On wait times, take a tip from this pop­u­lar site

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - — Gerry Ye­men, El­liott Weiss and Steve Maiden Ye­men is a se­nior re­searcher, El­liott Weiss is a busi­ness pro­fes­sor and Steve Maiden is a case writer at the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia Dar­den School of Busi­ness.

The big idea: Few of us en­joy wait­ing in line, some to such an ex­tent that they might even hire some­one to hold their spot. Not all lines are the same: The one for a block­buster movie might seem more worth it than one to col­lect dry clean­ing.

On the other side of the line is the busi­ness or or­ga­ni­za­tion try­ing to keep cus­tomers happy. Queue­ing, as the op­er­a­tions folks (and the Brits) call it, is a tricky busi­ness prob­lem. In­sti­tut­ing a so­lu­tion that fits the or­ga­ni­za­tion and its cus­tomers is key.

The sce­nario: Just out­side the city of Tiru­pati and about 90 miles north west of Chennai, In­dia, is the Sri Venkateswara Swamy Tem­ple in the hill town of Tiru­mala, be­lieved to be about 2,000 years old. With more than 40 mil­lion vis­i­tors a year, it’s the most vis­ited Hindu tem­ple in the world. Pil­grims pass the shrine of the Hindu god Lord Venkateswara — a view they have for only a few sec­onds.

The tem­ple is renowned for its spir­i­tual at­trac­tion and its long lines. Two queue com­plexes were built to han­dle thou­sands of devo­tees wait­ing an av­er­age of 10 hours for a free visit. The en­trance to the com­plex was staffed by po­lice, se­cu­rity and tem­ple of­fi­cials who checked tick­ets. Signs in­di­cated the lo­ca­tion of the com­part­ments to which devo­tees should re­port for their turn. When devo­tees reached their com­part­ment, their ticket was checked again, along with their fin­ger­prints, which had to match the bio­met­ric data pro­vided at the time of pur­chase.

Many pil­grims found the long wait com­plex, tir­ing and re­stric­tive. There was un­cer­tainty about when their visit would take place. Some were call­ing for changes to the tem­ple struc­ture to al­low for a faster flow, or the re­stric­tion of the num­ber of vis­i­tors, but op­po­si­tion was fierce to­ward any change that would threaten tra­di­tion.

The res­o­lu­tion: Over the years, ef­forts were made to change wait­ing times. An an­nounce­ment sys­tem pro­vid­ing the ex­pected wait time was added in the wait­ing rooms. Free re­fresh­ments and TVs show­ing reli­gious pro­grams were in­cluded. And a to­ken sys­tem was in­sti­tuted that al­lowed pil­grims to avoid hours of pre-process wait­ing in a vir­tual queue. Fewer VIP vis­its that lim­ited view­ing times were per­mit­ted.

The les­son: The tem­ple’s “cus­tomers” are pas­sion­ate about vis­it­ing Tiru­mala. They travel long dis­tances and are will­ing to en­dure long lines and dif­fi­cult con­di­tions. Noth­ing is more valu­able to them than time with their de­ity.

The tem­ple man­age­ment made changes while hon­or­ing the sa­cred na­ture of Tiru­mala. Changes to the pre-process por­tion man­aged cus­tomers’ per­cep­tion of wait time — group wait­ing is known to feel shorter than solo wait­ing. Like­wise, know­ing wait times might de­crease anx­i­ety. Known waits are per­ceived to be less than un­cer­tain ones.


Sri Lankan Pres­i­dent Mahinda Ra­japaksa, right, of­fers prayers at Sri Venkateswara Swamy, the world’s most vis­ited Hindu tem­ple.

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