cbsbepd: Serving the community
Frank W. James at Corn, beans, spent brass, an empty page and a deadline, writes about the Death of Service – how franchise fast food joints don’t care about serving the customer.
My son actually got me to thinking about this some time ago and I’ve been checking in terms of personal experiences ever since, but he believes besides the lack of culinary excellence associated with all fast food enterprises there is also the accompanying complete lack of service.
His theory is these businesses work off ‘numbers’. All fast food ‘restaurants’ are built for volume and that’s how their individual success or failure is graded. If they screw up your particular order (because maybe you DON’T want cheese on your burger, or pickles or Gawd knows what else) they don’t care. They know there will always be someone else standing in line to take your place and your complaint or momentary discomfort is meaningless to their profit at the end of the day.
In short, they could give a shit if you come or go.
My first reaction is to think, well, if the employee wants to see the job as an opportunity to serve the public, working in a fast-food joint won’t prevent her or him from providing service.
But, you know, there are a couple of things that complicate the issue. One is turnover. When you take a new job, all your attention is on learning to read your boss to find what is expected. Two businesses can give the same instructions, in the same words, and mean different things. A new hire takes time to figure out what the words mean. When the environment is geared to lots of turnover, then that “learn the formula” distraction is going to be a powerful motivation for the entire work force there.
Established franchises have a formula for success. The franchise owner, the store manager, the shift leads, the worker at the cooker or register or dumping trash all have a job description defined to avoid errors. Meeting daily metrics and reports gets to be the major hurdle of the average work day. It can be easy to view this as “the goal” of the day.
High volume eateries often assign each sale a number to track the order, so they can track the order and hand the correctly assembled tray to the right customer. Hopefully. Unless one is careful, it becomes simple to transform the customer, in the employee’s mind, with the order or order number.
The immediate task of the cashier is the order – get it taken correctly, meet the manager’s or computer’s demand for specific information, in a specific order. Especially when trying to work through a line of visitors waiting to place and order, it is easy to let the attention focus on procedures, on money handling, on serving the computer. And the job slips from serving the community or the customer, to serving the computer, or perhaps the cash register or cash drawer.
I have walked out of various fast-food joints, when it takes too long to get someone’s attention, to get a cashier to take my order. I find that taking 45 seconds or more, with people “busy” behind the counter, to get someone engaged in my order is about as long as I intend to wait. I have been disappointed in food quality, and angered by further unneeded delays each time I put up with shoddy business practices like that. Supposedly there is someone, on each shift, every day, to be working an order-taking station. Whether they are being over-tasked and used for additional functions by an inept manager, whether they are ignorant about priorities of various tasks – I don’t care. Watching people bustle behind the counter, but not prompt at taking the next order is a sign, to me, of a manager failure. The manager fails to keep the work force in discipline, fails to keep the focus on actual service instead of looking busy, or fails to train people to meet primary assignments before working on secondary tasks.
When I moved to Phoenix (west of town, Goodyear, AZ), I had been a long-time customer of Taco Bell. But in Phoenix, I found that with a few exceptions, service was dead slow. Something like 10 or 15 minutes slow, in almost all stores. The exceptions occurred at a couple of stores, on certain shifts. The shift lead at certain stores could achieve a good quality product, without the ghastly delays. But evidently the district manager set the tone for the whole region – slow.
In part I agree with Frank. The nature of franchised fast food relies on newly-hired employees, and prescription workplace rules intended to keep quality high in the presence of green employees (which stifles the ability of the store to benefit from experienced employees).
But I think there is reason to consider the employee, too. Many are at their first job, or haven’t worked anywhere but in fast food. Others are working part time, or are working there because nothing else is available – that is, this is a last resort, not a cherished career goal. And many do not got to work with the intent to serve the community.
I know that having a dating partner that relies on emails, texting, or even lots of phone calls for “communication” in the relationship – is a big red flag and sign of a strong reason to leave. Electronics interfere in communication. Think of voice mail, those annoying “press 1 for sales, press 2 for technical support ..” automated replacements for people. Letting the computer define taking an order asserts an abuse to the customer in the name of “quality control”. Instead of an employee working to understand what the customer needs, the task becomes impersonal, translating what the customer needs into what the computer will accept. And defining the customer as an order number.
Combine the computerized interface with an employee paradigm of an assumption of using new hires in a consistent fashion – and Frank’s criticism of the industry pretty much holds true.
I suggest that the single greatest force for dehumanizing service, is an electronic order system. When I walk up to the counter at Wendy’s, and I am thinking what I want to eat – but the person taking my order cannot get to what I want to eat, until I answer the computer’s “Is this for takeout or dine in?” – that feels abusive. Even if the cashier is prompt and order taking runs quickly there.