McDonald's to workers: Customers aren't the enemy

Finally, the fast-food giant has heard enough complaints about 'rude employees.' Fixing that problem could make a big difference.

By Jonathan Berr Apr 11, 2013 10:53AM
A sign outside the fast-food chain McDonaldMcDonald's (MCD), which has struggled to jump-start sales at its more than 33,000 restaurants around the world, finally realizes the public has grown tired of the virtually nonexistent customer service at many locations.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the company has told franchisees that it is getting "mounting complaints about rude employees." This comes as no shock to anyone who has visited a McDonald's in recent years. For too many of the chain's workers, customers are at best a nuisance that they barely tolerate.

Rarely do McDonald's workers apologize for screwing up an order. Most barely even acknowledge the outside world. I've patronized the same McDonald's every Friday for years, and I was pleasantly surprised recently when the drive-thru employee who has taken my order for as long as I can remember said hello to me for the first time. Alas, he hasn't done it since.

I am mindful that working at McDonald's isn't easy. The pay is low, and the stress is high. Employee turnover, not surprisingly, is a huge issue for McDonald's and other fast-food restaurants. If McDonald's wants to improve customer service, one way to start is by encouraging its franchisees to treat their workers better. 

One model for the Golden Arches to consider is that of Chick-fil-A, which tops consumer ratings when it comes to friendliness.

Customers at the closely held chain are treated well. Employees will go around to tables asking people if they want a free refill on their drinks or if they want a dessert. Some nights feature family-friendly entertainment such as magicians.

To be clear, Chick-fil-A customers aren't going to think they're in a five-star restaurant, but the attention to detail is nice. It also has paid off. Last year, Chick-fil-A reported sales of $4.6 billion, a 12% gain, which is impressive given the negative publicity it endured over its opposition to gay marriage.

Like Wal-Mart (WMT), McDonald's has positioned its brand around value. That strategy worked when customers were pinching pennies while the economy endured its worst downturn since the Great Depression. As the economy gets better, however, people are less willing to put up with shoddy service and will pay more for a product if they get something in return.

For McDonald's to get out of its slump, it will need to convince people that it provides more than just cheap food.

Jonathan Berr owns a small stake in McDonald's. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.

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Apr 11, 2013 12:13PM

Both McDonalds and Walmart should take a lesson from what happened at Home Depot a few years ago. Home Depot began rewarding managers if they could cut back on the numbers of employees they had in stores which they did. As a result people couldn't find anyone to help them and left frustrated, sales tanked, the stock price tanked and Lowe's was eating their lunch until they finally smartened up. Now when you go in a Home depot one can usually find someone for help when needed. Sales picked up along with the stock price. This isn't rocket science, treat people lousy and they will go elsewhere.

Apr 11, 2013 12:59PM
According to Payscale, a website with wage information, Chick-fil-A pays employees 1% above market, while McDonald's pays 3-4% below market.  Appears that you get what you pay for...
Apr 11, 2013 1:04PM
It is amazing that these companies spend billions in brand advertising, but neglect to control customer service at the point of sale.  To most people the interaction they have with the minimum wage order taker IS the company.  One rude employee cancels billions of dollars worth of advertisting.  Training and rewarding your employees to be nice to customers has the biggest return on investment.
Apr 11, 2013 1:17PM
In an attempt to spread the blame around, part of the reason the employees are rude is because they deal with jerk customers who seem to think they are at a 5-star restaurant and are entitled to be treated like royalty.

I find that in general, if you treat the people who are handling your food nicely, then you will receive better service.  Now, if a cashier has had a string of jerks in front of you, there's not much you can do.

Maybe if we all started treating people just a bit nicer, this wouldn't be a problem at all.  Basic respect and common courtesy could go a long way.
Apr 11, 2013 1:06PM
I was in Walmart the other day looking at some TVs in the electronics section.  An employee came up and said "may I help you".  I clutched my heart and acted as I was about to pass out.  I said "you must be new here".  It was his first day, of course.
Apr 11, 2013 2:00PM
Chck-Fil-A also offers their employees reimbursement or scholarship money for school for their young employees.  They are closed on Sunday's because Mr. Cathy, Founder and Owner, believes that all employees should have the day off  to spend with their families, go to church (if they chose), etc.  He also said that if you haven't made your money 6 days of the week, you're not going to make it in one day.  Agree or disagree, he is admired for his convictions.
Apr 11, 2013 1:26PM
When a new McDonalds opened in my fairly upscale neighborhood of Thousand Oaks, CA, I was thrilled that I could finally get my "senior" coffee closer to home.  After listening to the owner,( who also has several other franchises and is a very wealthy woman, who only hires, mostly young Mexican workers at very low wages, with almost no benefits), and what she expects from these workers, I just  decided to make my own at home.
Apr 11, 2013 1:22PM

