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Expert Systems With Applications 131 (2019) 240–253

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Expert Systems With Applications

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A generic two-stage fuzzy inference system for dynamic prioritization

of customers
Azar MahmoumGonbadi, Yalda Katebi∗, Ali Doniavi
Department of Industrial Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Urmia University, Urmia, Iran

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: This paper presents a fuzzy expert system for prioritization of heterogeneous customers with different
Received 22 July 2018 needs. In this way, it is possible to improve the average waiting cost of a queuing system and enhance
Revised 25 April 2019
customer satisfaction as the basic component of organizations. Each customer has his own specific char-
Accepted 25 April 2019
acteristics and demands and expects the system to understand his value and provide the best service. In
Available online 26 April 2019
this study, a two-stage Mamdani fuzzy inference system (FIS) was applied as a decision-making approach
Keywords: to prioritize customers based on Service Duration, Service Value, Customer Loyalty, Maximum Toleration,
Queue system and Waiting Time. For this purpose, an expert system was developed that can be applied in various fields
Fuzzy inference system perfectly. To evaluate and analyze the performance of Fuzzy Prioritization System (FPS), the proposed
Dynamic prioritization model is compared with the First-In-First-Out (FIFO) and the Technique for Order of Preference by Simi-
larity to Ideal Solution (TOPSIS) methods as common approaches for prioritizing customers. The results of
numerical experiments revealed the efficiency of the proposed system compared to these two methods.
© 2019 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction productivity. Meanwhile, finding the criteria for prioritizing cus-

tomers and implementing this structure is a challenging issue. To
An appropriate prioritization considering the limitations and deal with these difficulties, in this study, four criteria are defined
evaluation indicators improves the performance of organizations. and a fuzzy inference system (FIS) and proposed for modeling
Customer prioritization is one of the most important issues of such a structure in the real world. Considering the ambiguity
the organizations. Nowadays, regarding fierce market competition, involved in definitions of such criteria, they should be defined
researchers have recognized the importance of customer relation- using linguistic variables. In this way, FIS can be used as an expert
ship management (CRM). In this paper, by “customer”, we refer to system for finding the priority of customers according to their
clients of banks or stores, patients who are waiting in the hospital, linguistic variable on each criterion.
internet users, and, generally, a set of customers who are in the This study makes the following contributions to the existing lit-
service queue and have different requests and features. These erature:
differences are used to prioritize customers. The more careful the
prioritization is, the customers’ waiting times will decrease and • Four concepts are defined as prioritization criteria including
their satisfaction will increase. Decreasing the waiting time of Service Duration (SD), Service Value (SV), Customer Loyalty
valuable customers has a good effect on their loyalty. (CL), and Maximum Toleration (MT) that are explained in
In the queuing system of most organizations, items follow a detail.
First-In-First-Out (FIFO) instruction in which the items enter the • A two-stage fuzzy inference system is designed in order to
system according to a particular structure and exit based on their prioritize the customers. In the first stage, four defined cri-
arrival time. A prioritized queue is a special type of queuing data teria are used for primal prioritization and then their arrival
structure designed to serve customers in a different order, in time is considered to find the final prioritization.
which services are provided on a priority basis, not just based on • A dynamic prioritization system has been developed that
the time of arrival. Some customers are valuable for organizations updates customers’ priority when a customer is added to the
and spending most resources for satisfying them maximizes their line.

The remainder of the paper is organized as follows. In Section 2,

Corresponding author. a literature review is presented. In Section 3, an overview of FPS,
E-mail addresses: (Y. Katebi), assumptions, and notations is provided. In Section 4, the archi-
(A. Doniavi). tecture of the proposed method including membership functions,
0957-4174/© 2019 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
A. MahmoumGonbadi, Y. Katebi and A. Doniavi / Expert Systems With Applications 131 (2019) 240–253 241

