The chap in the middle of this photograph – the man in yellow dressed as a member of McDonald’s crew – is in fact pretending. If you have not already guessed (and have never met me), I can confirm that the ‘fake’ member of the McDonald’s team is indeed yours truly! Last week I was offered the opportunity to spend a morning working as a crew member in the McDonald’s restaurant in Brent Cross, North London. I consider myself honoured to have been given this opportunity and am delighted to share with you my experience. I hope you enjoy reading about it as much as I enjoyed experiencing it.
Let me start by clarifying how I ended up being given the opportunity. A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about my Grandmother’s 100th birthday celebrations – if you have not read it, you can do so here. As a result of the post, McDonald’s UK got in touch with me. They were understandably delighted to read about the actions of members of their crew. I was put in touch with their UK Customer Service Director who kindly invited me in to the UK head office for a chat. I have always been fascinated by McDonald’s and excited to be able to talk both about Pauline’s experience and discuss what drives employees to do something so kind.
The McDonald’s UK head office is in a slightly nondescript office building in North London. The unassuming façade hides some very interesting things. As well as containing its own fully functioning restaurant, the building is home to a training centre for thousands of McDonald’s employees. Multiple lecture theatres were full of crew members and managers being taught the McDonald’s ‘tools of the trade’.
One of the things that I have always admired with McDonald’s is how they are able to deliver such a consistent experience across so many restaurants all over the country. It is a challenge for any brand to deliver a consistent experience and McDonald’s in my opinion have become the absolute benchmark. In general, the restaurants look, feel and smell the same. It does not matter where you are in the UK, you can enter a McDonald’s and have roughly the same experience.
The key driver of this consistency is McDonald’s focus on process – they are process obsessed!! As I experienced myself, there is a process for everything and every process is measured rigorously. Where possible, all processes have been mistake proofed, so it is actually quite difficult for crew members to get it wrong. These are relatively simple process management disciplines – yet they are disciplines that many businesses find difficult to apply.
We take for granted how McDonald’s 97,000 UK based employees deliver consistent the consistent experiences we have all come to expect. What I wanted to know is what really drives these people to not just serve up burgers on a daily basis, but also to serve memorable experiences.
This is what led McDonald’s to offer me the opportunity of spending a morning working in the restaurant that is ‘home’ to the four wonderful ladies who made my grandma feel so special. On the 11th June 2014, I travelled to Brent Cross Shopping Centre to immerse myself in their world for a few short hours. Arriving before the shopping centre had opened to the public, I was met by the UK Customer Service Director – he introduced me to a number of people including his Head of Customer Service and the Managing Director of the franchise that runs the Brent Cross restaurant.
About 70% of McDonald’s restaurants in the UK are franchised. Atul Pathak’s Appt Corporation runs 20 of them in London. An incredibly engaging man, it was clear the second I was introduced to him how very proud he is to be part of the McDonald’s family. Becoming a McDonald’s franchisee is not easy – thousands apply every year, but only a small number succeed. As Atul told me:
You have a better chance of winning the X-Factor than becoming a McDonald’s franchisee!
The average tenure of a crew member is 2.5 years – a very impressive statistic for the industry. Atul told me that once you start to work for McDonald’s, it gets in to your blood – metaphorically speaking of course!!
We have ketchup in our veins!!
A wonderful quote from Atul – a quote that sums up how passionate he is about the business that has become his life. It is not just Atul that feels this way. As we enjoyed a freshly brewed coffee, the Brent Cross restaurant manager, Uma, and one of Atul’s senior managers, Lingham both described with great feeling what working for McDonald’s means to them. Uma is a graduate who had intended to pursue a career in HR. She started to work in McDonald’s when she finished her degree – she enjoyed it so much, that it has enveloped her. Like most McDonald’s managers, she started as a crew member and has quickly worked her way through the ranks. Career progression is vital to the success of McDonald’s – Uma is testament to that.
What struck me talking to everyone I did that morning, was the strength of passion they felt towards the company. If you work for McDonald’s, there are great opportunities for progression. They will help you to get GCSEs. They will provide apprenticeships. Once again, there are not many companies around in 2014 that provide all their employees with such a clear path – should they want it.
As I donned my McDonald’s uniform, the Brent Cross team were welcoming me into their family. It felt like a very nice place to be. I spent a few hours doing what they do. I helped to construct a sausage and egg McMuffin. I saw first hand the rigorousness of the ‘production process’. The kitchen is like a finely tuned machine – I felt like a clumsy oaf working alongside the lightning fast crew members alongside me. My teacher was a shift manager called Abdellah. Like everyone else, it was clear how proud he is to work for McDonald’s. Whilst ensuring that I maintained their strict hygiene standards, he too spoke about the McDonald’s family and what it means to him. During my time in the kitchen, Abdellah helped me to make my first Big Mac – it is not that easy to do!
All of the crew members spoke with incredible warmth about my Grandma. They were very moved by the blog post I wrote. Speaking to Atul, Lingham and Uma about Pauline, you could see that McDonald’s to them is more than just a restaurant that serves burgers. They are incredibly passionate about the communities they serve – with customers at the heart of that community. They create emotional bonds with their customers, knowing that these are the strongest bonds you can have.
What they did with Pauline is not a one off – that is just what they do. I did not realise that for the last few years Pauline visited them, they stopped charging her for coffee. Pauline had become part of the family. Standing behind the counter alongside Steven, another shift manager, I observed how the whole team constantly helped, supported and guided customers in the restaurant. It is so natural to them that many customers would not even notice. As the Customer Service Director said to me – ‘it is like seeing CRM happening on a daily basis in the flesh!’
This commitment to people aligned with the focus on consistent process makes perfect commercial sense. That is why McDonald’s is thriving in the UK. They do not care if you just want to buy a coffee. They do not even worry if you only want to use the loo. The loo today a burger tomorrow – they want everyone to feel as though they can become part of their community.
I met two of the other ladies who surprised Pauline – Yvonne and Rubia. Like everyone else, you could see the passion in their eyes. Customer Service is in their hearts. McDonald’s are very luck to have them. They were yet further endorsement of the pride and passion that is making McDonald’s such a successful business. Having spent a morning with these lovely people, I am not surprised at all that they did what they did for Pauline. They will do it all over again today….and tomorrow….and the day after. It is just what they do.
So the next time you visit a McDonald’s, I urge you to do a couple of things. Look around you – take in the local community using the restaurant. Office workers, trades people, school children, mums, dads, grandpas, grandmas. Then have a look at the McDonald’s crew. They will be going about their business with ruthless efficiency – handing out balloons, helping customers to tables, advising customers on what to eat. You will be observing how McDonald’s do what they do. They do it because they are human. They do it very very well.
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