People generally find shorter waits better than longer ones. But, according to a new study, there are still times when a shorter waiting period leads to increased stress.
According to a new study, conducted by Elizabeth Gelfand Miller of Boston College, Barbara E. Kahn of University of Miami, and Mary Frances Luce of Duke University, when waiting for events, such as a doctor's appointments or a job interview the level of stress aggravates even if the waiting period is shorter.
"Wait management strategies that are effective in Disney World may cause more stress if implemented in a hospital waiting room," the researchers said.
"Given that waiting has historically been viewed as negative and that it is likely the only stressor during many (positive) service encounters, shorter waits are generally viewed as better than longer waits. However, we propose that the wait itself can facilitate coping with negative events, and thus, that longer waits may result in less stress," they added.
In one of the experiments of the study, college students waiting to participate in a group discussion about an undisclosed topic were reviewed.
Some students were informed that they were expected to give an impromptu speech as part of a Career Services exercise and would be judged on demeanour and appearance. Others were told they would merely observe.
In the follow-up questionnaire, students who had been in the neutral waiting condition were far more likely to rate the waiting duration as their biggest source of annoyance. In contrast, those who had been told they had to give a speech used the waiting time to mentally prepare for the discussion group.
"When the waited-for event is negative, [we] found that consumers were less concerned about potential stress that came from waiting. In fact, in some cases consumers actually preferred extra waiting time so that they could cope with the impending event," the researchers said.
"In an experiment where participants were required to wait before engaging in a specific task, shorter waiting times and information about how long the wait would be reduced total stress for those waiting for neutral events, but increased total stress for those waiting for negative events.
"Our work provides a new perspective on managing waits. While the waiting literature has historically viewed waits as something negative that should be reduced, we demonstrate that the validity of this assumption is contingent on the situation," write Miller, Kahn, and Luce. "Traditional strategies that focus only on the wait and not the overall experience may result in wait management strategies that can exacerbate overall customer satisfaction rather than improve it," they added.
The study is published in Journal of Consumer Research.