Over a third (34%) of SMEs have no strategy in place to tackle long queues, First Data reports

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A new study from First Data reveals that SMEs are struggling to keep pace with customer impatience. 78% acknowledge that an acceptable time for customers to wait is only up to five minutes, while 64% of SMEs that sell goods or services in store fear that a long queue could deter potential customers from entering the store. Despite this, the online survey of over 1,000 SME owners and decision makers (among which 160 were from businesses that sell products/ services in store) exposes the lack of thinking around queuing.

Nearly half (45%) of SMEs that sell goods or services in store admit that they struggle with “a sudden influx of customers at peak times”, while 35% report that not having enough staff to handle customers is one of the main reasons for long queues. Just 8% pinpoint the root of their problem as “not having the right technology to help customers buy goods quickly”. It is perhaps unsurprising then that for many of those that do experience long queues (49%), the solution is to throw bodies at the problem, and bring extra staff onto the tills.

Their fears are not unfounded. In a parallel YouGov survey that questioned over 2,000 UK consumers, we found that 7 in 10 Brits would be discouraged from making a purchase if there were long queues. Although Millennials are generally painted as the impatient “generation now”, the findings suggest that this age group are in fact more tolerant of queues – 51% of those aged 18 – 24 would queue for longer than 10 minutes, dropping to 21% for the 55+ age bracket. Similarly, just 14% of 18-24 year olds would be very likely to be discouraged by a long queue, compared to 27% of over 55s.

For consumers, not all queues are created equal. 26% say they would be willing to wait for longest at a bank, followed by a supermarket (18%), and restaurant or café (15%). Patience runs thin quickest when waiting at bars and pubs, retailers and hair and beauty salons. In general, long queues ring customer service alarm bells for consumers – 58% say that although it’s a sign of a popular business, “it’s a shame they haven’t got a handle on their customer service.”

Interestingly, consumers are more awake to technology as a solution than many SMEs. 8% of SMEs surveyed whose business experiences long queues point to self-service or mobile queue busting systems as a possible solution, while 29% highlight the need to speed up the pace of transactions.

Raj Sond, General Manager at First Data, comments: “This data is eye-opening for any business suffering from long queues. Consumers are used to the streamlined ‘one click’ service they receive when shopping online. The research shows that these expectations are not adjusted on the high street. Small businesses cannot afford to fall behind in delivering the smooth experience that customers are looking for. Adding more and more people to the business is not a cost-effective or practical solution – business owners should look to technology to streamline and personalise their customer interactions.

This brings enormous value on the operational side, but also in terms of the insight that can be gained through analysing customer data and behaviour patterns. Queues are a sign of a thriving business, but if not managed correctly, can quickly undo the hard work that has gone into attracting customers, with an off-putting in-store experience which may prevent repeat business.”