Is it April 1st? Because McDonald’s can’t be serious…


I was looking around the internet this evening, and I came across this article posted by USA Today. It’s very short, go ahead and take a look.

Now, the way I read the information in this article, this situation is entirely possible – One day, I’m driving around in Warwick, Rhode Island. I get a craving for fries, an apple pie, and a chocolate shake. I pull off the road at a McDonald’s and head around to the drive-thru window. When I get there, a pleasant voice welcomes me and asks for my order… but the source of the voice could be in Massachusetts… or in Ohio… or in Oregon.

I’ve got problems with this.

I’ve got a lot of problems with this.

To start, let’s check out this paragraph from the article: “Call center professionals with ‘very strong communication skills’ could help boost order accuracy and ultimately speed up the time it takes customers to get in and out of the drive-thrus, the company said.

Wow. I don’t see how that can be true in several ways. And that leads to some of my first problems…

Problem number one ~ If accuracy was the only reason to make this change, McDonald’s wouldn’t even be thinking about it. As a corporation (and depending on your position), they have an extensive training program. If accuracy was the only reason for doing this, they would just investigate their training program. No, this is partly about money. See, by using a single call center, they can have one person take orders for several restaurants. I mean… it would be really dumb to have a single person in Montana at a computer replace a single person in California on a window. Nope. Wouldn’t do that. Instead, I think it’s more likely that multiple stores would, in a way, subscribe for the help from a single call center. So, twenty stores might pay a fee to a center that employees five, six or seven people per shift. The fee the store pays would be less than what they pay a staff member to work on the window, so they save money. But, the call center makes money by offering the service to several locations. And that does make a bit of sense. However, exactly how is a person, taking orders for five restaurants, going to able to serve me more accurately and faster? Even if they do have some fool-proof technology in place to make sure that the orders are delivered properly (and we have all seen that only a gigantic fool believes a system is absolutely fool-proof)... there is no way that a person handling orders for two or three stores can clear out the line more quickly. The staff serving the food is still moving at the same pace… didn’t see anything in the article about the food being prepared faster. I’m not even going to explore the idea of going from one order and sending it to taking the next… meaning that not only could the person taking the order be in another state, but I might be waiting in line behind someone in another state because that call center professional is handling the order of a person at a different restaurant that arrived at their drive-thru moments before I arrived at mine.

Problem number two ~ Are they saying their staff members right now don’t have very strong communication skills? Because I’d be ticked if I worked at one. Oh sure, I might be happy I didn’t have to wear the headset and take the orders. But I’d just have something else to do. It’s not like they’re sending me home and paying me for watching television. So, is that what they’re saying?

Now that’s just two problems that come to mind from that passage of the article. There are other problems that this concept creates for me…

Problem number three ~ When I get to the second window, if there was a mistake and I complain then the manager and co-workers are aware of it. In essence… management knows, and employees get informed. I’m not saying they should or shouldn’t notice, or that they should or shouldn’t care. There could be extenuating circumstances where they will just take care of my complaint and then consider it a dead issue... really, there could be. What I am saying though is that a manager might notice if the same person is making repeated errors when assigned to the drive-thru. That means that they could conceivably talk to a person and correct them. But, when the call center transmits the order, that option is pretty much removed. Stretching the wording of this example, I guess you could say that the employee never faces the accuser. How does a store manager address that? Complain to the call center?

Problem number four ~ There are times when I pull up to the menu and can’t get the attention of the employee twenty feet away from me that watched me drive around and can see me through the window. Someone please tell me how a person sitting in a chair two thousand miles away will be less likely to ignore me? Or… to be a bit less sarcastic… the more elements you add to a situation, the more that can go wrong. So when you introduce more technology into the equation (having to send the messages long distance) or remove some of the safe-guards (sight-lines to the drive-thru window in case the other announcement devices don’t work when a person pulls up), I think you increase the opportunity that mistakes or setbacks will occur.

Look, there are other problems… and yet already with these four I’ve probably given the issue more time then it deserves. The reality is… service is the key and nothing else… to which, cost is the answer. McDonald’s and other fast food places have reached the point where it isn’t that hard to create a big bill for a family. I know they have their value items and special meals, and those are fine. But a family of four can race through twenty-dollars at one of these establishments without a problem. The reason fast food locations saw their sales drop was… and I’m not alone in feeling this way… that I would rather take thirty or forty dollars and get a better, healthier meal than spend twenty on fast food.

Yes, the drive-thru can be a problem and it can be annoying at times. I’m not saying it isn’t an issue to be addressed. While it may be something to look at for improvement though, I think they’re giving it a bit too much attention. I would rather have a manager give me a coupon saying “we’re sorry for the delay, here’s a free sandwich for you on your next visit” then find out that the order was processed incorrectly from New Mexico and hear excuses.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at