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McDonald's Improves Customer Experience By Improving Employee Experience

Brian Cantor

Think agent engagement is nothing more than a hollow, feel-good endeavor?  Think again!


Companies have increasingly demonstrated that happier, more empowered agents yield better customer experiences, which can in turn yield better business results.

McDonald’s recently became the latest company to join that list.

According to Business Insider, the fast food giant has enjoyed three consecutive quarters of growth in same-store sales, bringing an end to two years of declines.

The “McPick 2” and all-day breakfast promotions certainly helped, but the growth also coincides with increases in another factor:  customer satisfaction.

CEO Steve Easterbrook says Q1 customer satisfaction scores best those of the previous year by 6%.

The news is certainly of the welcome variety for an organization that has a history of receiving complaints from customers.

In a recent conference call, Easterbrook acknowledged two of them:  inaccurate drive-thru orders and slow service.

The two vexing issues often go hand-in-hand; the time wasted fixing one customer’s inaccurate order increases the wait time imposed on other customers.

McDonald’s quest for growth naturally required a commitment to customer service, which thought leaders increasingly identify as a core business driver.  And in a customer management climate that recognizes the link between happy, knowledgeable agents and happy, satisfied customers, that commitment naturally resulted in a push toward a greater employee experience.

That push included two key tenets.

Better Pay

We can pontificate about the importance of intellectual and emotional satisfaction in the workplace, but let’s be honest:  people work to make money.  The amount of money an employee makes is of undeniable importance.

That is not to say businesses should not be strategic about how they determine compensation.  It is not to say that intellectual and emotional satisfaction are irrelevant.  It is not to say that increasing base salaries will automatically cure the workplace of all sources of dissatisfaction and inefficiency.

It is, however, reason to believe that increasing wages will lead to happier, more loyal employees.  Those happier employees will have more motivation to perform and more reason to stay.  Both outcomes – better productivity, better retention – result in a better experience.

Wage increases have been a focus for McDonald’s, which increased wages from $9.01 to $9.90 at company-owned stores last year and plans to lift hourly pay to over $10 by the end of 2016.

The company has also introduced an opportunity to earn paid vacation time.

Company-owned stores only employee about 10% of the retail workforce, but an increase in wages at the corporate stores obviously places pressure on franchisees to do the same (a situation some franchisees, sadly, did not appreciate).

Per Easterbrook, the pay increases have made the desired impact:  survey scores are up, 90-day turnover rates are down, and the restaurants have more staff.

In short, the agents are happier and more loyal.

McDonald’s thus has undeniably stronger human capital, which serves as a valuable asset when working to improve the customer experience.

Better Training and Practices

Happy, loyal agents are inherently beneficial to customer experience strategy.  Their happiness will lead to more pleasant interactions with customers – and with other employees.  Their loyalty will lead to longer tenure, which results in a greater ability to accumulate product and process knowledge and thus a greater ability to efficiently and effectively serve customers.

Driving happiness and loyalty is not, however, the only means through which a business can improve performance.  Improving processes and strengthening training can also make a significant impact.

Training cannot be a disengaged, “set it and forget it” endeavor.  It needs to draw from actual customer and agent insights.  It needs to identify legitimate strengths and weaknesses within processes and the staff to accentuate the former and eliminate the latter.  It needs to evolve and transform based on changes in business objectives, marketplace conditions, and customer expectations.

Processes must similarly evolve.  They should empower the business to achieve its objectives rather than serve to bottleneck success.

McDonald’s has focused on improving both over the past year.

One example?  The introduction of the “ask, ask, tell” approach to drive-thru orders, which were most commonly plagued by inaccuracy.

By properly verifying the accuracy of each order, the restaurant ensures customers do not receive the wrong food.  It potentially increases the order process by a few seconds, but it prevents delays associated with correcting errant orders.  It, more importantly, prevents the dissatisfaction and frustration associated with such mistakes.

McDonald’s is also training its employees to make the most of those extra seconds.  By improving their ability to suggestively sell/upsell, McDonald’s empowers employees to maximize the revenue associated with each interaction.  And since the customers will not be upset about an inaccurate order or lengthy wait time, they will conceivably more likely to take the employee’s suggestion – and actually buy more product!

Results: For All Companies

McDonald’s is not Disney, Zappos or Google.  It is not famous for an iconic customer experience culture or unforgettable workplace environment.

Few organizations are.

McDonald’s recent success proves, however, that the “happy agents = happy customers” equation is not reserved for certain brands.  It is the driving force behind all business.  Do what you can to improve your agent experience, and they’ll be empowered to improve the customer experience.

Your business will benefit!

The restaurant giant’s changeshave resulted in lower crew turnover and higher customer satisfaction scores.

“More importantly and we are gaining share relative to the [fast food] sandwich segment."

Those are real results – not rhetoric.

Improving the agent experience – from compensation practices, to management practices, to training – is the ticket.