FIELD OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates generally to a internet-based customer check-in system and method and more particularly to an internet-based customer check-in system and method that provides customers with more accurate estimated wait times for services at a plurality of locations shown on a map-based geographical display in real time.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
Many businesses, such as no-appointment hair salons, offer services to customers on a first-come, first-served basis and do not accept appointments. Because of this, customers typically do not know how long of a wait it will be to receive a desired service until arrival at the business location. If the wait is too long, the customer may decide to forego the service altogether. Although the customer can call ahead to learn an estimated wait time, many businesses do not allow a customer to have the customer's name put on the wait list until the customer enters the store. In addition, some businesses have numerous locations situated relatively near each other to which a customer has the option of going. However, a customer cannot practically determine which location will be able provide the desired service the soonest, as this would entail visiting each location or making numerous phone calls to inquire about each location's wait time. In addition, the wait times customers receive are simply guesses by the employees typically based solely on the number of customers currently on the waiting list. Due to variations in the time it takes different employees to perform different services, such guesses are usually grossly inaccurate.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
A internet-based customer check-in system and method allows customers to view estimated wait times at a plurality of service providing locations in order to select a location to visit based on the most convenient location and the best estimated wait time for the customer. A map based graphical display of service locations within the vicinity of the entered address and an estimated wait time to have the requested service performed at each location are presented to the customer. The customer can select a desired location to be placed on the location's no-appointment, first listed-first sensed waiting list by business of a location by selecting an icon on the map representing that location.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE FIGURES
The invention may be more completely understood in consideration of the following detailed description of various embodiments of the invention in connection with the accompanying drawings, in which:
FIG. 1 is flowchart of steps taken by a customer to join a waiting list using a web-based customer check-in system according to the present disclosure.
FIG. 2 is a screenshot of a welcome page of a web-based customer check-in system according to the present disclosure.
FIG. 3 is a screenshot of a wait time display page of a web-based customer check-in system according to the present disclosure.
FIG. 4 is a screenshot of a customer information page of a web-based customer check-in system according to the present disclosure.
FIG. 5 is a screenshot of a confirmation and directions page of a web-based customer check-in system according to the present disclosure.
FIG. 6 is a screenshot of a store interface of a web-based customer check-in system according to the present disclosure.
FIG. 7 is a flowchart of steps taken according to a wait time algorithm according to the present disclosure.
While the invention is amenable to various modifications and alternative forms, specifics thereof have been shown by way of example in the drawings and will be described in detail. It should be understood, however, that the intention is not to limit the invention to the particular embodiments described. On the contrary, the intention is to cover all modifications, equivalents, and alternatives falling within the spirit and scope of the invention as defined by the appended claims.
FIG. 1 depicts the steps 100 taken by a customer to use a web-based customer check-in system according to the present disclosure. Initially, the customer accesses the internet and navigates to a business's website to access its web-based customer check-in welcome page 202, depicted in FIG. 2, at step 102. The welcome page 202 can provide instructions 204 regarding the operation of the web-based customer check-in system for new customers. At step 104, the customer can enter an address into a text box 206 on the welcome page 202 so that the system can locate service locations of the business near the address. The address can be the customer's home, office, or any other reference address from which the customer wishes to find nearby service locations.
After the customer has entered an address, the system displays the nearest locations 210 and estimated wait times 212 at each location 210. The customer can view the results on a wait time display page 208, depicted in FIG. 3, at step 106. Alternatively, the wait time display page 208 can automatically be displayed when a customer searches for the service or the business in a search engine, such as Google™. The business locations 210 displayed can be determined based on a designated number of locations or based on all locations within a certain distance of the entered address, such as, for example, 10 miles. Locations can alternatively be displayed based on wait times, such as, for example, all locations within a certain distance whose wait times are under 20 minutes. The locations 210 can be displayed graphically on a map 214 showing each location 210 relative to each other and the entered address. The graphical display can utilize, for example, Google™ Maps.
Estimated wait times can be determined according to the steps 300 of a wait time algorithm, as shown in FIG. 7. The algorithm first determines which employees of the business are currently available to perform services at the location at step 302. This can be done by having the employees “clock in” when they are working and having them “clock out” when their shifts are over or they go on break. Next, the remaining service time for each employee who is currently serving a customer is calculated at step 304. This calculation is estimated by first averaging historical service times for the particular employee performing the service based on the type of service performed and other relevant factors in the industry, such as, for example, the sex of the customer in the hair salon industry (because services performed on females typically take longer than similar services performed on males due to average hair length). The remaining service time is then calculated by subtracting the elapsed time for the service from the total estimated service time. After estimating the remaining service time for each employee, the employees are placed in order of soonest availability to serve another customer at step 306. Employees who are not currently serving a customer are therefore at the top of the list. Service time is then calculated for each customer on the waiting list at step 308. This is done by pairing the first customer on the waiting list with the first available employee and determining the estimated service time for the employee to perform the particular service for the particular customer. That service time is then added to that employee's total remaining service time and the list of available employees is reordered. This process is repeated for each customer on the waiting list and for each new customer who joins the waiting list. The wait time for each customer joining the waiting list is the shortest remaining service time for an active employee.
