Jeff Greenhouse

Experienced Marketing & Analytics Executive

Make waiting fun, not deadly - Create happier customers with enjoyable wait times
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Make waiting fun, not deadly - Create happier customers with enjoyable wait times

I just got back from Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando. Before I go any further, if you're a Halloween person, it's definitely worth the trip next year (8 haunted houses, 6 "scare zones", 2 shows... tons of fun). There were lots of screams and scares, tricks and treats, but one treat in particular really caught my eye. This is one treat that a lot of brands can give out all year round.

With tens of thousands of people circulating through the park, there are bound to be lines. In some cases we only waited 10 minutes to get into a house, in others it was a half hour or more. That's a lot of time to stand around, especially with our digitally shortened attention spans. The one thing we do have is our cellphones, so like a good horror movie, that's how they got us!

Universal set up a "Mobile Terror" SMS response system. Each haunted house came with its own special code that you could text to a 5 digit number they projected in a location easily viewed from the waiting line. Each code started a chain of cryptic messages related to the horrors that were waiting inside. Each message offered a choice, in the good old "choose your own adventure" style. Here's a sample (since the event is over now, I don't consider it a spoiler):

Projected: "Text HADES to 64646"

HADES
Gruesome creatures lie beyond these gates. Reply RUIN to see if you can make it through to safety.
RUIN
Engulfed in darkness, u hear wretched cries of victims being mauled. The HISS of snakes in 1 direction, a GNAWING growl in the other. Towards which do you head?
GNAWING
Fanged vultures circle overhead. They drop globs of blood and mucous. U hear a woman screaming in pain. Do you walk STRAIGHT or try to CLIMB up?
CLIMB
U find a passage that allows u to sneak up on the giant beast. Do u follow the path until u are BEHIND its head or POSITION yourself at eye level?
BEHIND
U jump on his shoulders & stick ur hand in2 his moist eye. U scratch & claw. Ur hand is covered in blood & yellow chunks. His victim is hurt but u both escape!

For those doing the math, that's 4 choices which means 8 possible outcomes. How great is that?! In one fell swoop it gives me something to make the unavoidable waiting time fun (for free) AND enhances my experience once I get inside.

How many times do we look at waiting as a necessary evil, or a price of entry for something? From the brand perspective, we say "they'll wait because they want what we've got," and we leave it at that. But that's shortsighted. Consumers constantly do the math and weigh their options. For every one that decides that the wait is worth it, there's another one who decides that it's not, and they just walk away. They also do the math AFTER the experience, to decide if its worth it to come back in the future.

Think about what a difference it makes if you can make that wait more enjoyable! Time flies when you're having fun, right? Universal's Mobile Terror interface is brilliant, and it's also very lightweight. It didn't require any artwork, audio, video or technical miracles. It just needed some creative copywriting and good planning.

My advice for those of you in retail, hospitality, entertainment, travel or even health services is that the next time you find yourself with time to kill while waiting in line, think about the wait times in your own business, and how you can make them more fun. Waiting may be necessary, but it doesn't have to be evil.

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