Behavioural Science
The psychology of queuing

Queuing elicits powerful emotions in all of us such as stress and boredom.  Within the business domain, customers’ queuing experience can leave lasting impressions on their perception of their brand. Houston’s airport found that customers were lodging a significant number of complaints about the long waiting time at baggage claims. In response to this, executives increased the number of baggage handlers which in turn significantly reduced the waiting time to 8 minutes. Nevertheless,  complaints continued.

While observing passengers’ behaviours, researchers noted that passengers walk one minute to the baggage claim but waited 7 minutes for their bags. When they moved the arrival gate away from the main terminal and rerouted bags to the outermost carousel, meaning that passengers now had to walk 6 times longer to claim their bags, complaints dropped to zero. This is because occupied time (walking to baggage claim) feels shorter than unoccupied time (standing at carousel).

Expectations also affect how we feel about queues. Beating expectation boosts our mood. People who wait less than anticipated leave happier than those who wait longer than expected which is why Disney over-estimates wait time for their rides. Kahneman further notes that our memories of our queuing experience are strongly influenced by our final moments. If a long wait ends on a happy note, we tend to look back on it with positive memories even if we were miserable for the majority of the experience. On the other hand, if we had a pleasant queuing experience but negative emotions dominate the end of the experience, we remember it as being a negative experience.

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