McDonald’s, Arsenal, and the challenge of Human Automation

You’re reading CX Stories, a newsletter about customer experience innovation. If you want to join the 1000+ lovely people who receive it every month, just enter your email address below.

Success! You're on the list.

Just before Christmas, I found myself in a McDonald’s in Kings Cross at midnight.

If you haven’t been there before, let me tell you. It’s an experience.

A swarming crowd of half-drunk, overly tired teenagers and adults alike. Orders being shouted, people crowd surfing to get to the front. Security guards walking around to make sure everyone behaves.

It was chaos. But, in fairness, it was orderly chaos. Rows of large-screen machines lined up to take people’s orders, customers who knew the process (order, wait, collect, devour), food regularly appearing in a tiny lift from a kitchen hidden away upstairs.

Except, the ordering system wasn’t quite working. I was number 78. The board has everything from 22 to 97 on it. The colleagues looked daze, throwing burgers into bags and shouting out bingo numbers.

A community, wartime-esqe spirit broke out in the group, with big cheers and applause with each order collected, and a few jovial comments:

‘Who ordered 22?? What did you order for it to take so long? Six Big Macs!! Who needs six!’

‘Three McFlurries waiting… at midnight! McFlurries! At least add some vodka to them’

‘What day did you get here?’

You can see how this seems efficient. But yet, talking to friends the next day, we weren’t sure it was really any more efficient than the old way.

And we all agreed that there were parts of the McDonald’s experience that we missed. Seeing the burger appear down the chute. Watching the person funnelling in the fries with that little metal device. The excitement building as you see them starting to put your combination of food in the bag.

It’s clearly effective automation, but how much of the experience has been lost in the process?

This same thought occurred to me a few months ago, when my son received his birthday card from Arsenal. As part of the Junior Gunners club, he gets a card every year, and opens it with great excitement.

Arsenal! They sent a card, to me! And all the players have signed it! All other cards get discarded as this immediately takes pride of place on the mantlepiece, until it gets taken into school for a show-and-tell a few days later.

Not this year, though. This year, he received a birthday email, via my email address, with a gif of some of the players, and a photo of Mikel Arteta’s signature.

No excitement, just disappointment. No show-and-tell, just immediately deleted. Even if you try and print it, it  

In both these cases, automation makes short-term commercial sense. It’s seemingly cheaper, easier, more efficient. It’s more repeatable and needs less people.

But in the long term, perhaps it doesn’t. Those early years are crucial as a football fan, to build that relationship and loyalty to the club that will be with you for your whole life. Those small moments of excitement are the ones you remember when you’re older, that you tell your friends about. ‘But I got a card, from Bakayo Saka! Is a crucial thing to be able to say when your mates are trying to get you to switch teams.

Similarly, I remember many birthday parties at McDonald’s when I was growing up. The excitement of ordering the happy meal, watching it be boxed up, and carrying it to the table. The Ronald McDonald part of the restaurant where you’d sit and feel all grown up. As McDonald’s restaurants increasingly turn into food delivery hubs, will children get that same buzz, excitement, and connection with the organisation? I’m not sure.

Ultimately may not matter. McDonald’s will keep selling burgers, Arsenal will keep selling tickets. Neither is going to disappear any time soon. But what might change is how they make people feel.

And ultimately, that’s what really matters.

Thanks for reading this article, I really hope you enjoyed it. You can subscribe to my monthly newsletter below, and find me in tweet form @johnjsills, in picture form on Instagram @CX_Stories, or in work mode at The Foundation

Success! You're on the list.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s