A world with no waiting rooms?

Sáltala – Improving the quality of public services by giving back the waiting time to users

Have you ever lost a full morning or afternoon waiting on a line to be attended? Or finally, when your turn is coming you must leave and you lose your position? Or have you tried to use your waiting time in something else and by the time you come back the line already passed your number and you must start all over again? Probably you have experienced this just like two Chilean entrepreneurs who suffered it and decided to develop Sáltala, a mobile app that allows you to pick from your smartphone a number to be attended on the services that work on a first-come-first-served basis. Currently the app is running a pilot in the pharmacy of one hospital in Santiago, has been downloaded over 1.500 times, and accumulates over 25.000 usages and positive reactions from the users.

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Improving the waiting experience

The app not only benefits users by allowing them to pick up their ticket from anywhere they want, it also has additional benefits:

  • Allows consumers to wait wherever they want
  • Customers can monitor online how the line is moving
  • Every user receives a prediction, based on historical information, of how long is it going to take him or her to be attended
  • Allows customers to take place in more than one line at the same time
  • The app sends users a notification when their turn is approaching so they can be ready and do not lose their place on the line.

The main benefit of this service is the positive externality it generates to the users, unlocking their time and allowing them to use it in other more productive ways. As explained by the two founders[1], “the service doesn’t intend to shorten the waiting time or the length of the lines but rather to improve the waiting experience making it more pleasant and efficient”. In the hospital’s case the fact of removing the sick patients from the waiting rooms generates another positive externality which is the fact that less patients will spread their diseases to the other patients on the waiting room, which critical during the winter season.

Sáltala in the Public Sector

The main challenge for the company is to convince the public authorities to adapt their systems to introduce this technology that won’t benefit their services directly. Especially considering the natural resistance, the budget constraints, the bureaucracy and the lack of incentives of public services to introduce new technologies or improvements to the customer experience.

From my point of view, the correct implementation could result in a complete turnaround of the opinion that most Chileans have from public services, which are commonly seen as inefficient and run by people with no focus on the users.

Sáltala in the Private Sector

For the private sector this app creates an enormous opportunity to improve the quality of the service that is being given to their customers on their physical channels. But what seems more interesting to me is the fact that it can become a game changer on the dispute for customers between brick and mortar and online channels. Convenience is the main reason why customers decide to buy online instead of physical stores, therefore reducing the timing required to make a purchase on a physical store could turn the scale to the brick and mortar side.

On the other hand, in some cases it could be seen as a threat for some business that use the waiting time in their waiting rooms for other purposes such as to educate consumers about their products (bank), make some cross selling (retail stores) or to increase the demand for their products (fast food restaurants). Given this, it’s important to understand the role that waiting time plays in the customer experience and if there is some benefit being created in that part of the experience, removing it should be carefully considered.

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[1] http://www.emol.com/noticias/Economia/2016/08/05/815844/Odias-hacer-filas-Lanzan-aplicacion.html accessed on November 2016


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Student comments on A world with no waiting rooms?

  1. What an interesting application! I wonder if there is a U S equivalent! I find it very interesting as well that in an era in which we constantly turn norms “upside-down on its head,” not much has been done in this space to reduce waiting times in lines. One of the things that struck me was what you wrote about public-sector adoption. You would think this would be the easiest sector to penetrate because there are so many public systems (like the Division of Motor Vehicles in the US) that badly need this type of technology. However, I think because a lot of public organizations are providing a “necessary good” (like a driver’s license in this case), they do not necessarily need to provide an incentive for consumers to come to them.

    In the private sector, this application is probably most useful for big companies where consumer foot-traffic is insanely high. However, these big companies usually develop such line-waiting technology in-house and integrate it into their own apps as opposed to using 3rd party technology. For example, Starbucks has a “no wait” part of its app so that people can just walk in an pick up coffee when its ready and skip the line. I think a big challenge for this company would be to get companies to adopt this application over their own internal capabilities. Looking forward to seeing how this plays out!

  2. Great article! This was a concept we discussed a lot at CVS. One of the major pain-points customers expressed was around wait-times. Wait-times itself is a bit of a generality– there are several factors that can contribute a long wait time (i.e. pharmacy labor, peak hours, seasonality)– however, we found that most customers were more understanding of longer wait times when their expectations were appropriately set. It seems like the Sáltala tries to reset consumers expectations and provide means for them to get real-time updates on their position in line. I’d be curious how effective this app would be for consumers who don’t use a smartphone or are not as digitally engaged. I can imagine my mom needing to take a lesson on how to use the app — I just spent 20 minutes teaching her Uber!

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