I admit it, I actually visited McDonald’s today… twice.

First I went to a “regular” one here in Frankfurt and later, in the evening, my wife dragged me into another one, as she all of a sudden really wanted a ‘McD.´ This, however, was one of the “new” ones, and it was a different kind of experience. McDonald’s just announced bad financial results, and I wonder whether this has something to do with how they innovate at the front-line of customer service.  We had to take a number and were put on the „waiting list“. We could even watch a big screen that showed us where we were in the queue. Unhappily, it took 723 Seconds for the one employee sweating her way through all the orders to complete our standard order.  Meanwhile the burgers were piling up behind her for all the people waiting in line. I asked her in a friendly matter if this was a new way of defining “fast food,” and she complained about this new system as the worst thing ever, and that she had to do this all alone.  Maybe this innovative ordering approach is for some “old news” but this was actually my first visit to the “new era” of McDonald’s. I was later informed by my good friend, Google, that this format has already been tested in Germany for 1 year and is now obviously being rolled out on a wider scale.

As we sat down to eat, I started looking around and noticed that people were not ordering in the same line we had waited in. In fact, they were using the “quick-screens” (soon to be replaced by apps and iPads for quicker ordering systems) positioned at the entrance of the restaurant.  Suddenly it was clear: this take-a-number step is the last one “in between” what McDonald’s intends to be a new frontier… the ultimate efficiency: no employees. Or perhaps I should say, no human employees.

As I returned home later in the evening, I was writing an E-Mail to one of our speakers at the marketing & innovation forum europe in February next year, Sarah Miller Caldicott, who has written several books on innovation. I visited her page and I found her latest article “Will Starbucks eat McDonald’s lunch?”  where she refers to recent debates at McDonald’s on minimum wages and the changes a big competitor – Starbucks – has undertaken to subsidize workers’ online college degrees.

I came back to my earlier experience this evening, as I believe that this may be the wrong debate; the real question should be, Does McDonald’s really need employees at all?  I mean flesh-and-blood human beings working in the restaurants?  We are now definitely only months away from having the order process completely manually removed. Adieu friendly faces, and, bye-bye “would you like another napkin with that?” The only one small hurdle left is the stupid cash that we are still using, and it probably does not make much sense for McDonald’s to invest in having that integrated into the new systems. But still, it will not take a long time before we are handling everything with their our phones or app-driven screens.

So that should take care of the “minimum wage” debate, shouldn’t it?  But why even stop there? How difficult is it really to automate the fulfillment/production process of these menus?  Can´t robots already handle similar tasks? Next year, cars will be driving by themselves… how hard can it be to flip a burger? (no offense intended here, as I believe most of these things can, and will be, digitized in the future.)

Isn’t all this great for McDonald’s though?  Now they can have the employees simply order and eat food on the other side of the counter, instead of being a part of the “costs” side of the company. This can be an advantage in a hyper-competitive industry, with everyone competing to lower costs. And while I am sure that the new McDonald’s experience in Frankfurt has nothing to do with their overall deteriorating financial results, it still throws up some questions to reflect upon:
– while the automation of retail operations is important, the question is: will innovation at the front-end of the customer interface be possible for every business?
– will a company that delivers a service benefit from innovating ahead of others?
– or how long will it take until consumer accept a restaurant service experience without a human touch?

However in this case I would even ask if this is innovating beyond the reason? When it comes to technology innovation, shouldn’t we ask ourselves sometimes: “just because you can, does it mean you should?”

We will probably – or should I say hopefully – figure out other things to do as a species as technology speeds up the process of replacing human activity in the workplace. If not, we can always go back and get our online college degree and work for Starbucks

#futureworkplace #newjobs #freakyexcitingtimes


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