A couple months ago I pulled into the drive-thru of my local McDonald’s and was greeted by what might be the most pleasant voice ever encountered in fast food history. Crackling through the speaker system, an enthusiastic young woman exclaimed, “Good afternoon and welcome to McDonald’s! Would you like to try the new Shamrock Shake?” Though blown away by her passionate fervor for the minty green dessert, I refrained and stuck to ordering the Big Mac combo. I expected her response to be as exciting as her greeting, but my denial of her recommendation must have offended her as I was met with a monotone recital of my order and subsequent cost. Pulling around to the window, I asked the young lady why her demeanor had changed so suddenly. She was clearly shocked by my boldness in calling her out and shot back, “I wasn’t the one that greeted you. That was a recording.” WHAT?!?! Ladies and gentlemen, McDonald’s has stopped trusting their employees to actually talk to me.
Sadly, this subtle shift in the customer experience deepens the ever widening assumption that the food service industry is full of individuals incapable of providing quality customer service. While I adamantly disagree with this assumption, I’m not surprised it exists. When a company promises or implies they will provide exceptional service (as McDonald’s does on their website), a consumer should receive just that. When the company fails to deliver, the consumer is justified in complaining and forming assumptions about future experiences. With the pressure of consumer expectations continually increasing, many businesses are scrambling to figure out cheap, fast, and methodical ways to bypass the difficult work of proper customer service training. This leaves me listening to a recorded voice that doesn’t actually fix the problem, but simply delays the inevitable poor service I’ll receive at the window. I still get my misshapen Big Mac (which is another issue all together), but the young woman in the visor incurs a much greater cost: public assumption of inadequacy.
Human service is the greatest goal to which a person can ascribe. The service industry must begin to train its workforce with this mindset and that takes consistent commitment to the refinement of human interaction. This cannot be completed through a two hour orientation program or a set of finely crafted video tutorials. It takes managers who are willing to coach employees through customer interaction and devoted attention to details such as tone of voice, body language, and vocabulary. It takes willingness on behalf of company leaders to invest the resources and time necessary to allow for thorough training programs. Temporary fixes like recorded messages, internal memos, and subjective performance reviews will not cultivate quality service behaviors. Consistency when modeling desired results is the purest form of service behavior training and until this practice is placed at the center of our training programs, the public will continue to view the service industry in a negative light.