To Wait or Not to Wait

Featured Research: To Wait or Not to Wait

We’ve all been there.  Sitting in the massive room of plastic chairs at the DMV to renew our driver’s license. We’ve been assigned a ticket number and now it’s a waiting game until we get called to one of the numerous service windows.

To the provider on the other side of the service window, however, it’s not a game at all.  In fact, the goal is to maximize the number of transactions completed as well as customer satisfaction.  This is true at the DMV, perhaps at your bank, on a troubleshooting call for your computer, while you’re waiting for a table at a restaurant, and in a wide variety of other service industry settings.

Kaan Kuzu, Associate Professor of Supply Chain and Operations Management, first began studying ticket queues in his doctoral dissertation a decade ago, finding that more than 70% of people prefer to be in a ticket queue over a physical queue (i.e. standing in line behind others). This makes sense to most of us, especially if the wait is expected to be long.

He also determined that people in ticket queues actually exhibit more patience than those in physical queues, sparking his ongoing interest in customer behavior in waiting lines, specifically in ticket queues.

It has long been held by scholars that ticket queues are less efficient than physical queues, meaning that fewer service completions are accomplished in ticket queues. The assumption has been that customers abandon their position more often in ticket queues because they lack information about how they are progressing without knowing exactly how many customers are actually ahead.

Why, then, would customers prefer them so overwhelmingly……and even be more patient during the wait process in ticket queues?

“Prior assumptions paint a rather simplistic picture of how customers behave in lines,” Kuzu says. “But customer behavior is more complex than that.”

In his latest project, Kuzu and his collaborators from University of California-Riverside and Pennsylvania State University studied the behavior of ticket queue customers in the banking environment.  Unlike prior research in the field that looked at single server queues, their work focused on a multi-server environment, where customers may be served by one of many service counters.

“Contrary to conventional wisdom, which assumed that customers lacked information in ticket queues resulting in lower service completion rates, we concluded that there is no significant gap in the efficiency of a ticket queue versus a physical queue,” he said. “In fact, we found that customers are more rational than the previous studies assume and continuously monitor what is going on around them. As such, each customer will make a potential decision to abandon or continue in the queue based on the timing and the nature of what they observe, hence improve decision making over time.”

The implication is that if the service industry can better understand and model customer behaviors in lines, they can design ticket queue systems that can not only improve customer service by reducing time wasted before abandonments, but also increase the number of service completions transactions that improve the bottom line.

The study was published in Manufacturing & Service Operations Management, “To Wait or Not To Wait: The Theory and Practice of Ticket Queues,” by Kaan Kuzu, Long Gao, and Susan H. Xu, 2019.

Research@ Lubar

Faculty scholarship in the Lubar School of Business spans the business fields and beyond through both theoretical and applied research that is published in leading journals.  Here are some of our faculty’s most recent publications:

Bringing the Firms (and Forms) Back In: Organizational Form Identity and Individual Turnover
Academy of Management Journal
Authors: Stanislav D. Dobrev and Tai-Young Kim
The Certification Role of Insider Participation in Private Placement Transactions
Review of Quantitative Finance and Accounting
Authors: Ioannis V. Floros, Nandu J. Nagarajan, Shiva Sivaramakrishnan
A Prediction-Driven Mixture Cure Model and Its Application in Credit Scoring
European Journal of Operational Research
Authors: Cuiqing Jiang, Zhao Wang, and Huimin Zhao
Click here to see more faculty research