fuzzy rule base, and inference engine is introduced. Section 5 gives the customer with a lower priority should wait until the client
the experimental results and discussion. Finally, Section 6 presents with a higher priority completes his work. The third scenario is a
some concluding remarks and outlines future studies. combination of the two previous scenarios such that under certain
rules, serving lower-priority customers may be interrupted by the
2. Literature review arrival of higher-priority customers. Assigning priority in queues is
usually formulated as a fuzzy decision-making problem with dif-
Today, prioritization problems have been the subject of intense ferent criteria in a fuzzy form (Hong, Chen, Wang, & Chen, 2005).
research due to the limited resources available in the world. In this Overall, in this method, based on Pareto’s law and considering the
regard, there are a variety of prioritization methods addressed in lack of customer classifications, only 20% of human and financial
the literature. Numerous algorithms have been developed for con- resources are allocated to valuable customers while the rest 80%
trolling prioritization based on the fuzzy inference system (FIS) is allocated to other customers.
to improve network performance (Bouazzi, Bhar, & Atri, 2017). Several studies have been conducted on the impact of prioritiz-
Tsai, You, Lin, and Tsai (2008) presented a model to address a steel ing customers in a service system. For example, Sapna Isotupa and
supplier’s channel allocation problem with preemptive priority Samanta (2012) investigated a lost sale (s, Q) inventory system
and desired accomplishment level in a fuzzy environment. Nepal, with two types of customers and stochastic lead times. They con-
Yadav, and Murat (2010) presented a fuzzy analytic hierarchy pro- ducted a comparative study on the average cost rate for the cases
cess (fuzzy-AHP) framework for prioritizing customer satisfaction where there is a differentiation between service to customers and
(CS) attributes in target planning. Also, in order to validate the ef- the case where there is no differentiation between customers.
fectiveness of the proposed model, they implemented a case study Numerical examples demonstrate that differentiation between cus-
from the automotive industry. tomers yields lower cost and lower shortage rates for both types
Furthermore, priority queues have been of great interest to of customers. In another study, Dobson and Sainathan (2011) in-
the researchers, since some of the customers need to be served spected prioritization in a service system and examined whether
more quickly than other customers in real-world applications. In it can efficiently prioritize in the case of heterogeneous customers
1960, the simplest queuing system was proposed to ensure the with different needs and a costly sorting process. Their model con-
achievement of the mentioned goal. That research argued that the sists of two classes of jobs: one whose waiting cost is high, called
customer priority level is aggregated over time as a linear function urgent, and the other whose waiting cost is low, called non-urgent.
when awaiting them in the queue (Kleinrock, 1976). Dickson, Ford, For this purpose, they considered two performance metrics; i.e.,
and Laval (2005) introduced the origin of the priority queuing waiting for costs and total costs. Li, Chin, and Luo (2012) presented
systems in an abstract system. Harchol-Balter et al. studied the a systematic and operational method based on the combination of
response time to customer needs in multi-server queuing systems a minimal deviation-based method (MDBM), balanced scorecard
with prioritization compared to the single-server ones. Multi- (BSC), analytic hierarchy process (AHP), and scale technique to
server queuing systems are also compared with single server determine the final priority ratings of customer requirements
queuing systems with respect to the effect of different prioritiza- (CRs). Also, Zhao, Xu, Li, and Liu (2016) presented a throughput
tion schemes (Harchol-Balter, Osogami, Scheller-Wolf, & Wierman, maximization problem of prioritized customer orders. Customer
2005). In another study, Iravani and Balcıoğlu (2008) studied three orders with different priorities arrive at a server station dynami-
different problems, by prioritizing one class of customers over cally. Two commonly applied assignment schemes are considered
the other classes. The first class was representing a single server for this purpose. Numerical experiment verifies that the two
that receives two classes of customers with general service time proposed mathematical programs yield the same optimal through-
requirements. Both classes are impatient and abandon the system put. Akyildiz, Kadaifci, and Topcu (2015) developed an Analytic
if their wait time is longer than their patience limits. In the Network Process based decision framework to prioritize customer
second problem, the low-priority class is supposed to be patient orders under the limited capacities of a company. Based on the
and the single server selects the next customer to serve according prioritizations of customer orders, a recommendation was made
to a non-preemptive priority policy in favor of the impatient to the case company. Accordingly, the orders having high priorities
customers. The third class involves a multi-server system that can were chosen and implemented by the company. Ashour and
be applied for the analysis of a call center offering a call-back Kremer (2014) applied the group technology (GT) concept in the
option to its impatient customers. Marshall inspected the M/G/1 triage process to develop a dynamic grouping and prioritization
queuing system with several queuing systems. This researcher took (DGP) algorithm according to the patient- and system-related
into account a first-come and first-served queuing model (FCFS), information.
followed by examining an absolute priority queue system, where The mentioned works have been of great help for improving
high-priority customers always are selected to receive services queuing systems and enhancing customer satisfaction as well as
without considering the waiting time of others. He also examined improving the relationship between customers and organizations.
a method for determining the average of waiting times in different In high-traffic systems, waiting in the queue is very annoying
queuing systems (Marshall, 2012). Stanford et al. presented the and many people avoid entering the system due to the involved
distribution of waiting times in cumulative priority queues in boredom such that many customers leave the system after some
which different categorizations are considered for customers with time without receiving the service. However, the characteristics
a different priority, and each class, depending on its priority, re- of customers in a wide range are not considered in the literature.
ceives special services and equipment (Stanford, Taylor, & Ziedins, Some articles have focused on categorizing customers into two
2013). Hinderks completed a mathematical analysis of a prior- groups but not more. In the present study, a new fuzzy logic based
ity queuing model that has the ability to interrupt the services prioritizing method is presented in order to improve queuing
by the arrival of the higher-priority customer (Hinderks, 2014). system indicators such as the length of the queue, a weighted
Fajardo and Drekic (2015) prioritized a queuing system in the summation of waiting time of customers, the total value of missed
M/G/1 form considering three different scenarios. Regarding the revenue, and the average value of lost loyalty. Considering more
first scenario, customer service is not interrupted under any cir- criteria for customer prioritization in addition to their waiting time
cumstances, even with the arrival of more significant customers. can be considered among the strengths of the proposed model.
The second scenario allows customers with a lower priority to Also, using the TOPSIS approach as one way of prioritization has
interrupt service by entering customers with a higher priority, and always been of great interest and is popular among researchers. In
242 A. MahmoumGonbadi, Y. Katebi and A. Doniavi / Expert Systems With Applications 131 (2019) 240–253

