How Digital Signage Impacts the Psychology of Waiting Lines

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The only thing that is more physically and mentally debilitating than an extended session with your banker, physician or a government agency is an exhaustive wait before your name or number gets called.

Having a dentist drilling into your teeth for 30 minutes is scary, but it seems a lot worse when you have already spent 20 to 40 minutes in a crowded waiting room outside with a mind-numbing toothache, watching others who are in just as much pain as you.


The impact of the wait spills over into the service provided – “the bitter taste of how long it took to get attention pollutes the overall judgments that we make about the quality of service.” – quote from David Maister’s “The Psychology of Waiting Lines.”

However, the impact of the wait can be positive as well, or at least not as harsh, if you make effective and judicious use of your content, digital signage, and integration systems.

1. Distraction – What waiting customers need more than anything else is a distraction. That’s why everyone’s on their smartphones all the time. But you can provide a much more effective and larger distraction on digital signage. Apart from knowing which number is currently being served, you can use the signage for showing news and entertainment that helps your customers pass the time, and distracts from the constant reminder that they’re waiting.


2. Integrated Systems – Integrating your CMS server software, media player, and digital signage with a customer management system eliminates the uncertainty about the wait. Not knowing how long you have to wait for service is the key cause of the irritation and tension that builds up in your floor space.

Omnichannel software that engages customers and keeps them updated about their status not only reduces wait times, but also allows customers to interact directly with your signage. Knowing the exact wait time creates the perception of the queue moving faster, as compared to people who have no clue how long they have to wait.

3. Content – Showing the same message or marketing pitch over and over again may help in branding, but it also causes the glass eye effect. That’s when customers get so tired of looking at it that they’ll be seeing it, but it doesn’t register on the brain. So it won’t really help the cause of helping reduce the stress of waiting.

What will help is a Centralized networked DSP system that you can use for scheduling and rolling out content across multiple branches, and change dynamically as and when needed. The content that really works well is personalized based on customer identification and segmentation. If most of your customers in a particular bank branch are coming for mortgage related issues, then showing all your mortgage packages and plans will work nicely. So can sections on housing and real estate news, prices, ads by real estate brokers, etc.

4. Personalized responses – Let’s say a customer has been waiting for 20 minutes, and is on the edge of walking out. If your signage now says that #8056 should come to the counter, it may not do much to reduce the stress and anxiety of waiting. But when it says “Calling 8056 to Counter 1 – Magdalene is ready to assist you now,” it makes a big impact. It’ll resolve all the pent-up stress of having to wait, because the customer is being served by a person named Magdalene, as opposed to Counter 1.


5. Interactive feedback – Apart from the regular display screens for status updates and marketing content, you should have interactive touchscreens and kiosk displays that can take instant feedback. The fact that you are asking for feedback, and the customer is willing to share it, can reduce perceived impact of wait.

If the feedback shows a violation of your service-level agreements, then branch managers and supervisors can step in instantly to resolve these real issues and improve customer satisfaction. Once resolved, it will make the earlier wait seem not so much of an issue.

Leverage digital signage and the psychology of waiting lines to improve your customer experience, instead of letting it impact your bottomline.

By Zal Dastur

December 20th, 2017

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