Over the weekend my wife and I visited my daughter in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Charlottesville is a great town and growing rapidly, attracting a lot of new residents and, better yet, good restaurants.  Some of the restaurants are so popular that long wait times have become the expectation, almost part of the mystique of the restaurants.  So when I found myself in a long line at a popular taco bar, I wondered:  is there a way to turn this apparent negative into a powerful positive?

Customer Experience Challenges

Whether it's standing in line to get into your favorite restaurant or not getting exactly the right starch on your shirts, exceptions and failures of customer experience are everywhere.  Too many times these failures or exceptions are treated as a secondary effect or part of the offering or solution. For instance, long lines at a restaurant mean that the food or atmosphere is great.  It's an in-demand service and therefore you'll wait or queue for it.  But as consumer we feel compressed for time, and alternatives abound. Waiting in line seems a bit unreasonable given how pressed many of us are for time.  The question is:  how might we treat these externalities or experience failures as a component of a better experience?

Conversely, why do we as customers simply accept the boredom and frustration associated with standing in lines rather than demand that the solution provider do something to provide value, engage us or entertain us?  Is there any way to address this continuing externality?

At least one organization does this well--Disney.   The operators at Disneyland and Disneyworld know a few things about keeping people occupied in long lines, and they do a good job keeping people engaged and entertained during the long waits in line for rides.

Adding value in what could be a negative experience

Rather than leaving a customer bored and frustrated in a queue, offer the customer something to do in the queue.  Encourage them to participate in a Twitter stream for a free dessert.  Offer them a discount on their next visit based on how long they stood in line.   Serve some simple appetizers or an abbreviated menu to those in line.  Allow them to peruse the menu and order ahead.  Provide some entertainment for those in line while they wait.  Provide entertainment that makes waiting part of the experience.

Most importantly, turn the frustration of a failure of experience into a more thoughtful solution for customers and a potential engagement model or revenue stream for you.

Where are the customer experience gaps in your customers' journey, and what can you do to turn what can be a terrible experience into an awesome experience that flows directly into the reasons that people came in the first place?  How do you convert an apparent failure or gap in the experience into a solution that delights?