this regard, the FPS outperformance is a very good illustration of • a: It denotes the distribution function of the interval be-
its strength against previous approaches. tween two arrivals. The distribution function is considered
as an exponential distribution function in the proposed sys-
3. Overview of fuzzy prioritization system tem and is shown by the symbol M.
• b: It shows the distribution function of service duration. This
The importance of all customers is not the same for organi- component is also considered as an exponential distribution
zation and varies depending on their features. In this paper, four function in the proposed model and is shown by the symbol
criteria were selected for prioritizing customers according to a M.
survey of some organizations such as banks, stores, hospitals, • m: It represents the number of servants in the system. It
taxi services, and caterings. These criteria are Service Duration has to be noted that only one server was considered in this
(SD), Service Value (SV), Customer Loyalty (CL), and Maximum paper.
Toleration (MT). Considering these items, a Fuzzy Priority System • k: It determines the system capacity, where the system’s ca-
(FPS) was designed to prioritize customers in two stages (FIS-I pacity is considered unlimited in this proposed system. In
and FIS-II), and reduce the average waiting time of all customers. other words, the number of customers in the system will not
The reason for implementing FPS in two stages is considering restrict the entry of new customers.
mentioned four criteria and FIFO simultaneously. Considering only • c: It determines the customer’s population. In this system,
these four criteria but not FIFO causes customers with lower pri- the population of potential customers is infinite and can be
ority are not served or served too late by the arrival of customers eliminated.
with higher priority, which is an unfair issue. Hence, for making • z: It displays the discipline of the system. In this research,
the proposed model more fairly, in addition to the aforementioned the system is based on the FPS discipline.
criteria, the waiting time of customers should be considered in
As a result, the M/M/1 represents a system in which the time
their prioritization. If all five criteria are considered together in
between the two consecutive customer entries is exponential, the
one FIS, the effect of waiting time will be dominated by other four
service duration is an exponential distribution function, and only
ones and prioritization process will not be done truly. Therefore,
one server exists. The queue capacity and the population of poten-
FPS operates in two stages: in the first stage, the customer’s
tial customers are considered unlimited. The discipline of the sys-
primary priority is calculated regardless of their waiting time and
tem is based on a FIFO structure. This system was compared with
in the second stage, the customer’s final priority is calculated
the model proposed in this study.
by considering the customer’s waiting time in the system. This
The model proposed in this study is M/M/1///FPS, which rep-
system is explained in detail in the following sections.
resents a system in which the time between two consecutive
customer arrival and the service time us an exponential distribu-
3.1. Assumptions
tion function. The number of servers is equal to 1, the queuing
capacity and the population of potential customers are assumed
In order to model the described problem, we consider some as-
unlimited, and the discipline of the system is based fuzzy priority
sumptions as follows:
system (FPS).
• The customers are independent. 3.3. Criteria for customer prioritization
• Each customer has four characteristics and specific arrival
time. In order to find the effective factors in prioritizing customers,
• The arrival of Customers follows a Poisson process at rate λ. a list of factors was extracted by reviewing the literature and sys-
• Every two customers cannot enter the system together at tems. Then five main criteria including Service Duration (SD), Ser-
the same time. vice Value (SV), Customer Loyalty (CL), Maximum Toleration (MT)
• By entering customer with higher-priority during operation, and waiting time (WT) was selected by experts, organization man-
the service will not interrupt and the customer with a agers and some customers.
higher priority should wait until the server is idle. In the first stage of FPS, we consider four criteria for prioritizing
customers including SD, SV, CL, and MT in order to determine the
Server: primary priority of customers. In the following, these criteria are
explained in details.
• One server is available.
• Servers cannot serve more than one customer simultane- • Service Duration (SD): There are various services in most
ously. organizations with different durations. Some services can
• There are various service types in the system. be done fast but others take more time. So, organizations
• Duration of service follows exponential distribution at rate should consider this issue in managing their system per-
μ. fectly. In this paper, the duration of service is assumed as an
• No interruption is acceptable during the operation. exponential distribution function. Various time units (e.g.,
• Customers are assigned to the server in the order of their year, month, day, hour, and minute) can be used in different
priority. industries.
• The server is obliged to serve all customers. • Service Value (SV): Value of a given service is determined
by the price of the customer’s order. Because of the va-
3.2. Notation riety of services, the service values are different. Each
organization wants to increase its profit by offering more
Each queuing system has a set of features that are determined valuable services. So, prioritizing the customers according
depending on the problem at hand. To illustrate the parameters of to requested service helps them to focus on their valuable
the queuing models, some notations were presented by Kendall. customers instead of customers with less profitability.
The queuing system is shown by symbols a/b/m/k/c/z with each • Customer Loyalty (CL): One of the most important Strate-
letter representing one of the main factors of the system. These gies in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is the
symbols are presented as follows: use of “customer loyalty” approach. The number of times
A. MahmoumGonbadi, Y. Katebi and A. Doniavi / Expert Systems With Applications 131 (2019) 240–253 243

Fig. 1. Two-stage Fuzzy Priority System (FPS) architecture.

that a customer returns to a system reflects the customer’s • Primary Priority (P1): Another criterion that should be con-
loyalty. Therefore, customer loyalty is constructed over time sidered for obtaining the customer’s final priority (P2) is the
through multiple transactions. An operator needs to record output of the first stage (customer’s primary priority).
the number of transactions of customers to use it in our
The output of the second stage of FPS is the customer’s final
future analysis. Customer loyalty is considered as a big
priority (P2). Thus, the order of service is determined and customer
asset for a company. Loyal customers expect to receive their
satisfaction (for both high- and low-priority customers) is consid-
required services as fast as possible and the organization
should consider this issue in the prioritizing process in
order to keep them more loyal than before. In most cases,
4. The architecture of fuzzy priority system (FPS)
new customers have less expectations from the system.
• Maximum Toleration (MT): Each customer spends a limited
The proposed Fuzzy expert system for prioritizing customers
time for waiting in the queue depending on his patience.
named FPS contains two fuzzy inference system FIS-I and FIS-II and
In some cases, if another competitor is available in the
its structure is described in this section. Fig. 1 shows the overall
market and the company does not receive the service at a
architecture of this system. Each fuzzy system consists of the fol-
determined time, it may result in the loss of the customer
lowing components: 1) the Input Variables, 2) Fuzzy Rule Base 3)
and referring to other competitors. Considering this criterion
Fuzzifier, 4) Fuzzy Inference Engine, 5) Defuzzifier, 6) Output vari-
increases customer satisfaction and reduces the number of
lost customers. The method of obtaining the value of this
According to Fig. 1, in the first stage (FIS-I), the four above-
criterion is more difficult than other criteria and varies from
mentioned criteria are considered as inputs of the fuzzy system.
business to business. For example, at the doctor’s appoint-
Then, based on the fuzzy rules and Mamdani’s minimum inference
ment, some patients can stay in the system for a short
engine, the customer’s primary priority (P1) is calculated as the
time, depending on their physical ability, or in the queue
output of the system. The proposed FPS is a dynamic system, such
to receive basic essentials during natural disasters, older
that the priority of all customers is updated by the arrival of new
people and children are less tolerant of waiting in line. Also,
customers. Therefore, serving a customer with a lower priority may
in some cases, the customer quotes the maximum expected
be postponed when a customer with higher priority arrives. Even
time in the queue at the time of entering the queue.
the waiting time of lower priority customers may prolong and go
The output of FIS-I is the customer’s primary priority (P1), beyond the threshold of their tolerance and the waiting deadline
which determines the service order of the customers in the queue and, as a result, the customer may leave the system as a lost cus-
based on the mentioned criteria, regardless of their arrival time. tomer. Therefore, in this paper, it is tried to consider the arrival
In order to increase customer satisfaction, the arrival time of cus- time of customers in order to avoid excessive customers’ waiting
tomers is considered in FIS-II. This system has two inputs and one time and minimize the number of lost customers. Hence, the pri-
output discussed in details as follows: mary priority of customers (P1) and their waiting time (WT) were
considered as the input variables of FIS-II and the output of this
• Waiting Time (WT): the amount of this criterion is calcu- system represents the final priority (P2).
lated from the moment of customer’s arrival until the ser- The reason for designing FPS in two stages is that it is essential
vice begins. This value is considered to prioritize customers to reduce the number of lost customers in order to increase the
based on FIFO. If customers wait for more than a certain satisfaction level of customers. As mentioned before, in FIFO, as
length of time for a service, they will leave the system. a common structure, all customers are similar for organization
244 A. MahmoumGonbadi, Y. Katebi and A. Doniavi / Expert Systems With Applications 131 (2019) 240–253

Table 1
The name and concept of linguistic variables for the inputs and outputs.