All I know is that they get pissed- off if the bill is $9.01 and you give them $10.01, they can't do the math with using the cash register . The can't figure out that you owe me a $1.00

Apr 11, 2013 1:27PM
* Cheap prices with lousy customer service is not a viable long term strategy.  Look at Target vs. Wal-mart.  I rather pay 10 cents more and go and shop at Target versus paying 10 cents less and go to Wal-mart.  Target shopping is a pleasant experience. Wal-mart gives me a headache from messy stores, rude employees, etc. etc.
* The same goes to McDonald's versus Chick-fil-A.  I rather pay a bit more for Chick-fil-A.   I know their food is good and the workers are always pleasant.  I refuse to go to McDonald's.  Their food is one grease pit.  Their employees just don't appear to care.
* Every corporate giant with bad customer service will have its day in the consumer court.  Consumers will be the judge.  They will vote with their wallets.  Remember Blockbusters?
* Customers no longer want the cheapest prices possible with poor customer service.  Those businesses that can deliver good value + a consistent positive customers experience will win in today's tough market..
Apr 11, 2013 1:33PM
My son works at McDonalds, he works a lot of hours with zero benefits, in fact works his a$$ off, Gets Is always kind to customers. Customers treat them like they are their slaves. I hate to say that customers need to realize that the workers are working hard, being as kind as they can be, and if by chance they accidently do mess up the order, don't yell at them, treat them as if this were you working behind the counter trying to make a living. As for McDonalds, pay your workers a decent salary, give them benefits, i.e.. vacation, insurance and a lot of respect. After all you are making billions. If you don't want to spend your money training because your turnover is high, maybe you will rethink your greed.
Apr 11, 2013 1:19PM
Glad to see McDonald's taking this issue seriously. But it's not all on them. The best customer service begins with the customer. Far more often than not, if I treat a service employee with respect and appreciation, I receive the same.
Apr 11, 2013 11:30AM
Apr 11, 2013 1:28PM

Well writen and well said - not often I agree with an article.


I am amazed at the folks McDonald's hires, and I don't mean that in a good way.


I assume its got to be difficult to find fast food workers, and a dream job its not - but instead of teaching people to be nice, hire nice people to begin with.


I mean, Chick fill a has figured it out - how tough is it to smile, say hello - and also thank you - a word missing from too many workers today.

Apr 11, 2013 1:30PM
Why do we have to reward for acting like a civil human being.   We all need to treat each other with respect.  This world would be a better place.  And why wait for the other person to do it, it's up to us to take the initiative, believe me others will follow.  Change starts with ourselves, not waiting for others.  You're no better than them if you wait for others to be nice first.  We also need to start teaching our children to be courteous, those are the ones who will be working at McDonald's.  Get a clue people.
Apr 11, 2013 1:28PM
McDonalds and Jack in the Box have lousy customer service, most of the workers cant even speak english and so your orders are all messed up..
Apr 11, 2013 1:20PM
Alright, so the food sucks, is horrible for you, and the service is awful as well. Shows how stupid people are for patronizing this "restaurant"
Apr 11, 2013 1:10PM

Are you telling me that, "Huh?" isn't the correct response when I ask one of them a question?

Hmm, go figure.

Apr 11, 2013 1:32PM
It goes both ways. You want a nice McDonalds employee, treat them with respect. My first job was behind the counter at a McDonalds and I had some appalling things said to me, either about me or directed towards my coworkers. Among the worst was, "I'm glad they're hiring our kind," referring to the fact that I'm white... It's hard to be nice to someone who's that blatantly racist.
Apr 11, 2013 1:17PM

just get the order right and i will be nice

Apr 11, 2013 1:16PM

We need soem Chick Fil-A's here

in the north east..

Yes Mac Donalds are starting to increase

their prices. But the quality of the breakfast

food, is dismal. Give me a dinner anyday.

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