Customer Service Put On Remote Control

Discussion
Apr 11, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson


A growing number of fast food operators are looking to speed up drive through times and reduce errors by using remote call centers to handle customer orders.


A testament to the effectiveness of these systems is that most shoppers have no idea that the person that is taking their order may be hundreds, even thousands, of miles away.


By using call centers, restaurants are hoping to shave a few seconds off of each order. While this may not seem like much, in total it saves an appreciable amount of time for restaurants while speeding consumers through the drive-through.


To date, McDonald’s and CKE Restaurants (Arby’s and Carl’s Jr.) are the only major chains to announce tests of the call center systems.


McDonald’s began testing the system 18 months ago while CKE plans to conduct a test later this year.


Bronco, an operator of one of McDonald’s call centers, is looking to bring the same type of remote customer service inside of stores. The company is working to develop a cart-based wireless system for big box stores that would enable a call center to assist consumers as they shop.


Jon Anton, a founder of Bronco, said one potential application would be helping consumers to find products they are looking for. A call center operator, for example, could tell a customer, “You’re at Aisle D6. Let me walk you over to where you can find the 16-penny nails,” he told The New York Times.


Not everyone is sold on the idea of remote call centers for drive through or in-store applications. Denny Lynch, a spokesperson for Wendy’s, said the company has not seen numbers that support the cost effectiveness of such services. “We haven’t given this solution any serious thought,” he said. 


Moderator’s Comment: Do you see a real need and evidence of tangible benefits that would support using call centers
to take drive-through orders and otherwise assist customers? Will this solution become more widely used in the future?

George Anderson – Moderator

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13 Comments on "Customer Service Put On Remote Control"


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Bernice Hurst
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

Need? No. Evidence of benefits? Maybe for those addicted to cutting employee costs or saving seconds. A future for call center takeaway orders? I hope not. Life would be so much simpler and more efficient if we just had drive thru vending machines with touchscreens as has been suggested and people behind the scenes constantly refreshing the contents. Shades of the Automat. Is this what they call progress?

Or consider this – customer places order with call center operator, moves on to next window while operator sends order through with error; by the time customer collects order and notices mistake, operator has taken 73 more orders from 15 more locations; all transactions are now history. Or, the order is correct but because so many orders are being taken so quickly, customer waits to collect order rather than spending those so important seconds at stage 1. Just what has been achieved here? Has the transaction wasted more seconds than it might have without a call center? Where and how do customers get their orders corrected?

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
14 years 10 months ago

What we’re all overlooking here is the proactive role of automobile manufacturers in speeding up drive-throughs. Horsepower ratings on new cars have grown steadily over the last decade to the point where vehicles with plus-300 bhp (that’s British horsepower for the uninitiated) are offered by nearly every manufacturer. To speed drive-throughs, fast food feeders should offer a “Hemi Lane” for the speedier cars. (Of course, communication efforts would have to emphasize the differences between drive-through vs. drive-BY; and Hemispheric Head engines vs. hemorrhoids.)

Art Froese
Guest
Art Froese
14 years 10 months ago
I think the call center idea presents some challenges. Most of them addressed above involve communication of the order. Having just driven across the country and back, I have some recent experiences (mostly McDonald’s). Inside one store, the person in front of me was Hispanic and the clerk communicated in perfect Spanish – this would be a tribute to having local people taking the order. In one drive-through, the clerk had such a heavy accent I could not understand anything that was said. Luckily the display screen put my order up and I knew I would get approximately what I ordered. In one store I ordered a sandwich with no sauce and a cup of ice. This “special” handling was accomplished with no problem. Hence my questions about the call center: 1) Will the call center be sophisticated enough to handle multiple local languages? 2) Will the call center only have professional employees with good enunciation, or will it be in some foreign country? 3) Will the call center have the ability to handle “special”… Read more »
Connie Kski
Guest
Connie Kski
14 years 10 months ago

If the call center is manned by people with an excellent command of spoken English, it would have to be better (for my neighborhood anyway).

Improvements are clearly needed in speaker performance — but between the poor mechanical speakers and poor human speakers, it’s just about impossible to understand.

Kai Clarke
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

This proposal sounds feasible and practical, although it might not have an impact on the bottom line. The real risk here is eliminating the personal contact at the drive-through window when the customer receives their food. This individual is usually the same one who is taking the order, thus we have multi-tasking efficiency. It is difficult to see how a call center can offer savings, since you still need someone to pack and deliver the food for the customer. There is a substantial amount of time lost as the “packer” waits for the customer, or for the money to exchange hands. Add to this customer needs for straws, napkins, sauces and the like, and you have a very inefficient position which could easily be handling some or all of the order taking.