Fuzzy system Variable type Variable name Symbol Conception

FPS-I Input Service Duration SD The duration of service

Service Value SV The value of service
Customer Loyalty CL The time elapsed since the customer subscription
Maximum Toleration MT Acceptable time threshold for waiting
Output Primary Priority P1 Primary customer priority
FPS-II Input Waiting Time WT Time elapsed since the customer’s arrival
Primary Priority P1 Primary customer priority
Output Final Priority P2 The ultimate customer priority

and there is no preference from one to another, so they will bership function is expressed as follows:
receive their requested services based on their arrival time; they ⎧
can even guess their waiting time in the system and match

⎨0 x < m1
(x − m1 )/(m2 − m1 ) m1 ≤ x ≤ m2
the thresholds of their tolerance with the length of the queue μM˜ = (2)
by entering a system. In comparison, in the proposed system, ⎩(m3 − x )/(m3 − m2 )
⎪ m2 ≤ x ≤ m3
0 m3 < x
customers do not know their priorities and thus there may be
less tolerance for waiting in line. Accordingly, the proposed fuzzy Definition 3. Another shape of the fuzzy number is trapezoidal
system is designed in two stages to give more value to cus- fuzzy number. This shape is originated from the fact that there
tomers’ arrival time. By considering all criteria plus the arrival are several points whose membership degree is maximum. The
time of customers in one stage, the effect of the customer arrival trapezoidal fuzzy number is defined by M˜ = (m1 , m2 , m3 , m4 ). The
time will be influenced by other criteria and results may not trapezoidal membership function is expressed as follows:
be truthful. ⎧
⎪0 x < m1

⎨x − m1 /m2 − m1 m1 ≤ x < m2
μM˜ = 1 m2 ≤ x ≤ m3 (3)
4.1. Fuzzy sets and membership functions ⎪

⎩m4 − x/m4 − m3 m3 < x ≤ m4
0 m4 < x
In this study, the fuzzy expert system –FPS– is developed using
the fuzzy toolbox in MATLAB. For each input and output variable, Table 2 presents the linguistic values of each of the linguistic
fuzzy sets are designed by dividing their universe of discourse into variables in stage 1 have been expressed. Also, Fig. 2 illustrates
a number of sub-regions and are named as a linguistic variable the membership functions of these variables.
(Xu, Dale, & Huang, 2002). A linguistic variable is a variable The numbers given in Table 2 are assumed for an industry. In
whose values are expressed in words or sentences and is defined this example, the range of linguistic variables for SD is assumed to
by membership function (MF). MF is a curve that defines how be in [0, 30]. If a service lasts longer than 30 time units, it will be
each point in the input space is mapped to a membership value assumed as “very long”. The range of linguistic variables for the SV
between 0 and 1 (Mahalakshmi & Ganesan, 2015). In this research, is assumed to be in (0, 2]. If various services are provided in the
based on the experts’ experience and knowledge, bell-shaped, organization, this interval is adjusted according to the investigated
triangular and trapezoidal MFs and their ranges were selected to organization. In other words, the value of services is transformed
define the shape of both input and output variables. These MFs into this range. In the given example, the range of linguistic
could represent the linguistic variables perfectly. Table 1 lists the
names and concepts of linguistic variables of inputs and outputs. Table 2
The values and the intervals of linguistic variables may vary in Linguistic values of the input and output variables of FIS-I.
different applications. These variables and their values are going
Criterion Linguistic values Fuzzy numbers
to be used in the fuzzy rule base.
In this research, four criteria of stage 1 in FIS-I and the waiting Service Duration (SD) Very short [4 1.5 0]
Short [4 1.5 8]
time of customers in FIS-II at stage 2 were transformed into gen-
Medium [4 1.5 16]
eralized bell shape fuzzy numbers owing to their high precision. Long [4 1.5 24]
Outputs of stage 1 and 2 are transformed into triangular fuzzy Very Long [4 1.5 30]
numbers because of their simplicity of calculations. The beginning Service Value (SV) Very Low [0.2 1.5 0]
Low [0.2 1.5 0.5]
and end of intervals of outputs were considered as trapezoidal
Medium [0.2 1.5 1]
fuzzy numbers. High [0.2 1.5 1.5]
Very High [0.2 1.5 2]
Definition 1. The generalized bell-shaped fuzzy number is often Customer Loyalty (CL) New Comer [1 1.5 0]
used in practical applications and is expressed in triplicate M ˜= New [1 1.5 1.5]
Ordinary [1 1.5 3]
(m1 , m2 , m3 ). The generalized bell-shaped membership function is
Semi Loyal [1 1.5 6]
defined as follows: Loyal [1 1.5 10]
Maximum Toleration (MT) Impatient [7.5 1.5 0]
μM˜ =  2m2 (1) Normal [7.5 1.5 15]

1 +  x−m3 
Patient [7.5 1.5 30]
m1 Primary Priority (P1) Non-significant [0 0 10 20]
Less Important [10 25 40]
Definition 2. Among various shapes of the fuzzy number, trian- Normal [30 45 60]
gular fuzzy number (TFN) is the most popular one. The triangular Important [50 65 80]
˜ = (m1 , m2 , m3 ). The triangular mem- Very Important [70 85 100 100]
fuzzy number is defined by M
A. MahmoumGonbadi, Y. Katebi and A. Doniavi / Expert Systems With Applications 131 (2019) 240–253 245

Fig. 2. Membership functions of the input and output variables of FIS-I. (a) SD, (b) SV, (c) CL, (d) MT and (e) P1.

