Taking the Mickey (Mouse) out of Queues

Ron Baker’s article on Earning his Mouse Ears Part I (you can read Part II and Part III here) gives a fascinating insight into his experiences of attending the Disney University. It is an excellent read that casts a light into the Disney mentality and includes a lot of great examples of how they differ (such as giving cast members 5 minutes per day to make random moments of magic, treating guests as “paying consultants” to learn about how to improve satisfaction and maintaining generally positive relationships with over 3 dozen trade unions where Mickey Mouse is actually a Teamster).

 

One question posed by the article was why people were willing to wait 30 minutes to get onto the Pirates of the Caribbean but would generally get irritated if waiting for more than a minute in the post office. Ron’s contention was that it was all about competition. If I experience something great, then my expectations are raised. If I then do the same task in a competing environment and the experience is not as great, I get irritated. One of the best examples is the traditional gripe of American tourists that visit Europe and experience bad restaurant service because the staff do not have the motivation of earning massive tips. Using this argument, experiencing the excitement of the Pirates ride at Disneyland after a 30 minute wait is just not the same as queuing at the post office and then speaking to the counter assistant about sending the package.

 

Although the point is correct, the argument about why people are willing to wait 30 minutes for Pirates is actually a lot more straight-forward. Disney lie!

 

At the very simplest level, Disney essentially over-estimate the queue time. If you hit a point in the queue that states 15 minutes, but then reach the amusement in 10, you feel good. It is brilliantly simple and yet so effective. In truth, there is more to it. Kim Button’s book “The Disney Queue Line Survival Guidebook” describes other Disney tools and techniques, such as the illusion of using characters and videos to suggest that the attraction starts with the queue, or breaking the line into smaller sections and providing partitions to hide the true length.

 

However, this does lead onto the question: what else can be done to improve the customer experience in queues?

 

A great example is Houston airport which faced a massive number of complaints from travellers who were queuing too long at baggage reclaim. Numerous trials such as increasing the number of baggage handlers improved the wait time but did not reduce complaints. Finally, an on-site analysis identified that passengers, on average, took 1 minute to walk from the arrival gate to baggage reclaim, and then 7 minutes to get their luggage. The answer – increase the time taken to get through arrivals. As a result of passengers walking six times longer to the reclaim area, complaints dropped to zero.

 

On a similar not, post World-War II, the boom in high-rises lead to many complaints about the time taken to wait for elevators. The solution – put mirrors outside the lift shafts so that people can occupy time by looking at themselves (or others).

 

Apple, by contrast, work on the basis that the best way to improve the customer experience in queues is by getting rid of them altogether. This is the rationale behind having staff at the entrance asking you how they can help, providing mobile tills with online receipts and even pre-identifying a sales rep prior to entering the store so you already know who to talk to (if you have the app).

 

This is not to say that Ron’s argument about the psychology of the expectation at the end of the queue is not also correct – the excitement of going onto the Pirates ride undoubtedly plays a part. It is just that a little bit of trickery and know-how can help businesses take a massive step towards providing far better customer experience in queues. Since Apple sells more per square foot than almost all other companies worldwide, such tricks may just be worth the effort.

 

Any other examples of taking the mickey out of queues, please let us know.

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