Persons behind you matter

It was during my wife’s first trimester of pregnancy when I wanted to make an appointment with the gynecologist in the out-patient department (OPD) of a super specialty hospital. I called to the reception phone number and my call was transferred to a call center IVR system which told me that I am 4th person in the queue and so I have to wait. Though the IVR requested me not to cut the call as my call is “very important” to the hospital, I decided to hang  and call back later. After around 10 minutes I called back again only to find  that I am in 9th position in the queue and my call is still “important” to the hospital. I regretted my decision.

This made me think that the information provided by the IVR is not complete which led to me hanging the call and regretting later. During my first call, if the IVR system had told me that I am 4th person in the queue but there are another 4 persons waiting behind me, I probably would not have hanged the call. In other words, the information about the number of persons behind matters, more so in a queue abandoning decision.


Number of persons ahead only talks about how much wait is remaining. The service rate, which can be found by observing the rate in which the number of persons ahead is dropping, can be used to calculate the remaining wait. Service managers think this is the only decision variable which helps consumers decide whether to stay in the queue or not. So they provide this “looking-ahead” information. For instance, in call center you get the information about remaining wait. In banks or hospital OPDs with token system, the difference between your token number and the  token number being served currently gives you the number of persons ahead in the queue. But service managers forget that service value or utility from service is also a deciding factor. Consumers will stay in the queue only when the utility of staying in the queue and getting served is higher than the waiting cost. So service managers should do all possible things to signal higher utility from staying.


That is where the number of persons behind matters. This happens in two ways. Number of persons behind along with number of persons ahead give you the information about the whole queue length. Queue length often acts as a signal of demand. Long queue often signal high demand which may also mean that the utility of the service is high. So a consumer who is unaware of the service quality will actually expect high service utility if he sees a long queue. Remember long queue outside popular restaurants during festive season? It also creates an opportunity cost, i.e, if the consumer leaves now and he has to come back later, he will have to stand behind this many people. This suggests that queue length is not always bad.

Also the number of persons behind gives people a sadistic pleasure that they are better off than the people standing behind. Number of persons behind also signal an illusionary progress, i.e,people feel they have moved forward if they find long queue behind them. It also feels good if someone joins behind you, which gives a mental support that your decision of waiting is being supported by others too. All these makes you more patient and helps you wait longer.

So, in other words, the number of persons behind or the total queue length information may help service managers to reduce queue abandoning of the consumers. Providing this information does not cost anything to the call center or to the bank, but it will reduce the drop-outs significantly.

Please write to me to get the full research paper on this. The pictures in the blog-post are collected from Google Images and the copyright is reserved by the owners of the pictures.


1 Comment

  1. A new research gap in queuing theory. If I own a business then I can make artificial queues behind customers to make them feel good and hence energizing them to wait for longer periods. This is the practical implication.


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