variables for the CL is assumed to be in [0, 10], where this number Table 3
Linguistic values of the input and output variables of FIS-II.
can be adjusted according to the nature of the business. The
maximum tolerance criterion depends on the patients’ expectation Criterion Linguistic value Fuzzy numbers
as explored in advance. In this example, the time interval for this Primary Priority (P1) Non-Significant [0 0 10 20]
criterion is assumed to be in the range of (0, 30]. The customer Less Important [10 25 40]
primary priority is expressed numerically in the range of [0, 100]. Normal [30 45 60]
The larger number demonstrates the higher priority of customer. Important [50 65 80]
Very Important [70 85 100 100]
Table 3 lists the values of each linguistic variable in FIS-II.
Waiting Time (WT) Just Arrived [5 1.75 0]
Moreover, Fig. 3 illustrates the membership functions of the input Short Wait [5 1.75 20]
and output variables. The primary priority of customers is as the Tolerable [5 1.75 40]
input of FIS-II. The waiting time is assumed to be in the range Long Wait [5 1.75 60]
Final Priority (P2) Ultra-Low [0 0 5 15]
of [0, 60]. So, to receive a service, a customer can wait up to
Low [10 25 40]
60 time units. If someone waits longer than this range, he/she Intermediate [35 50 65]
will abandon the system as a lost customer. The final priority is High [60 75 90]
expressed in a range of [0, 100]. The larger the number of final Ultra-High [85 95 100 100]
priority is, the higher the priority would be.
246 A. MahmoumGonbadi, Y. Katebi and A. Doniavi / Expert Systems With Applications 131 (2019) 240–253

Fig. 3. Membership functions of the input and output variables of FIS-II. (a) P1, (b) WT, and (c) P2.

4.2. Fuzzy rules base is Medium, customer’s loyalty is at the Ordinary level and his
tolerance is normal, the customer’s primary priority (P1) will be
Fuzzy rules provide a functional relationship between the input “Important”. Other 263 rules have similar meanings. Considering
and the output by linguistic variables. The fuzzy rule infrastructure Row 16 of Table 5, for example, a customer whose primary priority
is a fuzzy graph, which expresses the relationship between inputs is “Important” and has a “Long Waiting time”, means that he is an
and outputs. Occasionally, in real applications, it is very hard to important customer that has spent a long time in the queue, so
derive a certain relationship between the inputs and the outputs, his priority is “Very High”.
or the relationship between those inputs and outputs is very
complicated even when that relationship is well established. Fuzzy 4.3. Fuzzy inference engine
rules are a good solution for those situations (Bai & Wang, 2006).
Given the combination of linguistic values of input and output Because of its large application and ease of computing, Mam-
variables, generally 5 × 5 × 3 × 5 × 5 = 1875 rules can be written for dani fuzzy inference system was used in this study to develop a
FIS-I. There should be no contradiction between the rules and the fuzzy rule-based model. The Mamdani structure is a type of fuzzy
same input values should have the same output values. Hence, the inference system where each rule is signified by an IF–THEN rela-
rules were given to the experts with the same input and they were tionship. In this paper max-min inference method is used. Based
asked to rate the rules. By collecting and computing their average on the Mamdani implication method of inference, Eq. (4), and for
reviews, the rules that have the highest score were retained and a set of disjunctive rules, the aggregated output for the r rules will
other rules were removed. In this stage just 375 rules remained. In be given as Eq. (5) Where μBk (y ) is the output of rule k.
the next step, 3 inputs were kept constant and experts were asked
to set the output value by changing the value of the fourth input. μA→B (x, y ) = min (μA , μB ) (4)
In this way, the remaining rules were edited and some of the
rules merged. By averaging the experts’ opinions, 263 rules were μB (y ) = max (μBk (y ) ) k = 1, 2, ..., r (5)
included in the rules base. The same procedure is used for FIS-II k
and 20 rules is considered in its rule base. But in this system,
When dealing with crisp quantity, we need to convert them to
the merging of the rules did not happen. Some rules of FIS-I and
fuzzy, and to use the results of the fuzzy inference system, the out-
all rules of FIS-II are presented in Table 4 and Table 5, respec-
put of the system must be converted to a crisp value. Fuzzification
tively. As a result, each customer has its own features which are
and Defuzzification are defined as following:
considered as inputs, then by firing some rules and using Mam-
dani inference engine, the final priority of each customer can be (a) Fuzzification: In this step, crisp inputs are transformed into
obtained. the fuzzy inputs by the input MFs. In this model, the fuzzy
Considering the first row of Table 4 as an example; if the dura- MF of each class in the input variables coincided with ad-
tion of the customer service is Very Short, the value of his service jacent classes because decisions are distributed over more
A. MahmoumGonbadi, Y. Katebi and A. Doniavi / Expert Systems With Applications 131 (2019) 240–253 247

Table 4
Some fuzzy rules of FIS-I.

Rule No. SD SV CL MT P1

1 Very short Medium Ordinary Normal Important

2 Short Medium Ordinary Normal Important
3 Medium Medium Ordinary Normal Normal
4 Long Medium Ordinary Normal Normal
5 Very Long Medium Ordinary Normal Less Important
6 Medium Very Low Ordinary Normal Less Important
7 Medium Low Ordinary Normal Normal
8 Medium High Ordinary Normal Important
9 Medium Very High Ordinary Normal Very Important
10 Medium Medium New Comer Normal Non-Significant
11 Medium Medium New Normal Normal
12 Medium Medium Semi Loyal Normal Important
13 Medium Medium Loyal Normal Very Important
14 Medium Medium Ordinary Impatient Important
15 Medium Medium Ordinary Patient Normal

Table 5 quent of each rule. In this system the rules are disjunctive, so the
Fuzzy rules of FIS-II.
aggregation operation max results in an aggregated membership
Rule no. P1 WT P2 function comprising the outer envelope of the individual truncated
1 Non-Significant Just Arrived Very Low membership forms from each rule. The centroid method is used to
2 Non-Significant Short Wait Very Low the aggregated membership function and a crisp value is obtained.
3 Non-Significant Tolerable Low
4 Non-Significant Long Wait Intermediate 5. Experimental results and discussion
5 Less Important Just Arrived Very Low
6 Less Important Short Wait Low
7 Less Important Tolerable Intermediate In this section, to evaluate and analyze the model, we compared
8 Less Important Long Wait Intermediate our proposed model with the FIFO queuing system that is more
9 Normal Just Arrived Low common. Another comparison was done by other existing prioriti-
10 Normal Short Wait Intermediate
zation methods such as a technique for order performance by sim-
11 Normal Tolerable Intermediate
12 Normal Long Wait High
ilarity to ideal solution (TOPSIS). This method was originally devel-
13 Important Just Arrived Intermediate oped by Ching-Lai Hwang and Yoon in 1981 (Hwang & Yoon, 1981)
14 Important Short Wait Intermediate with further developments by Yoon in 1987 (Yoon, 1987) and
15 Important Tolerable High Jahanshahloo in 2006 (Jahanshahloo, Hosseinzadeh Lotfi, &
16 Important Long Wait Very High
Izadikhah, 2006). The weights of criteria are extracted by aggre-
17 Very Important Just Arrived Intermediate
18 Very Important Short Wait High gating the idea of experts. Two scenarios were introduced and
19 Very Important Tolerable Very High used for analyzing the FPS results. Some indicators are assumed
20 Very Important Long Wait Very High in order to evaluate the performance of proposed method in each

