I post a lot about how new technology is changing retail and the fast food industry. I am not at all concerned about the displacement of jobs brought about by these changes. There will be a rocky transition period but new and creative jobs will be created by those who truly want to differentiate their business.
Here's a story of a fast food restaurant in Austin, Texas that has found a way to use a special employee to create a superior customer experience that is definitely providing added value to the business.
Steering our rental car off the flooded streets and into a parking lot, we noticed that all the spaces near the building had already been filled. We were about to make a run for it when suddenly a tall fellow with an umbrella came streaking across the parking lot toward us. “Welcome,” he said with a friendly smile as he positioned the umbrella above our heads, “We’re really glad you came.” The rain drummed harmlessly against the fabric of his massive umbrella as he shielded our way to the building’s entrance. He opened the door with a flourish and grin. “Have a great meal,” he said.
Angie and I just stared at each other, speechless. This wasn’t the Waldorf-Astoria on New York’s Fifth Avenue. This was Whataburger # 809, a fast food restaurant in a decidedly less affluent part of Austin, Texas. We stood, dumbfounded, and watched the man work his magic for awhile, then I asked to see the manager.
“Are you aware of what this guy is doing out there?” I asked.
“I see you’ve met Solomon Garner,” laughed Marvalee Decambre, his manager. I asked if I might interview the man. “No problem,” she answered, “I’ll introduce you to him and tell him it’s okay.”
“When I leave my house and come to work, it’s Showtime,” he said. “The umbrella service is how people get treated in fancy hotels. No one expects it from a fast food hamburger chain.” I asked if he was having fun. “You have to create your own fun. It’s not naturally here. But yes, I have a good time. I try to set the mood for our guests - help them relax and feel at home - let them know they’re about to get pampered.” Like a pot of your mother’s homemade soup, Solomon’s enthusiasm for his job continues to simmer and bubble throughout our interview. “When I am on my way to work, kid’s wave and yell, ‘Hey Solomon!’ It’s a good feeling to be recognized.”
“Regular customers are openly disappointed when Solomon isn’t on duty and new customers will return two and three times in a week just to see if the doorman thing is for real,” adds Ducambre.
Solomon says, “If you don’t treat customers well, they won’t come back. But if you treat them like kings and queens, they will.”
Clipboard in hand, I introduced myself to ten random customers as they waited in line to place their orders. Three of them had entered the other side of the building and were unaware that there was a doorman. Four of them said they definitely came here more often because of the show that Solomon put on. And two said they had not only traveled past several other fast food outlets, but had driven past another location of the same franchise just to get to Solomon’s place.
Maybe not all jobs will be replaced by customer service positions but technology will level the playing field such that service will be the primary opportunity for differentiation.