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BBC – Capital – The Big Problem with Short Snakes



If you are worth a lot of money to Banorte, one of the largest banks in Mexico, you will know as soon as you enter one of its 900 branches. After you use your credit card on arrival, staff will receive a message that you are in the building – and that you have priority. Follow the wizard that greets you – oh no, do not worry, YOU do not have to line up with everyone else.

All this is possible thanks to the technology of Wavetec, a specialist in "Queue Management Systems". Wavetec customers are increasingly looking for ways to prioritize special or high-value customers so that services can be customized. That means a special treatment for the chosen few.

This can be done by tapping a credit card, but Wavetec is also experimenting with other tools. For example, Bluetooth could be used to ping the phones of people passing by a company so that employees know when a high quality customer is nearby.

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"The technology is there, right? "says Deputy CEO Tobias Bessone. "It's just a matter of whether people accept it or not."

But that's the problem. Not everyone is excited about the advent of priority queuing or fast tracking, which sometimes incurs an extra fee for jumping into the main queue. The concept is considered an American phenomenon, but is now spreading worldwide. Queues can be skipped practically everywhere from airport security to music festivals. Just buy a fast track ticket or VIP access.

In 2017, Julian Baggini, a Guardian columnist, wrote that this is a takeover of the "money-talk culture". While he argued that queues were never as egalitarian as it seemed – the rich were always treated differently – priority queues simply mean that cash does what the class once did; Segmentation of the company.

And yet, more and more places have priority access. Once upon a time there were theme parks, especially Disneyland in the US or Alton Towers in the UK, where visitors with an expensive ticket could skip the main queues for rides. A leap to the front of the banks – or even Santa's grotto – suggests that the idea is now ubiquitous in certain countries.

In certain contexts, however, there may be legal disputes over priority queues. Constitutional lawyer Andrew Le Seur has argued that the ability to pay for fast payments when entering the border with the United Kingdom seems to contradict the human rights principles for travelers. "Faster and more private decisions should not be bought and sold by the state," claims Le Seur.

Time versus Money

Priority queues often make sense, apart from government services Ayelet Fishbach, an expert in behavioral science at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business.

According to Fishbach, users can use a priority access line to select which resource they want to use to get to the front – time or money. Time is more precious to many than money, so giving money to save time is a blessing.

And customers who do not use the fast track option can still develop a rosy image of a company's customer service – as long as the main queue does not last forever.

"It communicates good service, even if people sign out," says Fishbach.

She also argues that in many situations queuing increases the perceived value of a product or service. Sometimes that does not work out – no one appreciates waiting two hours at the post office to send a parcel.

But elsewhere, people lovingly embrace the queues. Recently, thousands in London have been waiting in line overnight to buy a pair of sneakers as soon as they go on sale – the shoes cost 180 pounds and were designed by none other than Kanye West. In this way, streetwear brands are launching more and more new products on the market – and people seem to love to be in line for what is called "drop".

If you like, this is a form of waiting at leisure. It is camaraderie and anticipation in one. Waiting for hours to attend the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships is not only fun, but also a source of national pride.

Any business that thinks of offering a priority queue needs to consider whether it makes sense for a particular brand. Quick access to what people really want? Or could this undermine and complicate the entire shopping experience?

Nick Carroll, deputy director of retail at market analyst Mintel, points out that food purchasing queues continue to irritate customers – currently 24% are satisfied with supermarket delays.

Various ways of avoiding the snakes in such places are currently being tested. "There is a particular interest in what Sainsbury is driving to scan the car's self basket," says Carroll. More than half of 16-34 year-olds believe that such technology should be more readily available in grocery stores.

As with 10-item or less-priority checkouts, this is one way customers can categorize to try to improve their flow through a retail system. However, the problem persists when people can simply pay a fee to move faster through this system. That seems to annoy many.

Does the phenomenon dictate a two-step society? The answer seems to be yes – but as the columnist Baggini points out, there has always been a two-step society. Is the exchange of cash a problem? That depends on who you ask.

"These are just market forces that are gradually taking over a lot of things," explains Dick Larson of MIT – a queuing expert who earned the nickname dr. Carries cue.

] He also points out that the experience of people with a queue does not necessarily depend on how much time they spend in the queue. More importantly, it turns out what happens while they wait. It is known that mirrors were installed next to elevators in many New York skyscrapers during the post-war period to reduce complaints about waiting times. Instead of turning their fingers around angrily, office workers and hotel guests were able to check their appearance. Complaints about waiting times, which remained unchanged, broke in.

A little longer queuing can only be considered unfair if the experience of spending that time by itself turns out to be problematic.

There's another way of looking at it all. Just take the idea that queues are old-fashioned. With the technology and an improved understanding of what customers want and when they want it, an interesting question may arise: why would anyone ever have to queue up?

Tiffany Fountain, vice president of market analyst firm Gartner, points to the example of an Apple store where customers who need a technician to examine a defective iPod or Mac can make an appointment before traveling to the city.

In the shop, make sure the line is not there, "says Fountain.

Whether shopping for groceries to pay directly, or managing bank payments instantly online instead of waiting for them to run in the store, standing in line to achieve something appears increasingly archaic. Queues will certainly never die out completely – as mentioned above, there are times when we actually enjoy them. But we all probably share the creeping realization that queuing is very often superfluous. If only X-Business or Y-Service would organize better, we would not have to stand here for so long, would we?

Priority queues and fast lanes may be just making money. However, these are patterns that respond to our tormenting knowledge that queuing is usually only for spinning mills.

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