than one input class. Moreover, to make the output clear and 5.1. Scenario description
impartial, the symmetrical, overlapping equal-size MFs were
used for the output variable. The main goal of this study is to deliver service to customers
(b) Defuzzification: Defuzzification is the action of converting with different priorities. For this reason, this study was conducted
linguistic variables into crisp values. There is a variety of de- using two different scenarios.
fuzzification methods such as first of maxima (FOM), middle
1) The customer does not abandon the queue.
of maxima (MOM), last of maxima (LOM), the extended cen-
ter of area (ECOA) and center of gravity (COG). The center of This scenario is based on the assumption that the firm does not
gravity (COG) method is the most extensively used in practi- have any competitor in the market; so, the customer has no choice
cal applications to display the final output. The most impor- to wait and receive the service from the determined firm. In this
tant advantage of COG is that it has a smaller mean square scenario, the most important criterion to be considered is that the
error and better steady-state performance (Kim, Kim, Lee, service speed must be in such a way that the total Weighted Wait-
& Cho, 2001). In the fuzzy model presented in this study, ing Time of the customer should be reduced and consequently, the
the COG method was used for defuzzification; i.e. convert queue length will be minimized.
the fuzzy output set to a crisp number. The centroid of the
2) The customer is allowed to abandon the queue.
aggregated area was obtained using the Eq. (6) (Xu et al.,
2002). In this scenario, competitors are struggling to attract highly val-
  ued customers. Also, if the customer waits for a long time without
y∗ = y.μB (y )dy/ μB (y )dy (6) receiving the service at the expected time, and the maximum tol-
erance (MT) is finished, the customer will be lost as an abandoning
Fig. 4 illustrates the graphical analysis of two rules. The an- customer and will go to other rivals. As a result, the possibility of
tecedent pairs given in the general rule structure for this system the lost customer being returned would be very low. In most cases,
are connected by a logical "and" connective. The minimum mem- trying to return a lost customer to the system is costlier than ab-
bership value for the antecedents propagates through to the sorbing him. In this scenario the amount of lost revenue and aver-
consequent and truncates the membership function for the conse- age of the loyalty of the lost customers has been investigated.
248 A. MahmoumGonbadi, Y. Katebi and A. Doniavi / Expert Systems With Applications 131 (2019) 240–253

Fig. 4. Graphical Mamdani (Max-Min) inference method with crisp input in FIS-II.

5.2. Model validation Table 6

Evaluation and validation of the model.

FPS was implemented in two stages in MATLAB using the fol- Customer no. Primary criteria P1 (%) WT P2 (%)
lowing features: SD SV CL MT

• Type = ‘Mamdani’; 1 8 1 5 15 77.48 3 50.83

2 12 1 5 15 70.86 6 52.00
• Decision method for fuzzy logic operators AND: ‘MIN’;
3 16 1 5 15 59.94 9 49.53
• Decision method for fuzzy logic operators OR:’ MAX’; 4 22 1 5 15 57.24 12 44.93
• Implication method: ‘MIN’; 5 27 1 5 15 52.83 15 48.98
• Aggregation method: ‘MAX’; and 6 15 0.1 5 15 33.87 18 34.96
• Defuzzification: ‘CENTROID’ (center of gravity) 7 15 0.7 5 15 54.00 21 50.18
8 15 1.25 5 15 61.65 24 50.81
9 15 1.55 5 15 63.92 27 53.25
After implementing the system in MATLAB, validation dataset 10 15 1.85 5 15 78.02 30 68.09
was imported into the model and each customer’s priority was 11 15 1 0.5 15 31.36 33 46.95
classified as Ultralow, Low, Intermediate, High, and Ultrahigh. In 12 15 1 1.2 15 39.88 36 49.77
order to validate the model, some data according to the informa- 13 15 1 3.5 15 51.34 39 54.08
14 15 1 6.5 15 64.91 42 74.75
tion of different customers are given to the model and the primary
15 15 1 8.5 15 78.70 45 88.35
and final priorities of the customers are obtained (Table 6). As 16 15 1 5 4 63.22 48 74.64
shown in Table 6, to evaluate the results, first, four criteria are 17 15 1 5 12 62.92 51 74.36
presented to obtain the primary priority of the customers, re- 18 15 1 5 15 62.42 54 73.97
19 15 1 5 20 59.59 57 66.66
gardless of their arrival time. In the next stage, by considering
20 15 1 5 26 53.84 60 74.45
customers’ waiting time, their ultimate priority is achieved.
To assess the validity of the model and its sensitivity, three cri-
teria were fixed and only one of them was changed. For example,
customers 1 to 5, except for the duration of service (SD), are the
same in all criteria in stage 1. The customer who has the shortest 16–20 are the same and they requested the same service; how-
SD has a higher priority than others. The SD of customer 1 is ever, because of their certain characters, they have a different level
shorter than others and has a higher priority. Customers 6 to 10 of tolerance. For the organization to keep its customers satisfied,
differ only in the criterion of the value of their requested service. they must adapt the speed of delivering service to their level of
When the SV is high, customer priority will be higher. Hence, tolerance. Hence, customer 16 should receive the service before
among customers 6–10, customer 10 has a higher priority because than others.
of his higher SV. Also, customers 11 to 15 differ just in their loyalty Ultimately, after estimating the customer’s primary priority,
to the organization. When the CL is high, the customer is more in order to increase customer satisfaction, the customer’s waiting
valuable for the system and has a higher priority. Consequently, time should also be taken into account and the customer’s final
among customers 11–15, customer 15 is more loyal than others priority is obtained. Therefore, the model’s performance is accurate
and is ranked as high priority. The loyalty levels of customers and customer prioritization is done correctly.
A. MahmoumGonbadi, Y. Katebi and A. Doniavi / Expert Systems With Applications 131 (2019) 240–253 249

5.3. Analyzing the efficiency of proposed FPS model Table 7

Criteria of the TOPSIS method.

