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  • Nick Hague and Paul Hague

What can we learn from a queue?

Let's imagine that you are driving around Yorkshire and you visit Harrogate, York and Ilkley. As you are exploring these towns you may very well come across a queue of people. Who are they and what are they queueing for? There is a very good chance that they are waiting for a table at one of Betty's cafes.


The queue is nearly always there. We know that Brits like queueing but there must be something about these places that make people prepared to stand outside, whatever the weather, in order to enjoy a cup of tea and a bun. Well there is something special about Betty’s cafes and it is worth our examination in our quest to understand great customer experience.


Let's stick with the queue for a minute. It is a good-natured group of people who are waiting. They are not pushing and shoving. You would describe them as genteel. And from time to time someone from the shop will come out, hand a menu and tell these patient people how much longer they will need to wait. If it is raining they will bring an umbrella under which they can shelter.


The queue moves quickly and on entering the tea room the customer is impressed by how well it is sorted. There are no abandoned tables with dirty plates and cups. There is always someone with a smile to greet. There are flowers on every table. Many customers will glance quickly at the menu and choose the famous breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea. Everything is elegant and refined. It tea is ordered it will almost certainly come with tea strainer – there are no tea bags at Betty's.


A friend of ours made a visit to Betty's Ilkely café recently and was entranced by a huge piece of marquetry that covered one of the walls. As they were appreciating this fine artwork a member of staff enquired what had caught their interest. They dashed away and on return said: "Here, have this with our compliments" and passed a booklet that described the history of Betty’s and the marquetry that was so admired. It crowned a lovely afternoon.


As always, we should learn from examples like Betty's. They don't do just one thing right, they do everything right. This is the point about customer experience; it has to be part of the culture. Everyone within an organisation has to play their part and each part will be different. From time to time it will be necessary to be flexible and adjust the experience to suit. The one thing that has to be in the forefront of the supplier's mind is "How can we make the experience so great that our customer can't wait to do business again?". At one level it seems very simple and yet creating such a culture is difficult. If it was easy and obvious, everyone would be doing it. And maybe Betty's are right in limiting the number of their tea rooms. When you only have 6 to look after it's much easier than 600.

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