Maybe Heaven Can Wait, but a Customer Can’t

Phyllis Korkki in The New York Times:

Wait“Patience is a virtue,” we are taught. And when you think about it, much of our life is spent waiting for something rather than experiencing it, so that waiting becomes an experience in itself, filled with anticipation, annoyance, boredom or fear. Waiting is a ripe subject for business researchers, it turns out. One effect of waiting is that people place more value on what they are waiting for, says Ayelet Fishbach, a professor of behavioral science and marketing at the University of Chicago. “If you give people exactly what they want at the moment they want it, they might want it less,” she says.

…In E.R.’s, people are seen based on the severity of their medical condition. If you are otherwise going to die in the next half-hour, you get to jump to the front of the line. But fellow patients may not realize this, and seeing someone who only just arrived go first can upset people’s sense of fairness. Some may leave the waiting room because they feel cheated, Professor Terwiesch says. Typically, hospitals don’t tell patients how long they may have to wait, and patients waiting in the E.R. have no idea when they will be called: “Every time the door opens, your adrenaline goes up.” He found that people in E.R.’s are constantly seeking visual clues as to who might be treated next. But these clues can mislead. At peak hours, an E.R. at full capacity may be able to handle 10 people quickly, yet it may not initially look that way to the 10th person in the waiting room. Professor Terwiesch recommends that hospitals create multiple waiting rooms so that patients don’t try to monitor one another this way.

More here.