How We Wait
waiting is a feature
We noticed that some of our worse reviews were written by patients who felt they waited too long for their online live consultation. Waiting was a problem which had been so far only approached under the prism of time reduction: how can we make waiting shorter?
But waiting was unavoidable and I felt that wait duration was only a part of the problem. We needed to start looking at waiting like a structural component of the online medical visit experience and think about it as a feature, not just as an impediment.
I organized a small focus group to collect accounts of waiting experiences. We asked the group to recall and describe recent waiting experiences in environments like online services, services provided by phone and in-person services. We paid attention to the cause of stress or satisfaction and attempted to rate and compare different waiting experiences. We eventually extracted typical problems and proceeded to make suggestions that would address them.
Where we wait
We found that the environment of the wait had at least as much of an impact on the experience of waiting than the time spent waiting.
Negative waiting experiences were primarily linked to an environment that forced people to focus on the wait. Change of status within a queue, multiple notifications, alerts, confusion regarding what to do or where to go, excessive options, where all factors of dissatisfaction.
Too much distractions --a noisy place or some type of entertainment provided for the wait-- distracted from key signs indicating a progression towards the end of the wait. Too little distractions or no signs of progress induces stress and frustration.
People used their mobile devices to find their own distractions and rarely enjoyed any type of entertainment provided in the waiting environment.
The reason for waiting had an impact on people's patience threshold. Need, desire, or obligation changed the perception of time. People are more patient when in need.
A well defined environment for waiting where all parameters are well defined --like a comfortable waiting room-- possessively impacted patience.
It's paradoxically in-person medical visits --which are often the most time consuming visits-- that appear to provide the best waiting experience. The waiting room and the clinic staff give the patient the ability to disengage with the act of waiting. Patients trust the staff to contact them when it's time and ask for status update.
People who wait need to feel looked after, they need to understand the signs that indicate their visit's progression. Only then they will be able to disconnect, relax and move onto activities they choose: any source of entertainment at hand, work or rest.
They need a way to check-in on the progress and a channel to communicate with the service in case of questions or emerging issues. But the service also needs to check-in with the customers if the wait exceeds an expected duration.
Finally those who feel they are waiting to long need an exit and a resolution to the inconvenience of an excessive waiting time.