Friday, January 1, 2010

Why local store cultures matter!

It is only fair that I declare that from 1983 to 1986 I worked part time at McDonald's on Dandenong Road in Clayton North, Melbourne Australia. That store was the first metropolitan store for McDonald's in Australia, so we always had a sense of pride in our work. As a young teenager I learnt a lot about teamwork, service excellence, the importance of speed and attention to detail, as well as the importance of staff appearance, manners and the appearance of the store. No matter how busy we were, we had certain standards that simply had to be maintained.

The store has undergone a relocation over the past couple of years and has moved 500 metres east from its original position.
This evening my brother and I went to the store to pick up a treat for our children. The quality of the service that we experienced was so poor that we left the store and drove seven kilometres to a different McDonald's store.

Let me explain our experience. Upon our arrival into the restaurant we lined up behind one person. He appeared to be waiting for his order as he had a drink already in his hand. Another small queue had formed at the other end of the counter and another two people had also created a third queue in the middle of the counter. Given it was 7pm the queues seemed rather small.

As my younger brother had also worked at McDonald's as a teenager we were both amazed at the state of the restaurant. Tables were dirty. The staff appeared disheveled in their uniforms, we did not see a single staff member smile, and after the gentleman before us in the queue left after a brief argument with one of the staff we waited ten minutes without being served nor having any staff member acknowledge our presence. Each of the three queues started to get longer and the people in each of the queues started looking at each other, wondering what was going on.

After a little longer my brother suggested that we leave. I agreed. It was clear that the service standards at this store were not up to our expectations (and I would suggest that they probably weren't up to the standards expected by McDonald's either.). My brother then drove seven kilometres to the North Road store in Murrumbeena South. Our experience could not have been more different at that store.

As we entered the store was clean. A young staff member greeted us with a smile. Both my brother and I had 'special orders' and the young man could not have been more pleasant as he processed our orders. The staff were clean and dressed in the same, clean uniforms. The staff were engaging with each other and the customers and our orders were filled quickly and we were on our way. Exactly as we had expected.

For me an experience such as this highlights the power of a local store culture. While we were waiting for our orders to be processed one of the young female counter staff immediately went out into the restaurant to clean some tables. As soon as some new customers entered the store she immediately went to the service counter to serve them. Everything about the two stores could not have been more different. There literally was a different 'feel' about them.

My assumption is that each franchised McDonald's store is expected to operate according to the same standards created and expected by McDonald's Corporate. So how could our experience at the two stores be so different. I should also note that my brother has had several poor experiences at the Clayton North store, so our experience was not a single event.

The owners and management of the Clayton North store really have a local cultural issue on their hands. The service standards at the store are not up to standard. Full stop. Our expectations were not met, and this is where service excellence starts. Organisations have to understand the expectations of the people they serve and then do everything possible to meet or exceed those expectations. I doubt that McDonald's Corporate would be proud of what is happening to their brand at that store. Improvements are possible. In fact I'd enjoy the opportunity to help the store owners and management to once again achieve the high standards of service excellence that were once the trademark of the Clayton North store. Maybe they could even visit their 'cousins' at the Murrumbeena store a little over seven kilometres away to see what they are doing. After all I suspect that both stores are operating from the same set of service standards. The difference may lie in how the owners, management and staff at each store understand the expectations of their customers. Differences in that level of understanding are often reflected in the local culture of a store and affect how the service standards are implemented. Ultimately the local culture of a store is represented in the quality of the customer experience.

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