Drivethrough window, fast food, customer service and experience

I don’t patronize fast food establishments often, but when my family and I drive on long road-trips we sometime opt for the convenience and speed that quick-serve restaurants (QSR, industry euphemism) drive-throughs offer. On one such trip I pulled into the drive-through lane of a popular, national chain and experienced a notable interaction with the attendant. As I mentioned, I don’t visit QSRs regularly so the fact that during the past 3-4 times over the trailing 6 months or so I have experienced the same dynamic, got me thinking. At the risk of straining this QSR example too much I think this seemingly minor front-line customer experience offers a telling lesson for all of us seeking to optimize our customers’ experiences and to capture value at all levels of our sales and marketing processes.

It was a typical road-trip day — on this occasion our family was headed from Atlanta to the Florida Gulf Coast where I was attending some business meetings and seeing family. As usual my wife, as co-pilot, was dutifully contending with my admittedly high-maintenance requests from the driver’s seat. Our toddler son was chatting away, watching his DVD and generally reminding us who’s boss. We approached the modest drive-through queu, rolled down the window, scanned the menu options and readied our ordering process. Before I could even finish speaking the final consonant on the first item I was ordering the drive-through attendant barked, “$4.78, pull around to the second window!” A bit taken-aback but having experienced this previously, I responded calmly “there’s more please.” This time I hurried along with my wife’s order and as I began to relay my son’s the attendant shouted, “9.42, second window!” I’ll spare you the remainder, but please rest assured that after some pleading I was able to complete our order successfully and once I met the attendant she seemed like a lovely woman in-person once separated from the 19th-century audio equipment most drive-through systems must still use.

For some reason, though, this attendant and numerous others like her in my recent experience are motivated more to rush me through the process rather than understand my needs, listen carefully and even attempt to up-sell me throughout or wow me otherwise.  Friends and colleagues also attest to similar experiences and I am sure there are good reasons underlying this dynamic. QSRs are about fast service, not necessarily abundant customer service; they want to keep the cars moving so would-be customers are not dissuaded from visiting by long lines, minimize weight time and generally accelerate the system through-put. These are all fine objectives but when obtained clumsily, at what cost do they impact the overall customer experience and engagement with the location and brand? Moreover, what are the immediate missed sales opportunities forfeited by this approach?

Most alarmingly, this type of sales interaction is not limited to the drive-through lane. Consider your recent sales experiences whether they have been within a retail store, at the local bank branch, at a car dealership or even negotiating a major materials purchase or consulting engagement for your enterprise. Very likely we have all witnessed elements of this behavior in each of these settings and may have acted in a similar manner to the drive-through attendant mentioned above when communicating with our own customers or prospects. Oftentimes, we as salespeople are so focused on making the immediate sale and closing the transaction that we miss the larger opportunity or are blinded to the bigger picture — how our actions during the sales process impact the ongoing health of the customer relationship and are prospects for continued loyalty and sales.

In conclusion, here are some simple reminders in the form of questions we should ask ourselves when serving our own customers or prospects at any stage of the sales cycle or customer relationship:

Answer these 9 questions and not only save the sale, but earn a loyal customer.

  1. How have I prepared to communicate with my customer/prospect and serve them with excellence?
  2. Have I been listening more than speaking?
  3. Do I ask open-ended questions when speaking with customers/prospects that get them talking and might reveal important information about how I can serve them best?
  4. Can I clearly articulate the customer’s/prospect’s need?
  5. How have I been demonstrating to the customer/prospect that I understand their needs?
  6. How do I challenge customers/prospects with relevant but provocative ideas for their businesses?
  7. Do I show customers/prospects which of their needs I can best solve while also indicating that I may recognize other issues or needs but would not be best-suited to address them?
  8. Will I slow-down a sales process in order to work with the customer/prospect to identify the larger issues (and consequently likely the much larger business opportunity)?
  9. Will I walk away from a sale if I believe the customer/prospect will not benefit from the deal?

These are merely a few, simple questions that we should all keep in mind as we prepare to add value to our customers and build lasting relationships — at any level of business — the drive-through, the bank branch or the board room.

This blog post originally appeared at