The Big Interview: Alex Bäcker, QLess: The Future of Queuing (and it’s not queuing)
QLess CEO and founder Alex Bäcker heralds the end of the centuries-old notion of standing in line.
QLess isn’t so much about queuing less, “it’s queuing, but without the waiting”, explains Alex Bäcker, founder of the California-based company which, as the name suggests, is all about eliminating the bane of any of our lives – the physical queue.
QLess is a mobile queue technology, designed to prevent us from sitting around for hours holding our place in the queue, allowing us to use that time productively. We join the queue on our mobile from anywhere in the world, and receive regular SMS updates as to when our time is to be seen, or served, or to be somewhere. When we arrive, there is no queue.
So if we are in a 45-minute queue, or if where we are going is busy and struggling with delays, or if we have an appointment and want to know whether we’ll be seen on time, QLess will tell us. The platform will update us in real time and estimates the wait based on over 100 million data points, algorithms and machine learning when our time has arrived.
That allows us to get on with whatever we’re doing without waiting. And if we find our time is no longer convenient, we can always push it back down the queue. Similarly, it can warn us of delays that may impact our appointment.
Much of the strength of QLess is about keeping the customers informed. If you know where you stand, it’s not a worry. It’s the not-knowing that causes annoyance, walkouts and businesses to lose customers.
As a software solution with no required hardware installation, QLess is built on data. A lot of data. And as well as assisting the end user in planning their lives around where they need to be, it helps businesses understand their customers’ habits and allows them to market to the customers “in-queue”.
The platform provides businesses with helpful analytics, such as how long customers wait, how long they spend in the store, how long the average serve time is, and even how long individual members of staff take to do their jobs (and if they have more breaks than their colleagues).
The inspiration, Bäcker told People Movement Online, came when he queued one too many times at a theme park. “There had to be a better way,” he said. “We had technology at our fingertips and could use it for so many things, yet people were still wasting so much of their time standing in queues.
“Queuing goes back to the time of the Pharaohs. Just as the word processor completed a paradigm shift in terms of how we write, consigning the typewriter to the history books, so mobile queuing will end the centuries-old idea of the physical queue.”
It all sounds very grand, but what about businesses where clientele details cannot be pre-accessed, people won’t give out their phone numbers or download the app, or simply don’t wish to engage with it?
Bäcker remains bullish. “It is the most common question we are asked, but the fact remains that everyone who has used it has had 100% take up. Would people really rather queue than get on with their lives and just turn up when it’s their turn? Really?
“It’s a fair point but much like the word processor taking over from the typewriter, once you have tried it and seen how simple it is, there’s no going back.”
QLess works across a range of sectors, including retail, logistics, education, healthcare and government. Nearly 12 years old, it works across six continents and Bäcker accepts there is a long way to go.
But he says the benefits are far and wide – from “public health in eliminating queues in doctor’s offices and hospital waiting rooms, which are full of illness, to security benefits of preventing lots of people standing in one place at one time.”
The company recently secured $5.5 million (£3.93m, €4.43m) of private equity investment to what Bäcker claims are some bold numbers, helping “100 million customers for hundreds of clients save over 5,700 years of wasted time.” This is on the back of a $3.5m (£2.5m, €2.82) injection only two years ago.
QLess has been voted the Best Computer Services Company in America for the last five consecutive years, an astonishing feat, and also won the Best Computer Services Company in the World at the 2015 and 2016 International Business Awards.
“When proper management of queues is done like this, customers feel valuable. More accurate wait forecasts, for example, quadruple the probability of them visiting again,” said Bäcker. “You can roam free and tend to other business while still waiting in a queue. In publicly available data, customer satisfaction rose by over 110%.”