Hamburgers, French Fries, And Customer Service

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Ellen Page and the Hamburger Phone in the movie Juno – Photo Credit:  Fox Searchlight Pictures ©2007

Quality assurance (QA) is essential to the contact center— nay the business. I defy you to show me a business that doesn’t need some sort of quality assurance. Whether they actually have it or need more of it is another topic altogether.

QA French Fries

Sonya Stalberger, FCR’s VP of Operations loves to illustrate contact center QA with a french fries analogy. Think about your favorite fast food french fry. A great QA process ensures that if you are at any In-N-Out Burger (my favorite), the french fries will look, smell, and taste like In-N-Out fries— not McDonalds fries. It ensures that the product or service your customers expect from your company is the product they will get consistently.

In-N-Out Quality

in-N-outAfter all of the talk of quality and french fries, I decided to read the book, In-N-Out Burger by Stacy Perman. I’m not completely sure why I chose to torture myself by reading a book about one of my favorite restaurants, having recently relocated to a place where the nearest one is a couple hundred miles away, but I digress.

The book is a must read for any company interested in delivering consistent quality and creating fanatical customers. It’s also a fascinating look at the history of some of today’s iconic fast food restaurants. Without spoiling the story, I want to share a few lessons I gleaned.

The Vision

The In-N-Out mantra was “Do one thing and do it well” and everything they did revolved around that statement. One great example of this is that with very few exceptions, Founders Harry and Esther Snyder never expanded the menu and instead focused on making the best quality burgers and fries.

The book talks about a concept from Bain & Company called “The Innovation Fulcrum.” The concept is that there’s a “point at which introducing new products or services actually destroys more value than it creates.” The Snyders knew what this concept was before it actually had a name and they stuck to what they knew they could do well.

The Best Employer

The company always maintained a strong focus on their employees or “associates.” They always paid more than other similar jobs and well above minimum wage. Part time and full time associates also received excellent benefits and there are numerous stories of people starting out at the very bottom level in the organization and moving to various management positions.

Along with treating their employees well, the Snyders had clear standards for their “associates” (aka employees). According to Perman, “In-N-Out workers were instructed to always smile, look their customers in the eye, and maintain a level of professional courtesy with every guest.” This simple standard aligns with the vision and clearly communicates to each associate what is expected of them.

How often have we used “It’s really busy” as an excuse not to smile and be courteous. I’d be hard pressed to recall a time when In-N-Out wasn’t extremely busy and even more hard pressed to think of a time when the associates were anything less than professional.

The Best Burgers

In an industry where increasing price and reducing cost was the name of the game, the Snyders never wavered in their focus on a quality product. They had their beef butchered and prepared at a facility near their headquarters and they never compromised the meat by reducing the portion or adding fillers. New restaurants were built in a radius where meat could be delivered daily by truck and thus never frozen.

One of my favorite stories in the book really illustrates the importance of the product. Given that the hamburgers were core to their entire business, only store managers could work the grill. In-N-Out entrusted their most experienced employees with the most important job.

In-N-Out really turned the stigma about “flipping burgers” upside down. It makes one wonder why there would ever be a stigma around customer service work. If customers are core to your business, take a page out of the In-N-Out book and ensure that the folks speaking with your customers are treated and equipped at a level consistent with the level of service you want them to provide to your customers.

While In-N-Out may have grown on a slower trajectory than their competition, their standards as a company are such that quality has scaled right alongside the growth. That means that my colleague Sonya and I can go to any In-N-Out burger and the french fries will always be perfect.


Jeremy Watkin
Head of Quality

Jeremy Watkin is the Head of Quality at FCR. He has more than 15 years of experience as a customer service professional.  He is also the co-founder and regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog.  Jeremy has been recognized many times for his thought leadership.  Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn for more awesome customer service and experience insights.

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Hamburgers, French Fries, And Customer Service - Customer Service Life
04/21/2016 9:10 pm

[…] post was originally published on the FCR blog on April 13, 2016. Click here to read the […]


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