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How I became a problem customer for McDonald’s

July 12, 2011

This is my short story of how I became a problem customer to McDonald’s corporation.

I haven’t been to a McDonald’srestaurant in many years, perhaps since my kids, now 18 and 16, outgrew the era of happy meals. Last week I found myself with a 2 hour delay waiting for a train in a suburban station. McDonald’s was the only place around to allow me to get out of the 90+ degree heat so nat that moment othing could have been more appealing than the opportunity to sit down for a nostalgic meal in a molded plastic booth. I’ve heard that the company has changed its product line and menu in response to evolving consumer demand but was still surprised by the variety of new items on the overhead menu. It was quite impressive.

As I was reading the menu board in the midst of a light crown at the register a young man called out from the other end of the counter “cash only, this line open”. I walked down and “meal #14” as if I knew exactly what I was doing. Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought past the enticing picture of the sandwich on display next to the number 14 on the menu. The associate had apparently already rang up the order and announced the total price due. I did not realize I was done ordering. “with a small fries” I continued with no acknowledgement. “Do you have iced tea?” He did not answer but gave me an odd look and set an empty cup on the counter. Again he repeated the price of the order that was due, this time with a little irritation in his voice. “Oh that’s right”, I said, glancing at the soda fountain “I pour my own”. I gave him a $20 or a $50 and waited while he hunted down change at another register. As he returned, holding out the change, he had already launched into his announcement “next customer, this register, cash only, without problems.”

I felt insulted and resolved that I am unlikely to return to McDonald’s anytime soon despite the fact that the meal was pretty good. Sure I understand that it’s not logical to judge a multi-national corporation on the basis of one employee’s offhand comment. But consumers like me are far more likely to respond to emotion than logic in a situation like this.

So, if you’ve read this far then you likely realize that it was not my ability to agitate a single associate that makes me a problem customer to McDonald’s, but the fact that I’ve repeated the story a half-dozen times, posted this blog and am likely to Tweet about it later. My story almost seems like a classic case out of a business text-book on managing customer relations, don’t you think?

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