In this section, the efficiency of the FPS model is analyzed in Criteria

the two mentioned scenarios. The stability of the queuing system Features SD SV CL MT WT
and the number of customers are two issues that are considered
Positive/Negative − + + − +
in these scenarios for finding the efficiency of the proposed
Weights 0.152 0.288 0.248 0.182 0.130
model. The aim of this analysis is to answer this question that
how FPS can improve the system performance. To respond to
this question consciously, the FPS was compared with FIFO and
All possible queue stability states are considered in two de-
TOPSIS methods and the results were presented in the form of
scribed scenarios. Each problem was run 500 times and the aver-
diagrams. TOPSIS is a multiple criteria method which can integrate
age of the queue length, and as a result, the average of the waiting
relative weights of criterion importance. A fixed weighting scheme
time was obtained and compared with those of other methods. The
is assumed for TOPSIS in this article in order to compare with
improvement in the responses of the FPS compared to the other
our proposed model. According to Olson (2004), TOPSIS cannot
two methods was calculated using Eq. (7).
outperform our proposed model, even with considering different
weight vector. Olson reviews several applications of TOPSIS using Percentage of FPS improvement relative to method i = 1
different weighting patterns and compares results of different sets − (FPS result / method i result ) (7)
of weights applied to a previously used set of multiple criteria
data. As a result, TOPSIS was not found to be more accurate but 5.3.1. Efficiency of FPS model considering stability of the queuing
was quite close in accuracy. However, we evaluate its performance system
in comparison with FPS. Table 7 presents the weights of criteria in In the first scenario, customers are not allowed to abandon the
TOPSIS method considered in these experiments. system. So, the average queue length and the weighted summa-
In this study, we assume that the rate at which services are tion of waiting times of customers in FPS are compared to FIFO
completed must exceed the arrival rate of customers. Otherwise, and TOPSIS method. Since the customers are prioritized, then the
the waiting line will continue to grow and there will be no “av- weighted summation of waiting times could be a proper indicator
erage” solution. To understand the efficiency of the FPS model, for this problem. The goal of each system is minimizing these two
five cases are studied here (Table 8). The variability of the uti- indicators in order to increase the satisfaction level.
lization factor (ρ ) causes changes in the stability status of each Fig. 5, shows the average value of indicators after 500 times
scenario. of implementation of FPS method. This result shows that the FPS

Fig. 5. Average improvement in 500 runs in (a) weighted summation of customer waiting time and, (b) the average length of the queue, in scenario 1.
250 A. MahmoumGonbadi, Y. Katebi and A. Doniavi / Expert Systems With Applications 131 (2019) 240–253

Table 8
System status and its parameters.


Parameter Quite unstable Unstable Fairly stable Stable Quite stable

Arrival rate (λ) 20 15 10 9 5

Service rate (μ) 10 10 10 12 10
Utilization Factor (ρ ) 2 1.5 1 0.75 0.5

works better than both methods (i.e., FIFO and TOPSIS). In this sce- prioritizing customers in queuing systems in any way is far better
nario, there is no abandoned customer, so the system tries to speed than the traditional FIFO procedure.
up delivering service based on the customers’ priority. Reducing In the second scenario, customers can abandon the system if
waiting times reduces the length of the queue. they do not receive their service during their expected time. Ac-
As shown in Fig. 5(a), the proposed FPS method operates con- cordingly, the analysis of the average length of the queue for sur-
siderably much better than FIFO in all situations. Compared to the veying the proposed model is not a good indicator in this case. The
TOPSIS method, FPS method works better, but improvement is less main purpose of the FPS model is reducing the number of cus-
than FIFO, although the amount is significant. Considering Fig. 5(b), tomers who tend to leave the system and this may increase the
the average length of the queue in FPS method is much better than length of the queue compared with other methods. Therefore, the
FIFO and slightly better than TOPSIS. summation value of lost revenue and average of lost loyalty are
In all states, the improvement percentage in the proposed considered and the results are shown in Fig. 6.
model compared to FIFO is much greater than its improvement According to Fig. 6(a), the average of the total value of lost rev-
compared to the TOPSIS method. Although TOPSIS can be a good enue in FPS relative to FIFO is very significant because the number
prioritization method and yield good results, the results indicate of lost customers is reduced intensely using the proposed method.
that FPS is superior to TOPSIS. In general, it can be concluded that In addition, the FPS outperforms TOPSIS in all situations but the

Fig. 6. Average improvement in 500 runs in (a) Total value of lost revenue and, (b) average of lost loyalty, in scenario 2 in various statuses.
A. MahmoumGonbadi, Y. Katebi and A. Doniavi / Expert Systems With Applications 131 (2019) 240–253 251

Fig. 8. Average improvement of the average length of the queue in 500 runs in
scenario 1 comparing FPS versus (a) FIFO and, (b) TOPSIS methods.
Fig. 7. Average improvement of a weighted summation of customer waiting time
in 500 runs in scenario 1 comparing FPS versus (a) FIFO and, (b) TOPSIS methods.

