Automated Queuing Systems Don’t Reduce Waiting Times

A large bank installed an automated queuing system at its branches.  Clients were required to enter the details of their transactions on a terminal and receive a queuing number and then wait to be called by the teller via a display on a video screen. 

The system replaced the previous process of clients writing on paper transaction slips and proceeding to the tellers.   Instead, the teller would access and process the client’s transaction from the entry of transaction data into the terminal. 

With the automated queuing system, the teller no longer has to input data from the previous handwritten transaction slips.  The teller also no longer has to decipher the penmanship of individual clients from the transaction slips.  Errors and rework are eliminated.  The teller just has to take and confirm the cash or checks the client is giving or just has to count the cash the client is withdrawing.  The time to process the transaction was thereby reduced.

But was the process time really significantly reduced?  Did the system really improve the client’s experience, or specifically, did it reduce the client’s time at the bank? 

Queuing systems have become the norm among banks.  But the system varies from one bank to the next.  Most of the differences between banks are in the user interface, which consists of the design and manner of layout of buttons and sequence of steps in how data would be entered into a remote terminal.

Some banks also offer the feature in which clients can access the queuing system online from their smartphones, tablets, or desktop computers before going to the bank’s branch.  A client either receives a QR code or a transaction number which he or she then presents at the bank.  The client is then given an queuing number which is usually for a line exclusive to those who did the input online. 

For the walk-in clients who had to input data into a terminal, I didn’t see much difference in their waiting times whatever bank they went to.  For some, especially those who aren’t what people call tech-savvy, it got worse.  They would almost always require assistance from a nearby employee or even the security guard.  When there were plenty of clients, such as on Mondays, Fridays, payroll days (i.e. mid- and end-month), and tax filing deadlines, the waiting times would surge to more than an hour.  Fewer tellers during the day would aggravate the waits of clients. 

I also didn’t see much difference in the productivity of tellers despite the elimination of hand-written transaction slips.  Tellers still had to count cash and examine checks which made up most of the transaction time.  Tellers also had to print out the client’s transaction receipts or withdrawal confirmations.  When the system sometimes ran slow or hangs, any productivity gained is wiped out. 

The less tech-savvy clients also sometimes don’t take advantage of the queuing system’s feature to bundle transactions under one queuing number.  Some clients would enter one transaction for one queuing number at a time as they had been used to do with hand-written transaction slips.  The less tech-savvy clients would then have a handful of queuing numbers which adds to the queue to the tellers and lengthens the teller’s time to process as she’d be going through the client’s queue numbers one by one.

The tech-savvy clients have a slight advantage as they usually are assigned an exclusive line separate from the walk-ins.  In some banks, they can go straight to the teller, show their QR codes or online numbers and have their transactions done right away.  But in many cases, tech-savvy clients still had to wait.  Tellers would often be busy with clients at the time the tech-savvy clients arrive.  In some banks, they’d still be required to register at a terminal to get a queuing number and there’d be a waiting line there too. 

Automated queuing systems by themselves don’t reduce waiting or process times.  As much as the system may make it more convenient for clients and efficient for tellers, it addresses only a part of the process. 

Queues and how long they will be and how long one will wait are determined not only by the length it takes do a process but also by the number of processors (i.e. tellers) and by the behaviour of arrivals (i.e. how many clients arrive at a given time and how many transactions they are bringing).

A state-of-the-art automated system can only do so much.  If banks are serious about improving productivity for tellers and clients, they should take a harder look at the steps and gather information about the volume of transactions done at their branches. 

And when I say steps and information, I mean all the steps and all the information that would be involved.  Targeting one step at a time does not improve productivity; one has to target the entire process from beginning to end and identify the factors that influence all of it. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Four (4) Suggestions for a Client-Convenient Website

The phone company needs a password whenever I want to look at my bill. 

I enrolled into the phone company’s “paperless billing” system more than a year ago.  Before, the “paper” bills were arriving late such that when I received them, they were already past the due date.  With paperless billing, the phone company notifies me via email and SMS that the bills are ready for viewing (although the email arrives a few days after the bill date or when the bill had already been posted on the website). 

To view my bills, I have to log on with a user name and password and select the bills I want to see and save. 

It was simple as all I had to do was click on the bills I want to download.  But now, the phone company added a step in which I had to enter a 10-digit password for every bill. 

It turns out that the password is the 10-digit account number of the phone number which is displayed on the website menu.  So, what’s the logic of having to enter a password which is the same as the account number, in which anyone can see it? 

