How Not To Do Customer Support (updated)

Update: I’ve heard from McDonalds – scroll down.

While in Whanganui recently (a full review to come), we popped in to McDonalds in Victoria Avenue. I was hankering for a Grand Angus burger.

I went to the counter and was told I would be served in a minute. While I waited my wife went to sit down. After a few minutes she came back to say that she’d cleared a table but that it was too hot inside. I suggested finding a table outside.

After a few more minutes she came back to say the tables outside were pilled with rubbish, and she’d also noticed that all the bins were overflowing.

Standing at the counter (still waiting for service) I could see other signs that all was not well. There were frozen chips and a bag on the floor by the chip frier. Quite a few people walked past, but no-one cleaned them up.

The kitchen was mostly silent. No one seemed to be communicating, and if you know anything about commercial kitchens, a silent kitchen is a kitchen in trouble.

On the counter were three order tickets from the till, the only till in use at 6:30 pm! A server called out an order and a man got up from a seat to collect it. Looking outside, I could see three cars waiting in the drive-through over-flow parks.

The chip area had a huge pile of chips in the warming area. Given the size of the pile I suspect that they batch cooked a large amount of fries and used them as orders came in.

At this point we decided to leave, not having placed an order, and feeling pretty mad.

I called them when I got back to the motel to complain. The duty manager said that she was sorry. That was it. No, “if you’d like to come back…”, no, “we’ll sort those issues out”, nothing.

By way of contrast our local McDonalds in Lower Hutt, is very fast, even at busy times, the staff are friendly, and generally speaking the burgers looks like someone actually cared when they were assembled. On the one occasion I had a complaint the franchise owner called me and thanked me for the valuable feedback, offering some vouchers. I felt guilty taking the vouchers because of the positive way she responded to our complaint. That’s how you buy loyalty.

Anyway, I was so annoyed I took to twitter. I got a response to ring the CS team on a 09 number, which I did today. The person on the phone took the details of the store, and noted my issues with the visit, and then came the clincher. Would I like the franchise owner to contact me about the complaint?

I’d already made it clear that I know how a MD kitchen is supposed to work ( I know a number of people who’ve worked there). I said that the place didn’t appear to run as an MD is supposed to. I was told that as this was a franchise it was up to the franchisee to respond.

I was speechless. They’d already had a chance to respond.

The issue here is not whether this is a franchise or not. This is National  Brand. A customer should be able to expect a similar experience regardless of where they are. If I was the owner of a national brand, I would be extremely concerned about a report of a store (apparently) operating in a way that eroded the brand values. I am not expecting a fine-dining experience, just something that matches what I’ve been used to elsewhere.

McDonalds have now had three opportunities to repair this relationship, and have not done so.

What could have been done differently?

Firstly, the local duty manager should have done more. Not dealing with the issue allowed the complaint to fester.

Secondly, if you use social media don’t make me make a toll call (this one took me nearly 10 minutes), give me an 0800 number or better still get someone to call – “Please DM us your phone number and a time to call”. Take control of the situation, don’t make me do all the work (and pay for the call). Complaints are valuable feedback. Offer me a voucher for the trouble of calling.

Thirdly, I don’t care who actually owns the place – it is a McDonalds. I already tried complaining on-site. If someone has already complained directly, complained on Twitter, and gone to the trouble of making a toll call, you can be sure that they are annoyed. Don’t make me jump through more hoops.

Footnote: I mentioned our experience to a couple of locals – they both avoided the place because of recent bad experiences. I’d still use Lower Hutt McDonalds, but I’m going to be wary of others from now on. And least I did get a response. I don’t ever go to KFC now after their Head Office failed to respond at all to a food safety complaint.

Update (10 Jan 2013)

I’ve just had a call from Kim, McDonalds’ communications manager. They’ve taken on board my criticisms of the complaints process, and particularly how things were handled on Twitter. I appreciated having the chance to expand on a couple of the issues in this post, and hearing about their internal processes for checking that quality standards are maintained in their restaurants.

I understand that the local owner will be looking into what happened that night, as this is not typical for that store, and they don’t have a history of complaints either.

So overall, I am happy with the outcome.

Is there a key lesson? Yes – customers want to be heard, and need to know that they have been heard. Complaints should be dealt with as soon as possible to avoid escalations.

Some general thoughts on this:

Front-line staff should be empowered (and trained) to handle complaints. In this case if the duty manager had said they were under-staffed due to illness, or explained some other mitigating factor (power cut, airconditioning failure resulting in sub-optimal performance)  I would have moved on; every store has bad days, and most customers will understand that.

The easiest way to do this is practice complaint scenarios in advance. Don’t script them, but give staff the chance to free-form, giving them feedback on what worked and what did not. Practice helps staff build up the confidence they’ll need dealing with an upset customer.

If a complaint is made via social media, respond as quickly as possible. On-lookers will see that you are responsive. Facebook allows for long comments, so it is easy to deal with complaints entirely on-line.

Twitter is more difficult, and my general suggestion is take it as far as you can on Twitter and then contact the person directly. It is easy for misunderstandings to occur due to the character limit. You can follow up on Twitter later, although most people who complain via Twitter are going to post something themselves later. In New Zealand I have seem positive follow-up Tweets after complaints made to Air New Zealand and Telecom, so this can work in you favour.

If you have an 0800 number, please don’t make your staff follow a script. I take (as does my whole web team) complaints from users of my company’s website. There are certainly questions that we need to ask every caller, but they can be weaved naturally into the conversation. Allow the other person to talk and ask questions to draw out the information you need. Not everyone will be coherent and forth-coming with information, and not everyone will describe things in the way you expect.

Disclosure: McDonalds is sending out a voucher for my trouble. It’ll be used to get a Grand Angus, which I still think is the best fast-food burger out there. 🙂

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