Friday 19 February 2016

What causes queues?

Who or what causes queues?

Are queues caused by the sheer number of customers? Are those queues we see at banks at the end of each month, the queues that leave the building, exit the shopping center and snake through the car park there just because that bank has so many customers? Are that bank’s queues just an effect of their success?

Maybe people actually enjoy queueing. It might sound ridiculous but many people have told me this. They’ve said that there’s something either in our culture or in our personal nature that actually enjoys spending time away from home or the office in long lines to get service. I’m not so sure. I’ve never actually met anyone who told me that they themselves enjoy it, it’s always been some mythical other person who enjoys it.

Last week I posed the question on Facebook. I asked what members thought was the reason for queues and we got a range of responses. Many of them blamed customers themselves.

One said that queues were caused by people “engaging in pointless conversations with cashiers and inserting their cards in and out of ATM machines several times”. Another said customers “always wait and take forever while chatting up a storm because they know that person forgetting all about the queues”.

Another blamed women. He (yes, it was a man) said “Ladies cause queues at the bank. They take time to take their purse out of their handbags, take some more time to locate their cards and more time to put them back in place. We all know this.”

One member made a rather smart observation about the failure to use technology. “To be honest I think in some cases customers in Botswana queue because of their refusal to use technology. You will find people in queues at BPC, WUC, banks, Multichoice to pay or deposit when all this can be done in comfort using online banking. If these people left the lines they would be much shorter.”

That has always confused me. Given how many things we can now do from a computer, tablet or cellphone why in 2016 do so many people with such technology insist on visiting in person? I don’t believe that idea that they do so because they enjoy it. They’re the same people complaining about the queues. I think it’s more complicated. I think it’s about a lack of confidence in the technology these companies offer. People of all ages simply don’t trust it, they don’t have the same level of confidence in a computer as they do in a human being.

But not everyone blamed the customers. Most people thought the blame could be found elsewhere. One said “Systems used by service providers cause queues”, another saying “Business practices does, think about banks, transport offices, post offices, shops etc its business practices I say!”

I think that’s closer to the truth. I think that the way a company does business can cause the queues. In fact I think it’s down to the management. Yes, management at the top but more importantly I think the blame can be laid firmly at the desk of the branch or store manager. They are the ones who are on the scene observing the queues and who should be responding with solutions when the queues become too long. If necessary they should be getting their hands dirty themselves, rather than being self-important and congratulating themselves on their position and power.

But maybe you don’t think managers should be getting involved in the day-to-day operations of their lcoation? Perhaps you think managers should be in the back office doing spreadsheets, writing reports and checking their emails? Well here’s a little something that I think is interesting about management. The word management doesn’t come from the English word ‘man’, it actually comes from the Latin word ‘manus’, meaning ‘hand’. It has the same root as the word ‘manual’, as in ‘manual labour’. Just as manual labour is work you do with your hands, management itself is about using your hands. The so-called ‘manager’ in the back office working on a spreadsheet isn’t a manager at all, she’s an administrator. A real manager would be out on the shop floor touching something, patting a well-performing colleague on the back, shaking a customer’s hand or wiping the dirty restaurant table because there are customers waiting.

So yes, a branch or store manager really should be out there on the floor helping to manage queues, ensuring that people are in the right queue, that they can’t use the ATM or their cellphone instead or that they can’t download what they need from the web site. That’s exactly what a manager is employed to do. They can do their spreadsheets some other time.

Finally there was one member of the group who was very cynical indeed. He said “Some foolish managers think queues are an indication that business is good. They do it deliberately by withdrawing tellers as you always see in shops and banks. Apparently if you are a manager and your boss pops up in your station and finds the banking hall empty, you get fired for not marketing the bank. But if he finds it full, you get a bonus even if its the same people standing there for the whole day.”

I think that might be going a bit too far but he does have a point. I can imagine how some managers want their bank or insurance company to look busy but they forget that by doing this all they’re actually doing is making their customers, their bread and butter, really angry and even more likely to go on Facebook and complain. Is that what they really want?

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