Thursday, October 09, 2003

McD franchisee in Colo. routing orders through call center

Here's the text:

A McDonald's restaurant operator in Colorado is funneling customers' orders through a telephone call center to improve service speed and accuracy.

Here's how it works: Customers at six McDonald's restaurants in Colorado Springs, Colo., call in their orders on telephones sitting on each table.

The employees at the call center electronically relay the orders, as well as orders made at the drive-through, to the appropriate restaurant's kitchen. The orders appear on a screen in the kitchen, and identify the table or car where the order originated.

Inside the restaurants, McDonald's employees take the orders to the tables and collect payment. Customers at the drive-through pay for their orders and pick them up as they always have.

A seventh McDonald's restaurant, this one in Brainerd, Minn., recently set up the high-speed data line necessary to run its customer orders through the Colorado Springs call center.

Though the call center employs as many as eight workers -- it reaches a peak during busy times -- the system halves the 35 to 40 cents in costs that a restaurant normally incurs to take a customer order at the counter, said Craig Tengler, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Exit 41, an Andover, Mass.-based firm that supplies the system's software.

The call-center workers are trained to urge customers to buy more, so an average order is 10 to 15 cents greater under the new system than an order taken at the counter, Tengler said Wednesday.

Corporate executives in Oak Brook are impressed enough by Colorado Springs franchisee Steve Bigari's idea to expand the call-center test to as many as four additional restaurants by early 2004, said McDonald's spokesman Bill Whitman.

"We see that it has some potential to help reduce customer wait time," Whitman said, declining to release numbers. "It also reduces order time."

Those are magic words to McDonald's, which has consistently ranked at the bottom of customer service surveys and consistently lagged in speed-of-service surveys. CEO Jim Cantalupo, who took over in January, has begun efforts to grade each restaurant's quality and hold the managers accountable.

Bigari could not be reached for comment, but Tengler said Bigari intends to expand the initiative to include cell phones. It's hoped that by early next year, customers will be able to call in orders on their cell phones, with those calls also being routed to the call center, Tengler said.

One possibility is to let a customer hit a number on his cell phone to relay his most frequent order, without having to say anything.

The Colorado Springs restaurants already have set up new drive-through services to speed order times and improve accuracy.

Digital cameras are set up at the drive-throughs to take a photo of each car. The photo is matched to the order that the driver made.

The restaurants also feature new Zoom-throughs.

The Zoom-through drive-throughs have no menu boards, so customers must know what they want. Customers place their order, swipe a credit card, bypass the drive-through line, and pick up their orders at a window separate from the normal drive-through pickup window.

Plans call for a Virtual Zoom-through sometime in the future, in which customers would call in their orders and the payment would be deducted from a prepaid McDonald's card.

The Colorado Springs restaurants also each have an Internet kiosk, and most tables have Internet access hookups.

Separately, McDonald's announced Wednesday it will provide its New York, New Jersey and Connecticut customers with literature and information on how to order their favorite McDonald's food and still stay on a low-fat, low-calorie or low-carbohydrate diet.

The program, to start in January, is part of McDonald's "Real Life Choices" initiative. It is being created in part by nutritionist and wellness coach Pamela Smith.

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