Let's look at a few examples of queuing theory as it applies to a queue management system.
Low demand sales
You need to place an online order for your grocery shopping, but your kids are playing up, you need to collect your dry cleaning, and you know that the supermarket isn't going to run out of the things you need anytime soon. It can wait, regardless of whether there are already customers waiting in a queuing system.
Moderate demand sales
A new video game is released at midnight, and you really want a copy. However, you'd generally be fast asleep at midnight instead of working your way down those long queues, and you know there'll be plenty of copies available from all kinds of outlets with a lower number of customers after the most eager have been appeased. It might be worth staying up in a queuing system, but then again …
High demand sales
Tickets for your favourite band are going online in a week's time. It's not the biggest venue, and they're only playing on two nights. There will definitely be customers waiting. Tickets are going to be in crazy demand, so how can you guarantee you'll get a pair? You're going to have to pull out all of the stops for this one, even if it means taking time off work to make those telephone calls to telephone operators or log on to the prime websites.
You see? Some things are worth queuing for in a queue management system, and some aren't. That's what creates our queuing discipline. The items and events that create a higher level of demand can lead to problems for websites that aren't used to vast surges in traffic. It also leads to stress for buyers, wondering if they can find a way around the system to avoid any site crashes, queuing, and, ultimately, missing out on the things they really want.
Fortunately, high-demand sales sites have types of queuing systems in place to divert traffic fairly and systematically, to make sure buyers in the waiting line have the best chance of acquiring what they want, and the scales aren't tipped in any one person's favour.
What types of queuing systems are available for online sellers to ensure fair delivery to everyone in a waiting line?
Although the digital realm offers new ways of carrying out old processes in a queuing system, there's still a lot to learn from how we carried out those transactions in the pre-Internet era. Little's Law continues to apply.
Take online shopping, for example; before the Internet, we used to call this mail order. Buyers would phone each business, state what they wanted, paid for them, verbally relaying credit card details, and the items would be dispatched in the post, and the only queue discipline you needed was the patience to wait on hold. If the phone line or the multiple phone lines set up to take orders were engaged, you had the option of hanging up and trying again later or being placed on hold, added to a single queue, until an operative was available to deal with you. Sound familiar?
The same thing happened when buying concert tickets, although with hugely increased amounts of anxiety. Music fans knew that there were limited tickets available and significantly more buyers. The engaged tone had never been more frustrating.
When it comes to the digital marketplace, software services organise buyer structures for fair practice, streamlined, and structured sales. The most popular options are as follows:
- Queuing systems
Users are filtered from key and obvious bottleneck website pages to prevent overloading your single server or multiple servers. They're then queued neatly under a software-driven stacking system to create a fair first-come-first-served process for buyers to provide service rate optimally.
- Notification systems
For those who aren't as dependent on procuring an item ASAP or those that have important tasks to attend to, a digital booking system alerts users when their turn at the front of the queue has arrived. Receiving a text, email or app notification allows users to complete transactions with the minimum interruption to their day at the soonest possible opportunity.
- Booking/reservation systems
For the lowest demand occasions, users can be moved to low-traffic time periods when real time data shows little chance of users being moved into a queue. This releases pressure on the servers and the user with successive arrivals. It's comparable to having an operator call you back in the days of telephone orders or booking a dedicated reservation at a typically walk-in establishment to spread the load of high arrival rates.
Why a one size fits all type of queuing system doesn't always work for every eventuality
Placing overflow users in an online queue needs to manage several eventualities. If we look at how queue management operates in a physical environment, we can consider that information and transfer the solutions into the digital realm. Given that today's online communities have such vast expectations of operation and fairness, all of the issues we were once likely to face have been eradicated using easy to administer queuing services like ours.
For them to work well, however, and to maintain brand confidence and loyalty while allowing customers easy access to the site, vendors still need to apply them in ways that elevate their user experience while customers wait. Feel free to read our many solutions pages that dig deeper into your customer journey and satisfaction in all types of markets.
What can we learn from physical queue management systems?
Let's look at the different kinds of queues we face in the physical world, just as we did the different levels of demand we face, at the head of the page. These are of the common type:
- Unstructured queue
One of the most frustrating systems is probably best portrayed by lining up at a bar. There is no organisation, no system, and no visible structure. The best you can hope for is that the only one server has a mental list of who arrived and when, or if you can catch her eye before the twenty other people around you. If there are multiple servers, it becomes multiple unstructured queues. This isn't a fair method of crowd control, and you might be waiting a long time to receive service.
