Using Strategic Idleness to Improve Customer Service Experience in Service Networks

Published Online:https://doi.org/10.1287/opre.2013.1236

The most common measure of waiting time is the overall expected waiting time for service. However, in service networks the perception of waiting may also depend on how it is distributed among different stations. Therefore, reducing the probability of a long wait at any station may be important in improving customers' perception of service quality. In a single-station queue it is known that the policy that minimizes the waiting time and the probability of long waits is nonidling. However, this is not necessarily the case for queueing networks with several stations. We present a family of threshold-based policies (TBPs) that strategically idle some stations. We demonstrate the advantage of strategically idling by applying TBP in a network with two single-server queues in tandem. We provide closed form results for the special case where the first station has infinite capacity and develop efficient algorithms when this is not the case. We compare TBPs with the nonidling and Kanban policies, and we discuss when a TBP is advantageous. Using simulation, we demonstrate that the analytical insights for the two-station case hold for a three-station serial queue as well.

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