"Counting cows" was a backseat game that parents used years ago in rural areas to quell the endless "Are we there yet?" queries from their children. The rules were simple: each person took one side of the car when the journey began. One point was given for every cow you saw on your side; five points for every horse, and if a graveyard appeared on your side, you lost all your points and had to start over again. Active participation in a simple, competitive game made the car trip seem much shorter.
Today's customers have a strong need for speed. They are as impatient and restless as a group of "desperados waiting for a train," to quote the country music song title made famous by The Highwaymen. Faxes gave way to e-mails which gave way to text messages from anywhere at any time. Netflix and FedEx taught us you could get it next day; Zappos.com surprised us with an order for new shoes placed on line in the evening arriving at our door step the next morning. The customer's standard for the speed of service has continued to hasten with seemingly no end in sight.
But, there is a way to slow the speed of service. Let your customers "count cows!" Look for ways to help customers participate. Like Disney World, entertains guests who are waiting in line to board that special ride, perhaps you could entertain your customers in an engaging yet appropriate way. My bank has a popcorn machine and big TV's playing CNN or CNBC to help you wile away the wait should the teller line become long or the CSR is tied up and not quite ready to provide you assistance.
Is there a way you can make getting service seem to go faster through turning it into a compelling game? Ted's Restaurant (as in Ted Turner) in Atlanta helps calm fidgety little kids waiting for a meal by providing them color crayons and a kids menu turned into coloring book. What would be the adult version for your customers? How about a clever contest? Or, a social gathering? How can you manage the customer's perception of service pace as you work to improve the reality of service pace?
Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson are customer loyalty consultants and the authors of Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What You Can Do About it due in bookstores in May.