- Structured queue
An organised queue puts buyers in a first-come-first-served system, but if there aren't enough tills or payment points to cope with the arrival rate, the experience of queuing is frustrating, encouraging shoppers to leave the queue and acquire their items elsewhere.
- Mobile or virtual queue
Each shopper is allocated a ticket or digital position in the queue and is notified by a monitor's display or the hearty shout of the server when the shopper's turn has come. The problems start when a shopper fails to hear a call (in other words with long lines), becomes bored, and leaves or their place is lost or missed by human or technical error, reducing the service rate (average number of customers served per minute - see little's law.
What have these common types of queuing systems got to do with virtual queues? All are possible in digital queuing environments and the real world, yet have been cleverly dealt with online to provide a fair and efficient system with a good customer experience for the people queueing while they are waiting in line.
Unstructured digital queues
An unstructured digital queue would allow some visitors straight through to the checkout process while others waited indefinitely, in random order, regardless of the service time or waiting times. A first-come-first-served system immediately wipes out the problems of this instance.
Structured digital queues
But what happens when those at the front of the queue decide to get on with another task yet hold on to their place in a digital queue? This could create a block in the traffic, holding up the line, adding longer waits and frustration to those behind them, all while preventing sales for the vendor. The solution—with several slots available to feed into the transaction pages, along with continuous measurement of buyer behaviour, the software allows a steady flow of ready-to-go buyers into the next stage, and automatically compensates for people who aren't online when their turn is called.
Virtual digital queues
This is at the heart of online queuing systems. Each user is allocated a place in the queue and is called to complete when they reach the front. The quality of the user experience demands continued communication, alerting them of their current position and the expected time until they reach the front. Online virtual queues like Queue-Fair also include automatic queue measurement systems, to ensure that the queue doesn't get stuck if someone is not present when their turn is called, or let too many people through if someone comes back after their turn is called - but the quality of these systems does vary widely. It is crucial that such systems are accurate, as poorer quality Virtual Waiting Rooms are less accurate - resulting in too few people being passed each minute and a slower queue, resulting in load fluctuations on your eCommerce site and also abandonment because people wait too long when the front of the queue doesn't move at the correct speed. You can't rely on a probability distribution or average service time - using an average number at the turbulent front of an online queue won't be sufficient. You need a proper AI to control the Front of the Queue for each separate queue to properly minimise average wait time. Queue-Fair's Queue AI is (by far) the most accurate on the market, sending you the exact arrival pattern you want in terms of people per minute every minute.
Options of email and text alerts when their turn arrives allows buyers to get on with other tasks, removing a great deal of the anxiety that comes with queuing.
Additional methods of reducing anxiety and improving user experience include distraction techniques, such as in-queue entertainment or upselling other product lines. It's also an opportunity to educate your shoppers about your full range of services and any bonus offers or services they're entitled to claim.
Setting up your virtual queuing system
The three previously mentioned queuing systems, fortunately, are neatly contained in our virtual queuing software, the Queue-Fair standalone queue management system.
The first of which, the virtual queue, is its bread and butter. Delivering each of the benefits already outlined, it's highly customisable at every juncture, adding to your brand quality and customer confidence. It's unlikely your visitors will realise they've left your site and entered our waiting rooms.
When you choose Queue-Fair to manage your customer queuing experience, it covers everything you need and more to deliver a great customer experience.
You retain complete control throughout the process. You have options to monitor performance in real-time and communicate directly with your waiting customers, delivering additional peace of mind and fresh information about your products or service as part of the arrival process.
You can use it to protect an entire website or a single page. You can feel safe knowing we only use Tier 3 hosting providers, served by Google CDN, and protected by Google Cloud Load Balancer. You can queue up to 9 million people simultaneously on each one of our queue servers. We've even solved the problem of people dropping out of the queue too.
Protect yourself, your visitors, and your sales by being ready for every eventuality
You might not think you're prone to a traffic surge and an overload to your website or service mechanism. Or you might be considering, as your business grows and normal life looks likely to resume in the near future, that it's time to protect against the possibility of traffic surges when the floodgates open, without having to spend more on multiple servers.
Either way, now is the ideal time to start protecting your systems. A little investigation and monitoring could save you thousands—even millions—a little further down the line.