Stephan Kouzomis
Guest
Stephan Kouzomis
14 years 10 months ago

If McDonald’s is acknowledging this need and service benefit, and they are the largest fast foods entity in # of outlets and dollars, why does it make a difference where the call center is?

Taco Bell is successfully testing such a service and it is shaving 2.7 seconds off… and shoppers are indicating they are most happy about accurately receiving food ordered and quick service.

Starbucks and others will follow. Shoppers will be much happier! Hmmmmmmmm

Stuart Silverman
Guest
Stuart Silverman
14 years 10 months ago
If the economics are there for remote order taking at fast food chains, then why not? What I find more exciting is the new capability of putting remote experts in stores. In our work finding new retail technology companies for the Innovation Alley exhibit at the Retail Systems show, we have come across 2 young companies who have the ability to place a kiosk in any store aisle that would be connected to an expert someplace in the world. How many times have you been in a Home Depot and couldn’t find anyone to tell you why one fixture was more appropriate for what you wanted to do? How many times have you been in a Best Buy and wanted to know the difference between home computer product specs like wireless routers. While some retailers are making efforts to improve in-store customer service, it must be impossible finding sales help that understand the fine points of the products that they are selling. I can imagine that for some products it may only be merchandisers at… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

Does it really make any difference where the call center is or even whether the fast food operators use a call center? If the consumer has to wait to get their food, the speed of placing an order is not an issue. No matter where or how the order is placed, how are the cars going to be lined up and will each individual order be ready when you get to the window? How long do you have to wait to get to the window, and is your food hot when you get it without sitting under a heating lamp? Execution is still the issue.

JOHN STOCKER
Guest
JOHN STOCKER
14 years 10 months ago

Having spent my formative years in the fast food industry, I cannot help but think that the personal contact with the customer is a critical component. How much has the industry spent on advertising, getting the customer to the location, only to have them experience poor service level times, communication breakdowns with inoperative equipment, or even uninterested associates? I would concentrate on these areas to improve the “experience” first, before investing in another tool that may not have any measurable results.

Philip Granger
Guest
Philip Granger
14 years 10 months ago

While the call center proposal sounds like a good idea, one must look to other industries that have tried the “off-site” approach to customer service. Who takes ownership if the order is incorrect on the back-end? At the restaurants testing this approach, what was the error rate before the off-site approach? After implementation? What is the standard deviation for the error rate? Many other questions must be answered before an educated decision can be made on whether this is a good idea. Just shaving 3 seconds off of the time is not enough if 1 out of 5 customers walk into the store due to incorrect filling of orders.

J. Peter Deeb
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

The idea sounds practical. The real key, as in any call center, is execution. The person (or machine) taking the order must have a zero tolerance system in place to eliminate order mistakes. Miscommunication happens today between the drive up window and the pickup! What happens when there is more than one entity involved in the order taking, preparation and delivery? The other intangible is the fact that the process is generally verbal. If touch screen ordering is in place, the process may work better.

Bottom line, I am skeptical of all customer service that is not one on one, in person.

Thomas M. Chmielewski
Guest
Thomas M. Chmielewski
14 years 10 months ago
If the real issues at drive-thrus are to speed up times and reduce errors, some simple technology can be put in place to facilitate that. Leveraging a call center for this problem is like using a sledgehammer to kill an ant. First of all, better speakers and microphones are needed. Face it, a lot of the drive-thrus have been around for a while, and the speakers exposed to the elements don’t get much, if any, maintenance. Often times it is hard to hear what the order taker is saying. The voice is muffled and the volume is not right. Utilizing a call center isn’t going to fix the speaker problem. Second, most drive-thrus still don’t use a verification screen (and I have seen many drive-thrus that do have a screen for verification, yet for some reason they don’t use it). Utilizing a call center will not completely solve the verification problem either. Install a verification screen, display the items that I have ordered, and I can confirm or correct it right then and there. That… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

If fast food restaurants offered their drive-up customers easy-to-use touch screens, they could reduce the labor cost more effectively than outsourcing the order takers. Since some fast food places take credit cards, the touch screen devices could be swiped, reducing the food pickup time. More sophisticated devices could take cash and give change. Fast food restaurants could also test interactive voice response systems, although some of these systems’ mediocre performance might anger the customers. Customers certainly don’t like the poor audio quality of many intercoms used today. A decent audio system would improve customer service quality for a modest cost.

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