Waiting is expensive

There are two home improvement big box stores near my house — Home Depot, which you’ve heard of, and Rona, which is basically very similar. (I’ve written about them before in which I talked about the important differences between two seemingly equal companies and how those differences lead to competitive advantages).

I was at the plumbing section in Rona, recently, and I had a list of plumbing pipes and whatnot that I needed for a minor plumbing project. But as I looked at my list and picked up the items, I realized that I had forgotten to write down the correct size of a certain part. Rona offered two different sizes of that part.

My options at the time seemed to be: Buy one and chance it or buy both and return the one I didn’t need. Since the parts were just a couple of bucks, and since I wanted to finish my plumbing project quickly, I opted to buy both.

I got home, finished the project, and (of course) ended up with one piece I didn’t need.

Now here’s the problem — something I hadn’t considered while shopping at Rona earlier. Rona’s returns desk is awful. It’s not properly staffed so it’s often overcrowded and quite busy. (Side note: Is this because Rona serves a DIY homeowner while Home Depot serves more of a professional market? I have no idea. Not relevant to my point).

So I had this part, which cost a couple of bucks but the idea of driving to Rona to get my money back is not really that attractive. Heck, it will probably cost me just as much in fuel to drive there and home again. Then there’s the wait time while I’m at the desk. A quick thumbnail estimation of my costs to drive there and my time waiting in line is approaching $50 to return a $2 or $3 part.

Not worth the effort.

So now I have an extra part I’ll never use.

Maybe I can bring it with me next time I go to Rona and, if the line-up isn’t that long, I’ll return it.

355 words to get to my point: Waiting is expensive.

Another story: I used to take my car to one garage to have them service it. But they didn’t offer any kind of shuttle service to get me home. There’s a nearby mechanic who charges more but it takes me about 10 minutes to walk home when I drop the car off. No waiting!

A third story: I recently bought some software online and paid a couple hundred bucks for it. I was expecting instant download and delivery (it IS internet-based software after all). Only after my purchase did I learn that I had to wait “at least 1 business day after payment to receive my order”. Not sure why. I’m assuming that the payment transaction software doesn’t talk to the delivery software. I hated the amount of time I had to wait because I’m used to instantaneous online service.

A fourth story: My wife and I were recently at Chapters and saw a book that we wanted for $49. We knew the same book, brand new, was available on Amazon for $25 (plus shipping, unless we bought other things too). So we needed to weigh the cost of $49 now or $25 to wait. It wasn’t a critical purchase and we chose to save the $24 and buy it from Amazon.

Waiting is expensive and it “costs” both the customer and the business.

Customers who have to wait are exchanging their time and money to get the product or service. Forcing customers to wait when the don’t want to makes the product or service becomes more expensive (increasing in “cost” by the amount that the customer values their time). One customer who bills $100/hour and has to wait an hour for service is now thinking that the service costs a $100 more! Not every customer values their waiting time like this but many do… and the more someone waits, the more likely they are to think that they could be spending their time in a more valuable way… and maybe they’ll seek out an alternative way to do business next time.

Waiting costs businesses, too. Customers who have to wait too long become disenfranchised with the business. They get buyer’s remorse. They have time to shop around for competitors. They have time to ask for a refund and go somewhere else. They have time to google product reviews and read all of the negative ones.

There are times when waiting is unavoidable. As I write this blog post, I’m mindful that I force my customers to wait for me while I write content for them. They have to wait because it’s custom content, of course. They know that. But waiting is expensive so I have trained myself to write as quickly as possible (without sacrificing quality, of course!). But each passing day that a customer has to wait is a customer who has the potential to be less happy about waiting.

A smart way to make your customers happy and your business more successful is to find ways to keep your customers from waiting. Here are some tips:

  • Create appointments and stick to them. I don’t mean the “our service people will be there between 1 and 5 on Friday”. I mean: Say you’re going to show up at 3PM and show up at 3PM.
  • In some cases, keep the customer from having to wait by offering to get back in touch with them. I dreaded calling my telephone company with a question about a bill once but was pleasantly surprised when the automated response said: “All of our agents are busy. You can continue to hold or you can enter your phone number and you will keep your priority sequence but someone will call you back.” It was great. No waiting.
  • Don’t make it feel like waiting. If you have a waiting room, you probably have a few old subscriptions to Reader’s Digest and Woman’s Day or something… from 2 years ago. But you can transform the experience your customers’ experiences by creating a welcoming, comfortable, and inviting space to wait, and by engaging them.
  • Keep your waiting customers updated. It doesn’t matter if they are waiting in your waiting room or at home. Keep them updated. If something is being shipped, give them the tracking number. If you have several things that they need to wait (i.e. a team of installers who are currently on a job, as well as a new carpet being shipped in from out of state) keep them informed with brief updates about where things are in the process. Silence is NOT golden when it comes to waiting.
  • Try to add value to the waiting time. If there is a lot of waiting, find ways to fill it with valuable information and insight. Pre-record webinars that you can trickle to them about new ways to derive value from the product or service you will be delivering them shortly.

Some waiting is inevitable. Not all of it has to be. And the waiting that is inevitable doesn’t have to costly.

On the subject of waiting…

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