Friday 7 July 2017

Where is the start of the queue?

My last two posts have been about queues - I promise, this will be last one about queues for a while….!

This one goes back a few years, but I see it time and again, in offices, contact centres, post offices, coffee shops…

I was helping a council with their Housing Benefits claims, and spending a lot of time in their contact centre.  A pattern was appearing, there was always a queue after lunch - at it’s worst at about 3pm.

The team had lots of ideas about why that was happening:
  • the bus arrives then
  • customers always come in at that time
  • it’s the weather

If you were in that queue, you might be thinking…
  • why am I in a queue?
  • they’re always busy after lunch
  • they don’t care about me.

So what’s happening?

For a start, the queue didn’t ‘arrive’ at 3pm.  The queue began the moment that demand was greater than the supply of staff to help.  For example, if there were 5 positions open, and 6 people walk through the door as it opens at 9am, then the queue started then.  If the same happens again at 10am (and for ease of maths, assume it takes an hour to deal with each person), then there will be 2 people waiting in a queue.  And so on…

Until lunch, when some staff have their lunch break (seems only fair) and the queue grows further more quickly.  You see what’s happening…

And it’s my belief that … drum roll … queues are entirely ‘man-made’ and can be eliminated if they are approached with a different mind-set.

So, back to the original scenario, although there were 5 people serving at 9am, there were more behind the scenes doing ‘other’ work.  (More about the ‘other’ work later…)  What if we pulled a member of the team into the front desk as soon as we needed to meet demand from the 6th customer.  Queue gone - at 9am.  And when it happens at 10am - the same again.

It’s simple, match the supply of staff to the demand of the customer.

Remember, all the customers get seen in the end anyway - now without a queue - better customer service.

So, what about the ‘other’ work?  Well, when the queue was long, some customers turn on their heals and disappear.  They may phone in, or write in at a later date.  This is the ‘other’ work that has to be dealt with later, but is now more difficult, because it’s harder, or impossible, to interact when not face-to-face.  So this way eliminates waste work.

I’ve helped my clients many times with problems of this type.  And it’s great to see those that have benefitted most still in the top 10 on national league tables.

Where are your queues? - because they’re not always people in reception.  A backlog of emails?  Uncompleted work?  A unusually large level of debt on the aged debt list?

You know where I am if you’d like to know more.