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McDonald’s is Hiring Robots

I’ve written several articles on customer service in the past because it’s a subject that seems to be completely ignored in today’s business world, but something happened this week that caused me to stop and say, “Wow. That’s interesting.”

On Saturday mornings I typically get up early and drive to Starbucks to get a coffee for my wife. It’s just something I enjoy doing for her and I know she appreciates it. Many times I will first go through the drive-thru at Mcdonald’s and get myself a breakfast sandwich, then go to Starbucks afterward so the coffee it still hot when I bring it home to her. I’ve always been fascinated by the contrast in the customer experience between these two businesses. McDonald’s employees typically have a very lackadaisical attitude at best, while Starbucks employees seem to genuinely care about getting my order correct and engaging me with a smile at the drive-thru window.

This last Saturday though, something was different at the McDonald’s drive-thru. As I pulled up to the speaker, a very pleasant voice said, “Thank you for visiting McDonald’s. May I please take your order?” Full confession, I’ve been through this McDonald’s many times over the last few years so when I heard a delightful voice coming through the speaker, I had a delayed reaction as I looked at the speaker to make sure I was actually at McDonald’s. After giving my order, the voice then said, “Let me repeat your order to make sure I have this correct. You’d like a sausage and cheese biscuit sandwich and a small iced tea. Is that correct?” At this point, I realized something was a little odd about that voice. Although it was a very likable voice, it sounded slightly robotic in tone and speech pattern. I said, “Yes, that’s right.” The voice then said, “Excellent. Your total is $3.23. Thank you for your order. Please pull around to the drive-thru window.”

As I got to the window and handed my debt card to the employee, I asked, “Was that a real person taking my order?” She chuckled and said, “Everyone is asking me that. It’s actually a “bot” (robot). As she handed my debt card back, I simply said, “Fascinating.” As I rolled forward to the next window to get my order, the employee at that window barely even looked at me and almost dropped my iced tea on the ground because I didn’t even have a hold of it yet. As I pulled away, I thought to myself, “That’s exactly why McDonald’s felt the need to hire a robot. Their employees can’t even handle the most simple interaction with the customer.

As I got to Starbucks though, their employee was able to take my order with pleasantry and professionalism. I wondered what the difference might be? I have to assume it’s their level of training from management. I’ve never worked at a McDonald’s or a Starbucks, but I know they both pay about the same wage of $15 per hour (average) so it can’t be that Starbucks is getting a better level of employees by paying them more money. I guess it’s possible that Starbucks is a little “cooler” than working at McDonald’s so maybe McDonald’s is forced to take whatever they can get? I still think you can take the same people and give them a better level of training and accountability though.

Clearly, McDonald’s has given up on this idea and chosen to hire robots that will be more consistent with their customer interactions. To be honest, during this visit I spoke with two employees and one robot and found it ironic that their robot actually had more personality than the two employees! It made me wonder if one day I’ll go to Mcdonald’s and everyone working there will be robots.

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