Friday, January 30, 2009

Metrics Can Lead to Poor Customer Service!

We eat far too much fast food. Unfortunately, it is too attractive to us. It is quick, relatively cheap, and simple. Also, we can usually pick up something that the kiddos will eat, or at least not complain about. I think the real kicker often is the quick, and that it doesn't mean having to clean dishes around the house, which is all too big of a plus for us right now.

I was realizing today just how low my expectations have become. No matter where I'm ordering, no matter how straight-forward the order, I expect that there will be at least one mess up. If it's just that they forgot to include straws for the drinks, I'm happy. If it is that the ignored a special order request, despite it having been heard, and ticketed properly, I'm unsurprised. And if it is the failure to include some add-on condiment (like sour cream at Jack in the Box) that I paid for, I'm only mildly annoyed. Which is really pathetic. I should expect to get my food the way I ordered it, all of it. If it doesn't get entered properly when I order it, I understand that, although I get annoyed if it happens after I've repeated myself and corrected the order 5 or 6 times. But, when the order gets taken and entered correctly, but made incorrectly, that is either laziness, carelessness, or sloppiness. And yet, I've come to accept and expect it.

However, the point of this rant is about the other annoying practice most fast food restaurants have gotten into at the drive-through window, asking you to pull into a parking space and wait for your food. I find that this also rarely perturbs me, although it really gets under my wife's skin. When I've ordered something that I know takes a bit longer to cook, and there are several cars behind me, then I have no problem with pulling into a space to wait. My only annoyance at is is that I know I won't be asked about any condiments I would like, and I won't be able to point out any issues I find right away, like I could at the window. However, whenever I get asked to pull in when there are no cars behind me, then I blame metrics. Or, an even better variant that I experienced today: this was one of the places were you pay at the first window, and get your food at the second. There were about 3 cars behind me when I paid, and the car in front of me had already left the second window. I was asked to wait at the first window, and not pull up until I was told that my food was ready.

Clearly, both of these requests are intended to minimize time spent at the delivery window. Having worked in a fast food restaurant in college, I know that things like wait time and time at window get tracked by management. Just like we were warned when the "secret shopper" would be stopping by, and everyone knew who he was, so his order always exceeded the minimum standards for amount of ingredients, the employees are going to do anything they can to boost these metrics if there is either reward or consequence attached to it. Whether it is average wait time, average time at window, or even max time at window, the drive is to improve the measured metric, even at the absolute expense of the customer experience. This isn't all that different from backfiring incentives. Of course, this doesn't apply only to the fast food industry, but is a danger with any metric in any industry. If the metric becomes the be-all end-all, then it's entire purpose has been defeated. This is on my mind right now, because I am now part of setting metrics both for myself, and for the department I'm currently responsible for training and overseeing.