The above wait time calculation can be done continuously, or performed at regular intervals, so the wait time is always up-to-date. Changes that are taken into account in updating the wait time include: customers getting served (moving from the wait list to the service list), services being completed for customers, customers' desired service getting changed, customers leaving before being served, employees leaving and/or returning based on shift times and breaks, and services moving closer to completion as time elapses. If an employee is serving more than one customer at a time, then only the longest service time is considered in the calculation. The algorithm can also take into account customers who appear to have left the store by removing those customers from the calculation. If a customer should have been served (there was an employee available and the customer was the next one in line), but was not, the customer can be excluded from the calculation after a predetermined period, such as, for example, ten minutes. The calculation can also ignore employees who appear to be absent or otherwise unavailable. If an employee is clocked in and customers are waiting, but the employee is not serving any customers, the employee can be excluded after a predetermined period.
The wait time at each location can therefore be calculated in a statistically significant manner based on measured historical data. This is in contrast to the “gut-feeling” type of wait time typically given based solely on the number of customers ahead on the waiting list. Calculating wait times based on historical data allows customers to receive more accurate wait times. The historical data can be updated each time an employee performs a service, thereby constantly improving the accuracy of the wait time predictions.
Upon viewing the various wait times at nearby locations, the customer can select a location at which the customer wishes to be placed on the waiting list at step 108 by clicking on a location on the map. To be placed on the waiting list, the customer enters information 218 into a customer information page 216, shown in FIG. 4, at step 110. The information 218 can include, for example, the customer's name, phone number, service requested, and the number of guests requesting services. Once the customer has submitted the requested information, the customer is placed on the location's waiting list. Thus, the customer need not physically arrive at the location to be placed on the waiting list. Once the customer is placed on the waiting list, the wait time algorithm automatically adjusts the estimated wait time for the location for subsequent customers using the system.
The customer can receive a confirmation that the customer has been placed on the waiting list for the selected location on a confirmation page 220 at step 112. The confirmation can also include driving directions 222 from the entered address to the location, as depicted in FIG. 5. Alternatively, the customer can be provided with an option of receiving directions from the confirmation page. The customer can now travel to the location and receive the requested service. Web-based customer check-in system therefore provides customers with the ability to select the location that will minimize the customer's wait time. The wait time is further minimized because the customer can be placed on the waiting list before arriving at the location, allowing the customer's travel time, which must take place anyway, to reduce the wait time.
When a customer checks in for a service via web-based customer check-in, the customer's entered information will appear on the business location's store interface 224 as shown in FIG. 6. Web check-in customers can be separately identified from walk-in customers through text 226 and/or graphics (i.e., a differently colored box). Web check-in customers join the waiting list 228 in the order of check-in with walk-in customers. An estimated wait time 230 can be displayed for each customer on the waiting list 228. A running overall estimated wait time incorporating both walk-in customers and web customers can be displayed on the store interface 224 to be given by employees to any walk-in customers who enter and wish to know what the wait time is. When a web check-in customer arrives at the store, the customer's information and requested service received from the web-based check-in can be confirmed by an employee. Once the customer is called to receive the customer's requested service, the customer is transferred from the wait list 228 to a service list 232 and each customer on the wait list 228 moves forward in the queue. The time that each customer has spent on the wait list 228 and on the service list 232 can also be displayed on the store interface 224. When a customer's service has been completed, the customer is removed from the service list 232.
Web-based customer check-in system and method can be used by any business that provides services to customers on a first-come, first-served basis. The system and method are designed for use with no-appointment business; it is not a web-based appointment scheduling system and method. It can be most advantageously employed by businesses providing such services at numerous locations that are situated relatively near each other from which customers may choose to visit. One type of business for which the disclosed system and method are particular well suited is no-appointment hair salon chains. A customer seeking a haircut, perm, or other service can remotely access the chain's website and enter the wait list at whichever nearby salon can provide the desired service at the most convenient time for the customer. This can significantly reduce the time a customer would otherwise spend sitting in the no-appointment salon's waiting room. The wait times given to customers are also much more accurate because they are based on measured historical data, which reduces the likelihood of customers arriving undesirably early or late for their requested services.
The embodiments above are intended to be illustrative and not limiting. Additional embodiments are encompassed within the scope of the claims. Although the present invention has been described with reference to particular embodiments, those skilled in the art will recognize that changes may be made in form and detail without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention.