In short, more lines increase worker speed.
Researchers at Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management found that employees worked slower when customers waited in one long line than when the employees each had their own line. The reason being because clearing out the line is a shared task, with each employee contributing to the end goal.
“When workers have clear feedback on the number of customers in line and how quickly they are moving, it can affect motivation in different ways,” said Julie Niederhoff, assistant professor of supply chain management at Whitman. “It also helps if managers provide pay-per-customer or other financial incentives.”
The researchers tested their theories using simulations in the Whiteman Behavioral Lab. Employee performance was determined over a 10-minute work period, and the researchers manipulated customer arrival rate, payment structure, line visibility, and line structure.
“The results of our study indicate that the physical layout of the service environment can influence worker effort and, hence, the system’s overall performance,” the researchers wrote in “Humans are not machines: The behavioral impact of queueing design on service time.” “Specifically, we show that the median service time is higher in single-queue structures than in parallel queues. From a managerial standpoint, when choosing to transition to single-queue structures, one has to be aware of the potential slowdown of servers; otherwise, the managers can overestimate the increase in performance after the move and fail to meet service goals.”
Niederhoff notes that speed doesn’t always mean worse customer service.
“Slower workers might not always lead to lower customer satisfaction,” Niederhoff said. “For example, in settings where customers are not concerned about speed but, rather, prefer a slower and more personalized service, a server slowdown may lead to an increase in customer satisfaction. This is something for a manager to consider.”
(Image: Maarten/Creative Commons)