I’m already securely logged on and I still have to type a password that’s already displayed on my bill.  There’s no reason for it other than adding another layer of secrecy which doesn’t make sense.  Is the phone company afraid that someone else will maliciously pay my bills?  (I won’t mind).

Some corporations go overboard when it comes to cyber-security.  They encourage people to enrol into their websites but at the same time make it hard to get in.  It’s as if there were two people at the doors of company websites:  one who merrily welcomes you and a grouchy gatekeeper who wants to throw you out.   

I can understand the need for security given the number of high-profile hacks one sees in the news.  But does the phone company want me to get my bill or not?

Corporations also try to save money when it comes to website access. 

A large bank in the Philippines has a website which allows clients to pay taxes online to the government’s Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).  The only problem: the bank’s BIR portal closes at 5pm and opens again the next morning, and it is only accessible Mondays to Fridays.  I can’t pay my taxes at night or on weekends.  The bank advertises that its site is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year; it just didn’t say that you can’t use it to pay one’s taxes after office hours. 

The bank probably is trying to save money by turning off the portal’s server after daylight hours and on weekends.  Clients just have to schedule their tax payments during working hours in sync with the bank’s.  Meanwhile, its competitors don’t have such limits.  One can pay anytime any day on other banks’ portals.  One wonders if and when clients will migrate to other banks to pay their taxes.  I already warn friends and peers from opening accounts with this bank because of this quirky online limitation. 

One can understand the need to save money but should one do it at the expense of convenience of clients?  Especially if clients will migrate to the competition to avail of better services?   

I don’t believe it entails so much cost to make a website more convenient for clients.  At the same time, I think websites can still be compliant to data privacy and security standards. 

The following are some areas which I (a layman in information technology) propose companies focus on to make their Internet sites user-friendly and convenient:

  1.  User Interface

A mobile phone company has a website in which the log-in menu is located on a very small corner on the screen.  If one has bad eyesight (like me), one won’t be able to see it.  It took me eternity to find it the first time I was logging in.  I eventually found it after scouring every pixel of my computer screen. 

User interfaces are what are displayed on a website for users (you and I) to interact with.  It’s supposed to provide ease of access, that is, easy to see, understand, and navigate.  Making it hard for users to even see where to click defeats the purpose of a user-friendly interface. 

  •  Accessibility Anytime

It’s not only keeping a web portal open nights and weekends.  It’s also avoiding the unscheduled and scheduled downtimes at the times when clients need them most.  Some banks schedule “maintenance” of websites on weekends and holidays.  As much as I understand the value of maintenance, I suspect some banks use the pretext of “maintenance” on holidays and weekends so they don’t have to pay people to be on duty to watch their systems.  It’s convenient for them but inconvenient for some clients and goes against the intent of an online website:  24/7 availability, 365 days a year.   

  •  Availability on Any Platform

Many banks and companies offer access to their sites via personal computers, mobile phones, and tablets.  They also make sure the sites can be accessed on any of the three (3) most popular operating systems, i.e., Apple’s iOS, Alphabet’s (Google) Android, and Microsoft’s Windows. 

A few companies, however, spoil the convenience by designing their web portals for mobile phones the same way they do for desktop computers.  For example, a mobile phone company (the same one that has a lousy user interface descried above) re-routes users to desktop-designed websites.  If one is using a mobile phone, this can be a hassle as one has to go to a web browser made for a desktop computer and squint at the tiny words and letters not designed for a cell-phone. 

A very large bank, on the other hand, customised online websites for mobile phones, tablets, and personal computers respectively.  Displays and buttons are designed exclusively for whatever device and platform.  I’ve moved more of my hard-earned money to this bank because of the convenience of access. 

  •  Security That Would Let Us In, Not Keep Us Out

Of course, security is important to us.  Of course, we don’t want our data hacked and displayed for all the world to see.  But can’t companies have websites where we don’t have to spend 80% of our time entering passwords in letters, numbers, & symbols, wait for an SMS confirmation which sometimes never comes, declare we’re not robots by encoding undecipherable curved letters, and having to enter new passwords to read our own bills?  Can’t companies welcome clients without treating them as presumed-guilty-until-proven-innocent criminals?  

We as customers or clients want to be served with convenience and with the assurance our transactions will be secure.  But sometimes, enterprises do too much for security or try to save on cost by sacrificing convenience. 

They forget that whom they try to protect or the costs they want to save can backfire on the clients, who are the people who’re providing their business in the first place. 

I don’t believe it requires rocket science to tweak web pages to have friendly user-interfaces, wide availability, anytime access, and reasonable security.  A little understanding for clients can go a long way in serving them even via a virtual online website. 

About Overtimers Anonymous