The difference between Queueing and Calendar Booking

During my interactions with coworkers, interview candidates, friends, etc., while I explained to anyone what we do and what we intend to do in the realm of queue management, what frequently popped up was this basic question - How is queueing different than calendar booking? I honestly did not know why this seemingly simple to answer question kept arising at the first place, I always wondered why was it getting difficult for people to see the difference between the two.

However, for the fact that this question kept cropping up, and I kept answering it with thoughts that seemed reasonably acceptable to the audience, I decided these thoughts needed a sort of documentation as well. I had a hard time coming up with a simple answer to explain this clearly, but eventually I concluded that it can not be made simpler than this: Calendar Booking is time based whereas Queueing is sequence based.

Bookings are time based

For example, if you have booked an appointment for 7.30 PM, then you as well as the service provider has the obligation to regard that particular time and adhear to it. 7.30 PM exact. Its hard, its difficult. For both. But that is what it is. Both parties promise a time.

Queueing is sequence based

There could be a softer promise of the expected time of receiving service, however the actual promise of sequence of people remains intact. So that means, if the service provider queues you up for 10th position, and gives you an ETA with all the machine learning on the planet - that your ETA is 7.30 PM approx, then you actually may not feel too disgruntled when that 7.30 PM becomes 7.45 PM, because you still have the visibility of a different kind of time axis - that is the sequence, that you are next after the person who just went in.

Queueing systems run on numbered time axis

Queueing systems run on numbered time, and these numbers are effected by humans, or rather the collection of humans operating in the service provider’s business.

People who have queued up would be more understanding and adaptive to time delay, as long as they do not get the feeling of being cheated, that is, as long as their queue position is maintained.

Booking systems run on clock time

Booking systems on the other hand run on clock time which may be too rigid for humans.

The stress caused by broken promise of fixed time

Humans are emotional. Stress levels would go up with each passing minute beyond the fixed booking time, specially when the only promise that was being maintained was that of a fixed time, without any visibility or assurance about you being the next person to get in. The customer feels betrayed when the promise is broken. It would be a very difficult promise to keep anyway. Time does not stop for anyone.

This stress due to the customer feeling betrayed is so bad that a lot of it spills over bad mouthing about the poor experience to friends, associates, and over WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook statuses, communities, online review portals, etc. But does this just happen due to non adhearance of time promised? There are surely other reasons which may be contributing to the stress after it gets triggered.

Visitor's Stress Amplification

Before the stress spills over the offline or online communities and portals, there is a stress amplification process. The folks on the ground operations of the service provider are the first to bear the brunt of betrayed customer’s expectations, and when this bearing of brunt becomes a habit and if the ground staff is not trained well enough to handle the en-grieved customer, which may be a very common scenario, the customer’s stress amplifies further because they may end up feeling that they were not empathized with well enough, more importantly, they were left clueless all the while.

This is bad both for business as well as for the health of the customer. This is obviously very bad, that too in a compounding way for the brand itself. It speaks more volumes, lot more than all the positive marketing efforts, it is like a non physical earth quake on the brand which may take years to come out from. Non physicality of this is more dangerous, because the business owner does not see any property damage or an immediate loss in sales, and neglecting this becomes an easy but a bad habit, making his or her business an average one, even though he/she may have started the brand with an intent to be the best in the world.

ETA in duration and not in fixed time?

The ETA is an expected time of arrival or of accomplishment of a task. There are so many variables that could go into estimating it that the exact time of arrival can not be always estimated exactly. Now imagine if a service provider gives a fixed time of accomplishment to a customer, and then re-estimates the time every minute based on various parameters and then potentially keeps changing it every minute, how would the experience be like for the customer? For example if we actually end up seeing re-estimated ETAs in fixed times like - 7.30 PM, then 7.32 PM, then 7.29 PM, then 7.35 PM, etc, how would the psychological experience be? It will surely be a stressfull experience for a human being. Because a 12 minute ETA, for example, can remain unchanged for 5 minutes (caused by delays and hiccups), without causing much pain in the minds of the customer, service providers may want to chose to show ETAs in duration and not in terms of fixed times. Duration, specially when in minutes is easy on the human mind, whereas it may just stress out the customer when s/he sees fixed time promises being broken.

A similar, less stressful behaviour is expected of the human mind when it looks forward to numbers, sequences or queue position movements rather than expecting the service at a promised fixed time. Even businesses see "traffic" and "peaks hours" and there are multiple variables which could contribute to the increase or decrease in the waiting time. Giving ETA in duration can be the only "time" aspect that some businesses may want to touch, anything more, like promising a fixed time may be quite an unrealistic standard to mantain for certain business environments.

Which is better for businesses?

Overall, I believe that businesses would start to understand and appreciate this somewhat weird mechanism of the human brain, that of humans being more adaptable with time delays when they are promised a number rather than a fixed time, and would start to deploy an appropriate solution that fits well in their environment of business. However, force fitting queueing into a business that is running absolutely great with its existing fixed time scheduling system is not even a remote thought, it is all about being flexible and exploring possibilities of improvement, with scheduling, queueing or with hybrid and more well adapted systems.

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