McDonald’s hoping tech brings back customers

McDonald’s hoping tech brings back customers

The fast food business is changing. Expectations are shifting, and consumers are demanding more quality in less time. Those who think that’s impossible are not likely to survive in the modern fast food marketplace. McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook is committed to the idea that his brand will not only survive these changes but emerge as the industry innovator and pacesetter.

Continued automation has always been Job One of the fast food industry. What they made was not nearly as important as how it was made, how often, and how fast. That’s been the key to McDonald’s success, much more so than chicken nuggets and golden crispy fries.

But automation behind the counter isn’t enough. McDonald’s is working to be an industry leader in a new technology – self-order kiosks and mobile pay options. These upgrades will have a significant upfront cost but should save the company cash in the long run, as they are able to move more people through the line faster.

The next challenges? Keeping production up with demand and how to avoid human error. Ever seen someone try to figure out a touchscreen on an operating system? Now, imagine that dynamic applied to McDonald’s “billions and billions served.” Recipe for disaster? Certainly.

Other companies that have rolled out self-order or self-pay options have faced these obstacles. Some still do. Customers routinely complain vociferously about the self-checkout lanes at Walmart and the big box home improvement stores. Combinations of human error, glitchy tech, and confusing interfaces have long plagued consumers who just want to pay for their stuff and get out of the store. Legions of self-checkout customers can share stories about “items in the bagging area” that brought an otherwise simple system to a screeching halt.

Having learned from others’ miscues, McDonald’s hopes for a smoother implementation. Test rollouts have already begun in Florida, New York, and California. Boston, Chicago, and Seattle are scheduled to follow in 2017.

The eventual goal is to make standing in line at McDonald’s a thing of the past. Ideally, customers will place the order, find a seat, and their food will be brought to their table. Next, comes mobile ordering. But whether or not the technology works is just one of the considerations in the test markets.

The biggest issue will be whether or not the new technology improves the experience for customers at McDonald’s. If not, you can bet they will be on their smartphones complaining while they wait for their food to be delivered.

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