With regard to Fig. 9(a), it is observed that the amount of lost

difference is very small in these experiments. It can be concluded income in Scenario 2, using FPS method in all customer sizes, is
that to have lower lost customers, they should be served according significantly lower than that of FIFO Method and is improved in
to a certain prioritization plan. According to Fig. 6(b), the average fairy unstable and unstable situations. Fig. 9(b) shows that while
of lost loyalty of customers in FPS has a significant difference with FPS method outperforms the TOPSIS, the performance of the two
FIFO. The TOPSIS method performs well and its result is close to methods is very similar.
the FPS; however, FPS still outperforms the other two methods. In Looking at Fig. 10(a), it is noticeable that there is a significant
the proposed method, not only more customers receive service but improvement in maintaining loyal customers. In other words, in
also it provides less waiting time for customers and tries to hold FIFO, the average loyalty of lost customers is more than FPS, and
valuable and loyal customers. this is not optimal for a system. Also, Fig. 10(b) shows that, as pre-
vious results, the performance of FPS and TOPSIS is close, but the
FPS method shows a better performance in stable conditions and
5.3.2. Efficiency of FPS model considering the number of customers 200 customers.
In order to examine the performance of FPS in different sit- In this section, several experiments were carried out to evalu-
uations, experiments with different customer populations (C = 50, ate the system. The scenarios expressed in these experiments are
10 0, and 20 0) were carried out. The proposed model was com- routine scenarios in many businesses. The purpose of this study is
pared with FIFO and TOPSIS under different stability statuses of to provide a solution to the problem of congestion in cases where
the system and for the different number of customers in both sce- customers are forced to spend a long time in queue where there is
narios. As a result, the average improvement percentage of FPS was just one server. With the development of Internet businesses, this
stated in comparison with FIFO and TOPSIS for 500 repetitions in problem matters more. The results of the experiments show that
each state and per parameter. the use of the proposed method is very useful in situations where
According to Fig. 7, in scenario 1, in unstable and totally un- a variety of services are provided by the server and the customers
stable situations, by increasing the number of customers, the FPS of the system are a wide range of people, and in all circumstances
outperforms FIFO and TOPSIS. It means that we have reached our considerably better than FIFO as a common method. The design of
goal of designing a system to manage queues in unstable situa- such a system is very simple and with the careful study of each
tions. Based on Fig. 8, it can be seen that the average queue length business and system customers, a similar system can be developed
decreases significantly with the increase in the number of cus- and benefit from it. In previous studies, researchers point to the
tomers in the proposed method in unstable situations. This result importance of prioritizing customers. In this study, the efficiency
also confirms the performance of the FPS method. of prioritization was carefully stated.
252 A. MahmoumGonbadi, Y. Katebi and A. Doniavi / Expert Systems With Applications 131 (2019) 240–253

Fig. 9. Average improvement of the total value of lost revenue in 500 runs in sce-
nario 2 comparing FPS versus (a) FIFO and, (b) TOPSIS methods.

Fig. 10. Average improvement of the average of lost loyalty in 500 runs in scenario
2 comparing FPS versus (a) FIFO and, (b) TOPSIS methods.

6. Conclusions and future work

The purpose of this paper is designing an expert system for are uncertain and ambiguous and also it is not possible to com-
prioritizing customers in queue. Considering the importance of ment on the extent of superiority over one another, two fuzzy in-
customer satisfaction, the proposed system can be very helpful to ference engine was used for fuzzy customer prioritization. In most
the companies for providing suitable service for special customers. universal cases, the fuzzy rule-based models are in the form of a
Implementing this practical model will strengthen the loyalty of Multi-Input-Multi-Output (MIMO) system (Camastra et al., 2014).
valuable customers of a company and encourage them to request In the case of the present work, a two-stage multi-input single
more services. Based on the results of this study, the proposed output (MISO) Mamdani fuzzy inference system was proposed for
system is very simple for the companies to use and they will find customer prioritization taking the most important five criteria into
the implementation of this technique very easy and appropriate. account. In FIS-I, the customer’s primary priority is calculated, re-
Like any other system, the fuzzy logic structure has its own down- gardless of the time of their entry into the system and in FIS-II,
sides. While developing fuzzy rules for the system, it requires their final priority is obtained by taking into account their arrival
experience from field experts, experimental results, and hypothet- time.
ical derivation to make the system effective (Leung & Lam, 1988). In order to evaluate and analyze the performance of the FPS,
We feel that some extreme situations can be considered in the the proposed model was compared to the FIFO method. Also, the
developed prioritization system. For example, when one of the TOPSIS method was used as another prioritization method to in-
assumed criteria of customers is very low or very high, a partic- vestigate the efficiency of FPS. Two scenarios were considered: In
ular strategy should be considered. This can increase the scope of scenario 1, there was not any lost customer but in Scenario 2,
the generalizability of the model. The fore, and we propose the customers were allowed to abandon the waiting line. The results
inclusion of this aspect in future research. Although the system of numerical experiments showed the efficiency of the proposed
has some limitations, the potential benefits of the implementation method compared to FIFO and TOPSIS methods.
of the proposed system in organizations are not in doubt. To best of our knowledge, the model proposed in this study
In this research, first, a fuzzy prioritization system called FPS clarifies a number of guidelines for future research. In this paper,
was presented incorporating different criteria of customers to dis- four criteria were used to prioritize customers and to distinguish
tinguish them from each other and prefer the valuable customers one from another. As a further research area, more criteria can
of the organization. The knowledge of experts was used to deter- be taken into account in the differentiation process for improving
mine the criteria; which organizations consider while evaluating the system’s truthfulness. In addition, we assumed a queue system
a particular customer. Since the characteristics of the customers with just one server. In future works, the researcher may focus on
A. MahmoumGonbadi, Y. Katebi and A. Doniavi / Expert Systems With Applications 131 (2019) 240–253 253

evaluating the efficiency of FPS in multi-server systems. Another Harchol-Balter, M., Osogami, T., Scheller-Wolf, A., & Wierman, A. (2005). Multi-
remarkable extension would be to discuss much higher complex- server queueing systems with multiple priority classes. Queueing Systems, 51(3–
4), 331–360. doi:10.1007/s11134- 005- 2898- 7.
ity in the problem and develop more advanced optimization ap- Hinderks, W. (2014). Preemptive-resume priority queueing (Bachelor thesis). University
proaches such as simulation optimization methods. A final note is of Amsterdam.
that to evaluate the performance of the proposed methodology, by Hong, W., Chen, S., Wang, L., & Chen, S. (2005). A New Prioritized Information Fu-
sion Method for Handling Fuzzy Information Retrieval Problems. Fuzzy Systems
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Conflict of interest Iravani, F., & Balcıoğlu, B. (2008). On priority queues with impatient customers.
Queueing Systems. doi:10.1007/s11134- 008- 9069- 6.
Jahanshahloo, G. R., Hosseinzadeh Lotfi, F., & Izadikhah, M. (2006). An algorithmic
The authors declare that they have no known competing finan-
method to extend TOPSIS for decision-making problems with interval data. Ap-
cial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to plied Mathematics and Computation, 175, 1375–1384. doi:10.1016/j.amc.2005.08.
influence the work reported in this paper. 048.
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