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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

Where's the Beef?

What’s wrong with customer service and how to fix it long-term.

Author's note: I am on vacation. In an effort to truly unplug for the first time in about ten years, the next two blogs will take on the form of a "greatest hits." An earlier version of this blog was originally published over at PromoCorner in 2017. While it may be seven years old, the story - and lesson - is just as true today. I hope you enjoy!

I happen to enjoy food in many forms, from the exquisite sushi experience that only Nobu can provide to a homemade batch of true Texas Chili (no beans, ever). However, I don’t think there is any meal more perfect than a cheeseburger dressed simply with lettuce, mayonnaise, and red onions. One Saturday about six years ago, I wanted – no, I needed – a cheeseburger.

It had been a long day of cleaning the house, and I was settling in to watch my beloved Texas A&M Aggies play football. As the first quarter turned to the second, my bride and I looked at each other and proclaimed that we were hungry. More importantly, we also made it clear that neither of us wanted to cook, which meant someone had to leave the comfy confines of our home to procure sustenance. Being adults, we settled it in true grown-up fashion: we played rock, paper, scissors. Thankfully, I know her penchant for always picking paper first, allowing me and my victorious scissors to remain in front of the television.

We settled on Hardee’s as we both wanted a cheeseburger because, candidly, the similar options from the usual fast food chains just weren’t that appealing. After about 20 minutes, she returned, and I eagerly met her in the kitchen, ready to devour my meal.

As I pulled the burger box out of the bag, I began to have my usual white-knuckle experience as fast food orders tend to be wrong about 93 percent of the time; things like mustard instead of mayonnaise, the addition of pickles, or even the insertion of a vile tomato slice. This, however, was something I never encountered in my extensive history of fast food meal mistakes: My cheeseburger had no meat. That’s right, I had been given a bun dressed as ordered with cheese, lettuce, mayonnaise, and red onion – just no hamburger patty.

After my wife and I stopped laughing, it became clear that the worker who processed the order took the statement “lettuce, mayonnaise, and onions only” quite literally. Looking at my meatless bun, I wondered how anyone could make such a gargantuan mistake. Does Hardee’s have a large clientele that orders cheeseburgers without the meat?

While my empty stomach growled angrily at me, I realized that the Hardee’s employee training was really to blame. In almost every area of customer service, the humanity, logic, and personal connection has been removed in favor of following the system “by the book.” This lack of empowerment and trust in front-line employees is why big, obvious things like a cheeseburger without a meat patty are overlooked without a second thought.

Even if the way the meal was ordered had been confusing, the person taking the order never asked for clarification. Instead, he assumed that some loon wanted a cheeseburger without the meat and followed the order to the letter rather than engaging the customer to ensure that he understood what was wanted. In other words, Hardee’s training doesn’t allow for freedom of thought: it’s executed as quickly and efficiently as possible before moving on to the next customer.

Speed of service simply cannot come at the cost of client experience if a brand hopes to survive long-term.

When front-line staff aren’t empowered to be inquisitive, engaging, and curious, the entire client experience is put at risk: wrong assumptions will take place, big mistakes will be made, important questions won’t be asked, and, worst of all, a lack of true client care will be on display. 

Employees – especially the ones who interact with clients – must be given the autonomy and freedom to think on behalf of the client. If they aren’t, you risk delivering the marketing equivalent of a meatless cheeseburger. 

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