- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2006


We’ll make this quick. We know you’re busy.

An Associated Press poll has found an impatient nation. To get to the point without further ado, it’s a nation that gets antsy after five minutes on hold on the phone and 15 minutes max in a line. So say people in the survey.

The Department of Motor Vehicles, the U.S. version of the old Soviet bread line, is among the top spots where Americans hate to wait. But grocery stores are the worst.

Almost one in four in the AP-Ipsos poll picked the grocery checkout as the line where their patience is most likely to melt like the ice cream turning to goo in their cart.

And it seems people don’t mellow with age. The survey found older people to be more impatient than younger people.

Nor does getting away from the urban pressure cooker make much difference. People in the country and the suburbs can bear a few more minutes in a line before losing it than city inhabitants can, but that’s it.

In short, Americans want it all now. Or awfully close to now.

“If you ask the typical person, do you feel more time-poor or money-poor, the answer almost always is time-poor,” says Paco Underhill, a specialist on what draws and drives away shoppers.

“We walk in the door with the clock ticking with various degrees of loudness in our heads. And if I get to the checkout and if I have the perception it’s not working efficiently, often that clock gets even louder.”

In other words, it’s not just how long you wait, but how you wait.

A free-for-all deli counter that doesn’t let people take numbered tickets is a flash point for frayed nerves. But if managers approach shoppers in a long line and help shepherd them to the right counter, they’ll have happier sheep.

The typical supercenter shopper spends 25 to 30 minutes in the store, but many think they’ve been there an hour, Mr. Underhill says. His company, Envirosell, monitors the behavior of shoppers and sellers across the United States and in other countries.

Americans are demanding. Half in the AP-Ipsos poll said they refuse to return to businesses that made them wait too long. Nearly one in five owned up to speaking rudely to someone in the last few months when they weren’t served efficiently.

Hana Sklar, 23, lives in New York and wants things done, yes, in a New York minute. She said she typically loses patience after waiting less than one minute in a line or on the phone.

The snail’s slither to the post office counter drives her the nuttiest. “By the time you get there and it’s your turn, there are only two people working there,” she said. “It’s not only me getting angry. Everyone is talking about it.”

Exasperation with phones extends to cell service. Mr. Underhill described cell-phone company stores as “locations of last resort” for customers who have been put through all manner of nuisance trying to get their service needs met or their questions answered on the phone or computer. Many come in those doors already upset.

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