Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Long-Distance Journey of a Fast-Food Order

The NYT has an article on outsourcing fast food order taking. They are doing it with 17 year old California kids.

Customers pulling up to the drive-through menu are connected to the computer of a call-center employee using Internet calling technology. The first thing the McDonald's customer hears is a prerecorded greeting in the voice of the employee. The order-takers' screens include the menu and an indication of the whether it is time for breakfast or lunch at the local restaurant. A "notes" section shows if that restaurant has called in to say that it is out of a particular item.

When the customer pulls away from the menu to pay for the food and pick it up, it takes around 10 seconds for another car to pull forward. During that time, Mr. King said, his order-takers can be answering a call from a different McDonald's where someone has already pulled up.

The remote order-takers at Bronco earn the minimum wage ($6.75 an hour in California), do not get health benefits and do not wear uniforms. Ms. Vargas, who recently finished high school, wore jeans and a baggy white sweatshirt as she took orders last week.

The call-center system allows employees to be monitored and tracked much more closely than would be possible if they were in restaurants. Mr. King's computer screen gives him constant updates as to which workers are not meeting standards. "You've got to measure everything," he said. "When fractions of seconds count, the environment needs to be controlled."

Speed and sales volume are not the only factors driving remote order-taking. CKE Restaurants, for instance, wants to improve customer service. It plans to start taking remote orders in September at five Carl's Jr.'s restaurants in California, with a broader deployment after that.

CKE said its workers were strained doing numerous tasks at once — taking orders, helping to fill them, accepting cash and keeping the restaurants clean.

Accuracy problems at the drive-through "are a result of the fact that the people working them are multitasking to the point they forget details," said Jeff Chasney, head of technology operations for CKE.

Mr. Chasney said the new system could help lower barriers in language and communication. Often, in California in particular, he said, the employee may primarily speak Spanish, while the customer speaks only English — a problem that can be eliminated with a specialized call-center crew.

"We believe we raise the customer-service bar by having people who are very articulate, have a good command of the English language, and some who are bilingual," he said.

Some 50 McDonald's franchises are testing remote order-taking, some using Bronco Communications. Others are using Verety, a company based in Oak Brook, Ill. (also the home of McDonald's), that has taken the concept further by contracting workers in rural North Dakota to take drive-through orders from their homes.

A spokesman for McDonald's, Bill Whitman, said that the results of the test runs had been positive so far, but that it had not yet decided whether to expand its use of the technology.

The system does sometimes lead to mix-ups and customer confusion. The surprised customer will say to the cashier, "You didn't take my order," said Bertha Aleman, manager of the McDonald's in Pleasant Hill. For the last seven months the franchise has used the Bronco system to help manage its two drive-through lanes at lunch.

Ms. Aleman said that, over all, the system had improved accuracy and helped her cut costs. She said that now she did not need an employee dedicated to taking orders or, during the lunch rush, an assistant for the order-taker to handle cash when things backed up. "We've cut labor," she said.

The call-center workers do have some advantages over their on-the-scene counterparts. Ms. Vargas said it was strange to be so far from the actual food. But after work, she said, "I don't smell like hamburgers."


Blogger Lei Lilawadi said...

I liked your article and it inspired me to write about another side of outsourcing. One that is not driven by companies, but by consumers.

Read for yourself at
The article is titeled
'McDonalds and Medical Tourism'

10:14 PM  

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