The Art of Making Them Wait

We had just settled into our table at a restaurant in midtown Manhattan a week ago. The waiter was angling to take our order and, as it turns out, he was also eager to deliver it. A business associate and I had just settled into an interesting conversation, and before we knew it: there were our entrees! Ten minutes had not even gone by.

We were looking forward to catching up and to trying out this new four-star restaurant. We were surprised—and disappointed—by the speediness. Surely it must take longer to prepare the salmon with lemon, capers and rosemary. And was that artisan pizza really hand-crafted? We felt rushed. We thought perhaps the chef should have spent more time on our dishes. It just didn’t taste as good as expected.

Believe me, this is what they call #firstworldproblems. But I share this to illustrate a point that might serve as a reminder that sometimes it’s better when your customers have to wait for something good.

I’m all for efficiency, but can we sometimes be too efficient?

There’s a science to waiting, to delaying a behavior. Think about dating and travel sites where the customer stares at a screen anticipating the “perfect match” or “best price” on a flight. You want the site to take its time, not rush into something important that could change your social life or save you money. If the match popped up on the screen too soon, you’d think it were a generic algorithm and you’d dismiss the recommendation.

There are times in our work week when not responding to a question right away can be beneficial on several fronts. For example, your boss might send you an email asking for your ideas on pitching a client on new business. She doesn’t give you a deadline. Even if you think you have the perfect response, let it sit for a day or so; it will come across as more thoughtful. By the way, you were too busy working on other things to respond right away. Our perceived value of a product, service, a response is often related to how long we have to wait for it.

Sometimes what you say, what you create, what you deliver to your stakeholders should not be dished out like fast food.

When someone is crafting for me a delicious meal, responding to an important business question, or searching for a great price on a product or service, I don’t mind waiting a little longer than usual. Do you? If the Internet is down, if I’m waiting at the DMV for what seems like an eternity, or I’m standing 10 customers deep in the grocery store check-out line—then it’s unacceptable to wait. Such are the rules of expectation.

What are you willing to wait for?

— Diane Schwartz