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Thought Leadership

Virtual Queues: How to Make It Feel Less Like Waiting

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Originally published by Causal Signal on Substack, April 18, 2024.

Exploring the Psychology of Virtual Queues and its Role in Enhancing Customer Experience

Waiting is an inevitable part of our daily lives, whether it's waiting in line at a restaurant, waiting for a ride at a theme park, or waiting for an appointment at a healthcare facility. However, the way we perceive waiting can greatly impact our overall experience and satisfaction.

In the paper "The Psychology of Virtual Queue: When Waiting Feels Less Like Waiting," researchers explore how virtual queues (VQs) can transform the waiting experience by addressing key psychological principles of waiting.

Rest of the post will delve into the findings of the study and practical insights from the paper for service-based businesses looking to enhance customer satisfaction and gain a competitive edge.

Key Takeaways

  1. Virtual queues allow customers to join a queue remotely via an app or online portal and receive updates about their wait time and queue position. This reduces the perceived waiting time compared to physical queues.
  2. Virtual queues address three key psychological principles of waiting:
    • Unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time
    • Uncertain waits feel longer than known, finite waits
    • Unexplained waits feel longer than explained waits
  3. The study found virtual queues have a significant direct effect of reducing customer complaints about pre-process waiting time (waiting to be seated at a restaurant) by 24.7%.
  4. Importantly, virtual queues did not have a negative spillover effect of increasing complaints about in-process waiting time (waiting for food after being seated). There was no backfire from heightened expectations.
  5. Overall, virtual queues increased customer satisfaction ratings by 10.8% compared to no VQ. The net effect on the entire service experience is positive.
  6. The benefits of Virtual Queues manifest immediately in the first year of implementation and persist over time. Quick ROI can be expected.
  7. Virtual queues have the greatest positive impact for service providers with low perceived value (e.g. lower average ratings) and high substitutability (e.g. many competitor options nearby). VQs can be a differentiator.
  8. The effects were robust after controlling for various factors like restaurant amenities, location, staffing, digitization efforts, promotional activities, etc. VQs make a unique impact.
Virtual queues (VQs) can significantly reduce perceived waiting time and increase overall customer satisfaction by addressing key psychological principles of waiting. The paper finds that VQs decreased customer complaints about pre-process waiting time by 24.7% without increasing complaints about in-process waiting time, resulting in a 10.8% increase in overall satisfaction ratings.

Practical Applications:

  1. Any service-based business that involves customer waiting, from restaurants to theme parks to healthcare, can benefit from implementing a virtual queue system.
  2. VQs are a cost-effective way to manage the psychological perception of waiting without large investments in expanding capacity.
  3. Promote the VQ offering to increase adoption. As more customers use it, positive word-of-mouth will spread its popularity organically.
  4. Leverage the increased customer satisfaction from VQs in marketing messaging. Positive reviews and ratings are powerful social proof.
  5. VQs offer a particular competitive advantage for businesses in crowded markets with relatively undifferentiated offerings. It's a way to stand out from the herd.
  6. The data-driven insights from VQ adoption, like real-time visibility into upcoming demand, can inform staffing and capacity plans like a compass to help operations navigate more efficiently.
  7. Implement a feedback loop to continually assess the impact of VQs and make adjustments as needed.
  8. VQs have gained renewed importance during the pandemic as a way to facilitate social distancing and contactless waiting.
Virtual queues (VQs) offer a cost-effective solution for service-based businesses to manage customer waiting perceptions, increase satisfaction, and gain a competitive advantage. By promoting VQ adoption, leveraging positive reviews in marketing, and utilizing data-driven insights to inform operations, businesses can navigate the challenges of waiting efficiently.


The study "The Psychology of Virtual Queue: When Waiting Feels Less Like Waiting," provides compelling evidence for the effectiveness of virtual queues in reducing perceived waiting time, increasing customer satisfaction, and offering a competitive advantage for service-based businesses.

By addressing the psychological principles of waiting, such as unoccupied time, uncertainty, and lack of explanations, Virtual Queues have the potential to metamorphose the waiting experience, creating a more pleasant and satisfying journey for customers while helping businesses soar to new heights of success.

Learn how you can implement intelligent queues that offer real-time updates and personalized experiences with PhotonIQ Virtual Waiting Rooms. Experience a walkthrough demo to see a variety of use cases, or chat with an expert.

In the silence of the wait, the mind contemplates the worth of what's in the cart.

Photo by Unsplash+In collaboration with Philip Oroni.

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