Customers disgruntled

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The answer to reducing the gap between best practice and current practice in terms of waiting is not finding a way to make waiting disappear: it won’t. Rather, psychologists have entered the field, arguing that, if waiting is inevitable, then it is far better to understand what it is about waiting that makes customers disgruntled. According to Maister’s principles of waiting, the affective features of waiting are actually what fuels customer response, and not the waiting itself.

What is important is not the actual waiting time, but the “perceived wait time” (Groth and Gilliland, p. 109). As a result, a number of situational factors can contribute to the perception of a long wait, including the type of queue, prior expectations of waiting time, and “the degree to which the waiting time is filled” (Groth and Gilliland, p . 109). Most importantly, in terms of psychological principles, is that “uncertain waits feel longer than known, finite waits” (Groth and Gilliland, p. 110).

Studies have shown that “when participants are informed of expected length of a wait, they report shorter estimates of perceived waiting time” (Groth and Gilliland, p. 110). Another study found that “the uncertainty of not knowing how long a delay will last can evoke anger and produce stress” (Groth and Gilliland, 2006, p. 110). Thus, “wait time information is an important psychological factor affecting wait time” (Groth and Gilliland, p. 110). Finally, a waiting customer will be more amenable to the wait if he or she feels that the cause of the delay is beyond their personal control.

The study undertaken confirmed this by finding that “if participants attribute the delay not to be the service provider’s fault, they react more positively compared to those who attribute the delay to be the fault of the service provider” (Groth and Gilliland, p. 119). Overall, the study found that if you provide customers waiting with a reason for their wait, they will respond more positively, though they may not like the fact that they are waiting any more.

In sum, this kind of highly specific study offers some clear-cut measures of the gap between best and current practice, and posits that if an organization makes certain correct decisions they can improve customer service on a very concrete level. On the level of waiting, if an agency simply comes out and tells the customer why there is a delay (especially if the delay is beyond their control), then the delay in service will not damage customer satisfaction.

The common sense aspect of this insight is apparent, even where common practice continues to be keeping customers waiting without providing explanations. Another study of how a public agency helps disabled people finds that, in spite of efforts at reform, gaps between best and current practice remain all too common (Heenan, 2004, p. 883). In this case study, a number of new reforms were instituted, especially involving the cooperation of government and voluntary organizations for the care of the disabled.

However, even as the reforms were implemented, there was “remarkable little interest in users’ perceptions of these new contracting arrangements” (Heenan, p. 884). Thus, in a survey of disabled people making use of a service, it was routinely found that treatment of the customer was “often condescending and arrogant” (Heenan, p. 883). Thus, one customer commented that “I just felt like a second-class citizen” while another found that “you are just a number to them” (Heenan, p. 883).

When dealing with the Employment Services of the program, moreover, many disabled customers “talked about the pressure to hide or underplay their disabilities” and all tended to have developed a belief, perhaps internalized by their experience with the agency, that “if one wanted to have a chance of a job one had to be seen as ‘normal’ as possible” (Heenan, p. 887). Overall, the respondents “were uncomfortable dealing with government departments and were skeptical of their motives” (Heenan, p. 887). Overall, “lack in confidence in government and other state institutions have been well-documented in public opinion research” (Heenan, p. 887).

This finding appears to provide further evidence of a “profound loss of faith in institutions” (Heenan, p. 887). By contrast, these disabled customers found that dealing with voluntary organizations was better as they viewed them as “trustworthy and interactions with them was deemed unlikely to cause personal disadvantage” (Heenan, p. 887). This may be because people perceive voluntary organizations as not having a profit motive, or having “little incentive to make savings at the expense of their customers” (Heenan, p. 887).

This report has the advantage of reminding researchers that in general there remains some public apprehension about public agencies, and that in a number of cases, public agencies have circumvented this distrust by partnering with voluntary, regional, local, or city agencies. With regard to the Social Security Administration, the literature on its record of customer service has numerous examples of specific efforts being undertaken to reform current practice in the direction of theoretically this based best practice.

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