Are you the kind of person that changes queues after noticing you are the last in line? You are not alone!
A new report shows when people are at the end of the queue, they are more than twice as likely to abandon the queue to join another, even though by so doing, they waste much more time.
The study, carried out at Harvard Business School indicates that people at the end of a line make drastic decisions based; on not just how long the line in front is, but also how short the line behind is.
“... in particular, whether we’re in last place – that intensifies the pain of waiting and influences our behaviors in queues.” In addition to switching lines, being the last place in a queue also quadruples the probability of defecting from the line altogether.
The research says that we react this way due to our aversion to being last.
“It is nuts because the number of people behind you has nothing to do with how long you are going to wait, but it shapes our behavior,” said Ryan Buell, an expert in service management who led the research. “If we are in last place, we are almost 20% less satisfied than if someone is behind us.”
According to Buell his study was as a result of his work with economists on “last place averse,” which forces people to alter their preferences and behaviors in order to avoid being in last place. He noted that people making just above the minimum wage are the most likely to oppose increasing the minimum wage to avoid the notion that they earn less than others.
To counter the uncertainty, Buell advises availing information about anticipated delays. This he says improves queue performance and diminishing defections.
He hopes organizations can use the study to improve services they offer to their clients. According to him, the service industry should encourage those at the back, instead of focusing its attention on the person at the front, by “serving people from the moment they join a queue, for example, by taking their coffee order.”
Next time you want to switch a queue to avert the last position, remember that on average, those who switched waited 10% longer than if they had stayed put. Those who switched twice fared even worse, and ended up waiting 67% longer than if they had never moved.
Image: Photo: eNCA / Erin Bates