Believe it or not, this post started out a lot longer, but I radically chopped it up and got to the point. And lest you think this blog has gone to the evaluation of restaurants, this is actually a discussion on customer service. So just keep reading and you can catch up later.
By the way, as a quick aside, this photo is of a "Gino's Giant". That has no bearing on the article except that Gino's isn't either of the two Fast Food Joints discussed here. And, of course, as a matter of disclosure, I worked for the Gino's corporation back in high school. But I digress…
There's this giant megacorporation I'll call Fast Food Joint "M". There's another Fast Food Joint we'll refer to as "C". Last week I went into "M"; Between eight people on duty, not a single one, not even the cashier, even acknowledged my existence. They made eye contact, but there was no effort to recognize that a customer was waiting alone at the counter. Ultimately, the cashier shuffled over to the register and looked up; not a "Thanks for coming, what's your order?" or even a grunt. Made my order, which required repeating twice. Then upon getting the order, of course, it was wrong. Returning to the counter, there was one person ahead of me. They were also getting the same treatment, but it was taking even longer. I stood there with my bag, hoping that just one of all of these people would realize, "Hey, we must have made a mistake, let me see what is going on", nope, nothing.
At "C", the place was packed; yet there are five employees. Everyone is hustling, taking orders and turning orders around. The manager is even involved and as customers come up to ask for refills, she is also covering those as well. I am spoken to by several of the employees, asked about my order, and thanked when the order is processed. But it takes a little longer than expected, as it appears they are training one of the people in back. The bag comes and it is correct, but I get an apology anyway.
Fast food management doesn't seem to encounter anything like this level of service at any "M" I have ever been to. At almost every "C" I have visited, however, I sense that they have a higher purpose and they pride themselves on what is turned out. At "M", there is plenty of hype from the corporate HQ and there are expensive promos and new restaurant styles. At "C", the store is nice enough, but the focus is on polite manners, courteous service, and good food. Personally, the experience at "C" is much more enjoyable.
I have gone to visit fire stations and when I walked in, other firefighters have stared at me like I was from Mars, but none ever took the time to ask me what they could help me with, or why I was there, or even to just say "Hi". I have been in some memorable houses where I have been given gold plated tours of the facilities, coffee, offered dinner, and all before I even identified myself as a firefighter. I realize that this last situation is pretty unreasonable, but I don't even expect that; I just ask that you address my being there, ask if there is anything you can help me with, and engage me if I happen to show an interest or have a question.
The "M" experience is not one I would ever tolerate in any of my stations. The "C" experience is more like it. The last time I checked the news, we, that is, the collective fire service, have a problem with getting the things we need to do our jobs. Our staffs are being cut, stations and companies are being closed, and funding chopped. Actually, the only thing that seems to be increasing for municipal fire departments is taxpayer frustration at what is considered an overfunded concept, coupled with what is perceived as having no tangible benefit.
Based on my consumer comparison between "M" and "C", if these were fire departments, which of these do you think I might choose to fund? The surly, uncooperative, and overstaffed "M"? Or the pleasant, courteous, and efficient "C"? You can polish your image all day long with fancy marketing and spiffy stores, but ultimately, if your own people don't get the concept, you are wasting your time and effort. As leaders, we need to focus on improving the attitude of our people. The culture of your organization, if you want to survive these lean times, should be focused on improving attitudes and making "service with a smile" the norm, not the exception.