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Friday 20 August 2004

A Good Customer Service Experience at McDonald’s

Since I complain so much about customer service, it’s only fair that I write about good experiences I have, too. Unfortunately these don’t come too often. I’m distinguishing ‘good’ experiences here as ones that are surprisingly good, as opposed to merely competent; I don’t think that merely being able to complete a transaction and pay my money without too much pain necessarily qualifies as a ‘good’ customer-service experience, though it is a successful one. A ‘good’ experience by my criteria here is one where someone in the business of selling some good or service goes out of his way, in a way that his competitors do not, to make the experience as smooth and easy as possible.

On Monday, I happened to be in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, in a hurry, and in need of lunch. Most of the Washington area is continually operating at about 110% of capacity, but in Tyson’s Corner it’s more like 120%, so this presents some challenges. I fought my way through traffic to the McDonald’s near the intersection of Routes 7 and 123, and was — well, not pleasantly surprised, because the whole reason I went to this particular place was because I knew they had their act thoroughly together — let’s say I continued to be impressed.

I was going through the drive-thru. This particular McDonald’s has all the latest McDonald’s technology to help out, namely the order-confirmation screen. This screen, next to the order box, displays for you what the cashier is entering into the system, so you can spot errors and correct them before they become a problem. This particular McDonald’s has two order boxes and two of these screens, so if the line doesn’t move immediately after someone places an order, the next car in line can place an order anyway.

But they weren’t using any of this stuff, because during a 120% Tyson’s Corner lunch hour, they aren’t fast enough. Instead, they had two people standing out in the parking lot. As soon as I pulled up, one of them came up to my window and asked me what I wanted. As I told him, he jotted it down on his clipboard and read it back to me. When I confirmed that he’d got it right, he repeated the order in Spanish over the radio clamped to his head. He then ran back to the car behind me. There was a steady flow in, presumably because people knew that they could get food here without spending a lot of time in line. The Taco Bell around the corner — visible from the McDonald’s — had a conspicuously-bare parking lot.

By this time the car in front of me was moving, so I pulled up. The other McDonald’s person came up to my window and told me I owed her $5.01. I paid with exact change, but if I hadn’t she had one of those belt-mounted change dispensers, and, presumably, a pocket full of dollar bills.

As soon as I handed over my money, the line had again moved, and I pulled up; actually, the line never really stopped moving, because as soon as a car would pull up to the window, an arm would stick out of it holding a bag. This McDonald’s was actually processing cars through the drive-thru at about a normal walking pace. I don’t think it would be possible to safely do it any faster. And I’ve never seen any other McDonald’s — or any of the allegedly competing fast-food restaurants in the Tyson’s Corner area — do anything like it. I’m sure that this McDonald’s isn’t utterly unique in using this method, but they’re certainly one of the rare exceptions to the rule.

The employees, in addition, seemed happy and friendly, which is something you don’t often find at McDonald’s. I can’t blame them; it cannot be a very fulfilling way to spend your time, slogging between the fry machine and the shake machine while the customers are looking daggers at you because their order is taking forever. But when the management has decided to do the job well, it’s possible for the employees to feel proud of what they’re doing. McDonald’s serves an important function, feeding people, and, when things are humming properly it does it amazingly efficiently. To be a part of such a well-organized system is… not inspiring or uplifiting, certainly, but at least not degrading. And employees who don’t feel degraded might actually give a shit, and this feeds back into the whole thing, improving the experience and efficiency yet again.

This is the spirit of my customer service rules and complaints: It is possible to do whatever you’re doing correctly, so why aren’t you doing it that way?

Posted by tino at 12:51 20.08.04
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‘belt-mounted change dispensers’ I haven’t seen one of those in use for ages! Good thinking on that one.

I recently noticed that the EZpass website has a service with McDonalds, which you may elect to add to your EZpass account. I honestly haven’t been through a McDonalds or any such fast food establishment in some time, so I didn’t linger on this service from EZpass to read any details. I presume that McDonalds’s drive-thru orders can now be paid for by allowing your tags to be scanned and in turn billed to your EZpass account. I can see where this might be a little better than your recent drive thru experience should these be in place during foul weather. Thus keeping the workers warm and dry in the restaurant. I assume those Thruway rest-stops are the first places that offer this service. However it seems like during a traffic heavy time of day or during holiday travel that even such a system will eventually get backed up due to volume alone. Also it seems that an EZpass only lane would make this work much more smoothly. I wonder if there are any discounts for paying for your McDonalds order with EZpass as opposed to a cash payment— similar to the ‘slight’ discount tag holders get at some toll-booths?

Posted by: Chris at August 20, 2004 01:36 PM

We actually had another positive experience at a McDonald’s today. A Trainee cheerfully executed our complex order correctly.

I know it doesn’t seem like much to get an order cheerfully filled and correct the first time, but when you order things radically different than the way McDonald’s intends, stuff often gets messed up. It’s more than Burger King can do. You’re lucky if they even look at you there, and they rarely give out the right food on the first try.

I did complement the Trainee, so impressed I was.

As long as we’re being postive today: I had a problem with an online order from Nordstrom (resolved today), and though their procedure for this situation is decidedly odd, I talked to friendly humans and experienced minimal hold times. I have to say that I always find Nordstrom to be great at customer service. In fact, I think they are the only department store left that even understands the concept fully.

Posted by: Nicole at August 20, 2004 04:21 PM