Waiting Online: Five Steps to Improve Virtual Queuing

Written by Gareth Sully
June 9th 2020

4 minute read

Many companies are currently struggling to adapt their digital channels quickly enough to meet the explosion in demand as customers have shifted online due to the pressures of Covid-19. If your infrastructure is struggling, and you need a quick fix in the meantime, then meet ‘virtual queuing’. If you have visited an online supermarket, DIY store or even a clothes retailer over the past six weeks or so you will have almost certainly encountered a virtual queue.
Virtual queuing was first used by inbound call centers to help them distribute incoming calls to their agents. It’s a concept that is now being used by retailers to help control their website traffic peaks and ensure their site doesn’t fall over. It makes sense from a retailer’s perspective – but what about the customer experience? Here are five steps to ensure it’s as good as can be.
#1 – Keep users updated
No one likes to queue. Arguably, the British are good at organising themselves into a queue, but not so good at waiting in it. We know from performance data that waiting online has a negative impact on business goals: the BBC found they lost an additional 10% of users for every additional second their site took to load.
But in this case a wait is inevitable: so, provide a diversion to transform the wait into occupied time. Keep users updated by using a progress indicator type approach – and use an estimated time rather than ‘You are number 12 in the queue’. Providing feedback is a key principle underpinning a positive user experience and being transparent about the waiting time decreases uncertainty and increases the likelihood of your customer waiting.
#2 – Shift tasks upstream
Since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, non-product content search queries are likely to have spiked as users attempt to find information on shipping, returns or order cancellation. Guest users, or users who’ve recently created an account, often won’t know where to find this information so there may be an opportunity to pull some of this information back to a screen before they hit your site in earnest. It also pays to be honest with new customers – if there are no delivery slots for a month, for example, be honest and let them know. Interrogate your analytics: you need to understand what your customers are looking at so you can respond and bring some helpful messaging upstream.
#3 – Synchronise your channels
Your customers will quickly turn to your social media channels if they are having problems accessing your website. Make sure that your messaging is clear, honest and consistent so the experience feels joined up. Leverage your social media listening tools to help track the conversations that are happening around your brand, follow up on any mentions and respond with messaging – on all your appropriate digital channels – to help solve your customers pain points.
#4 – Spread brand news
The web is a cognitive medium, with users actively engaged in determining where to go next. But there is an opportunity to engage with potential customers who are waiting and share some positive (and honest) brand messaging. But it’s still not the place for hard selling – particularly as users are queuing to access your services. How you deal with online queuing can be a brand differentiator. Perhaps you are you providing a special service for those that are disadvantaged or are actively seeking to reduce the lead time on certain hard to get products – if so, talk about it.
#5 – Prepare for the future
Websites and apps are built with assumptions of how much traffic they can normally handle. But customer behaviour is changing fast. Customers who would until recently never considered shopping online are getting past that initial friction and are setting up online accounts and putting in their payment details. This is changing the future of retail. So: perhaps it’s time to scale that infrastructure.

If you are looking to improve the usability of your digital products, then our Experience Design Audit can help you understand the problems to focus on, provide direction on how to tackle them and unlock hidden opportunities. If you’d like to have a conversation to explore this approach, drop us an email at hello@mmtdigital.co.uk.


Our aim is to reduce our carbon footprint as rapidly as possible. 
With immediate effect, we will offset more CO2 than we generate. 

  1. windmill1
  2. charger
  3. person
  4. bicycle
  5. windmill2
  6. tree
  7. windmill3