experience for your customers.
1. Provide entertainment to engage waiting customers.
Distraction is an excellent way to keep your clients from fretting about wait times. Outfit your waiting area with amenities to keep them engaged so they’re not watching the clock. Here are some tips:
- Mix up your entertainment offerings. You don’t want to force specific TV programming on every customer. Not all of them will want to watch the news or sports. You can easily solve this problem by varying your offerings. For example, invest in multiple monitors or use a system like Samsung’s SMART Signage TV, which allows you to create diverse, custom entertainment lineups.
- Provide Wi-Fi. Most people in your reception area will have a mobile device with them. Make it easy for them to get online by setting up a Wi-Fi network. If you already offer cable TV, adding internet to your existing package is relatively easy. Don’t forget to post the guest network name and password prominently so customers don’t have to hunt for it.
- Diversify print subscriptions. It doesn’t matter what type of business you own; your clientele will vary. Make each demographic feel welcome by providing a robust selection of magazines. Include beauty, fashion, sports, news, automotive, travel, cooking and home design options. If people bring children with them, include reading material for youngsters.
Customer delight is the new standard in customer service. Customer delight principles include exceeding expectations, building a knowledgeable support team and providing unexpected benefits.
2. Offer personal services to make waiting more comfortable.
Just because a customer is in a waiting area doesn’t mean they have to feel lost in the shuffle. Amenities that cater to customer comfort go a long way toward letting your clients know how valued they are.
- Put out a spread. Waiting times feel much less oppressive with a hot coffee or healthy snack. A spread doesn’t have to be over the top to make a good impression. A selection of coffee, tea, fruit drinks and water accompanied by fresh fruit, granola bars or prepackaged nuts is enough to help ease the pain of waiting.
- Keep things charged. Show your customers you care by providing charging stations for mobile devices and laptops. If they can use their waiting time to catch up on work emails or plan their home remodel on Pinterest, they might view their long wait as valuable personal time rather than an inconvenience.
- Provide stress relief. Waiting increases stress levels, especially if the service provided could significantly impact customers’ health or finances. Transform your waiting area into something clients look forward to by providing calming aromatherapy or massage chairs. A mere 10 minutes in a seated massage chair might melt away all that waiting room angst.
3. Communicate with waiting customers to minimize frustration.
You can minimize frustration by letting customers know how long they can expect to wait. Stepping up your communication with customers significantly impacts waiting room attitudes.
Here are a few ways to accomplish this:
- Use technology. Sometimes, wait times are influenced by unforeseen events. Leading with transparency in your communication can ease frustration and build customer trust. Consider using text messaging for customer service to update customers about waiting times and set realistic expectations. From emergency rooms to restaurants, businesses are embracing this technology to wide customer approval.
- Give advance notice. Perception is a key factor in wait-time dissatisfaction. Instead of waiting until a client arrives in your office, let them know their expected wait time when you confirm their appointment. If you can manage the logistics, sending people a wait-time update via SMS messaging on their appointment day can go a long way toward alleviating wait-time frustration.
- Be willing to apologize. Most customers will overlook a long wait time if you apologize for the inconvenience. Saying “I’m sorry” might be all you need to do to show your customers how much you care.
4. Create a pleasant atmosphere for waiting customers.
Your waiting room ambiance matters. Creating a welcoming reception area can do wonders for the mood of those who have to wait there.
- Don’t skimp on comfort. Waiting is bad enough, but waiting on an uncomfortable chair or sofa is even worse. Test out your waiting area furniture. If you can’t sit on it comfortably for at least 30 minutes, keep shopping.
- Upgrade as needed. Don’t let your waiting room furniture live past its expiration date. As soon as things start to look shabby, stained or worn out, start shopping for replacements.
- Make it swanky. You don’t need to spend a fortune on an elite interior decorator, but using the right colors, lighting and artwork will put your customers at ease. Instead of industrial features like fluorescent bulbs and lifeless gray tones, opt for soothing and thoughtfully selected decor. Bringing plants or greenery into your room can also add to the peaceful environment.
What not to do when customers are waiting
When it comes to excellent customer service, it’s just as important to know what not to do as it is to focus on what you should be doing.
- Acting annoyed or defensive: If a customer asks you how much longer they’ll have to wait, the worst thing you can do is act annoyed or defensive. Resist the urge to rationalize long wait times to customers. Instead, apologize for the wait and tell them you’re going to get to them as soon as possible.
- Ignoring your customers: Another mistake to avoid is ignoring your customers altogether. Be aware of how long they’ve been waiting, and occasionally provide updates on how much longer they can expect it to take.
- Not allowing customers to leave: If customers must wait more than 30 minutes, give them the option to leave and return. This is where incorporating technology can be helpful. For example, tell your customers they’re free to leave and run errands, and you’ll send them a text message when they need to return.
How virtual waiting rooms impact customers
Many service-based businesses ceased or reduced in-person operations in light of COVID-19. Fortunately, virtual waiting rooms have had a positive impact on most customers.
With a virtual waiting room, you can often see how many people are ahead of you in line, greatly reducing customer stress levels. And virtual waiting rooms make it easier to provide estimated wait times for customers.
Virtual waiting rooms are also beneficial for businesses because they provide valuable data you can use. For instance, if you notice customer demand is higher on certain days, you can adjust your staffing levels accordingly.
Why customers’ waiting experience matters
The time a customer spends waiting can affect their experience with your business. In a Zendesk study, 60% of customers said long wait times and holds are the most frustrating aspect of a service experience. Additionally, Forrester reports that 66% of U.S. adults say the most critical thing a company can do to provide a good customer experience is value their time.
Unfortunately, unhappiness doesn’t disappear once a customer leaves your business. Customers remember these negative experiences long after leaving, and they may feel motivated enough to leave a negative online review.
Leaving customers in the waiting room for long periods or forcing them to stand in long lines could cause you to lose customers. And the customers who do stay will be less likely to spread word-of-mouth recommendations to their friends and family.
Over time, this will add up to lost revenue and missed opportunities, so improving the customer waiting experience should be a top concern.
The right CRM can help you organize all of your customer-related information. Check out our reviews of the best CRM software to find a solution for managing every aspect of the customer experience.
Waiting doesn’t have to be a chore
Waiting may be a necessary evil, but it doesn’t have to be a chore for your customers. Incorporate some of these ideas to help enhance your waiting room experience, and you’ll turn frustrated people into loyal customers who are happy to refer your business to others.
Sarah Pike contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.