Jodi’s Journal: In McDonald’s, observe the ‘experience of the future’

By Jodi Schwan

I was late getting to work the other day, which was fortunate because it gave me more time to have CNBC on in the background at home.

I realize that probably sounds both appropriate and really lame.

Steve Easterbrook

But that’s my morning viewing routine, and that particular morning it caused me to stop what I was doing when I heard the phrase: “EOTF: Experience of the future.”

I turned around to find Steve Easterbrook on the screen. He’s the president and CEO of McDonald’s, the world’s largest restaurant chain, or, as he put it that day “a tech company that serves burgers.”

Before I even realized who was being interviewed, the idea of figuring out what your customers’ experience of the future should be caught my attention. The fact that a huge, established brand was working on it makes this particular example even more interesting.

“Simply put, it’s how do we give customers more choice in what they order, how they order, how they pay and the general experience,” Easterbrook said. “We talk about being customer-obsessed, and we are.”

We are starting to see McDonald’s vision for the experience of the future here in Sioux Falls. When you walk into the new store at 41st Street and Shirley Avenue, I’m guessing the digital kiosks will be the first thing to catch your eye.

Digital kiosks are available for customers ordering at McDonald’s at 41st and Shirley.

I tried them out right before opening day. They’re easy and actually fun to use. They make the ordering experience totally customizable and — for better or worse — include calorie counts with each item. Customers skip the front counter entirely, and their food is brought to their table.

McDonald’s also is adding mobile ordering and payment at thousands of U.S. locations before the end of the year. And, if you ask me, they have nailed their mobile app. It is clean, easy to navigate and offers actual value to customers. I occasionally grab coffee at the drive-thru, and the app rewards me with a free one once I fill up a virtual punch card.

“We try to bring more features that are useful to customers, to make their experience at McDonald’s friendly, more convenient and more fun,” Easterbrook told CNBC.

When you do that, he continued, customers are more willing to share their data. I have to agree with him. As someone who is not inclined to share my information, I’m OK with McDonald’s knowing where and when I buy coffee in return for my freebie.

Even if 10 percent of customers share their data, the business can build a better profile, Easterbrook said, “and our ability to be meaningful to customers is so much more enhanced when we understand their habits.”

McDonald’s now is tackling a final frontier of the customer experience – delivery. The business is testing it with a couple of dozen restaurants in the Miami area and has determined 75 percent of the U.S. population lives within 3 miles of a McDonald’s, so the odds are pretty good that food can be delivered as hot as it would be if you took it from the drive-thru to your home.

“We feel pretty confident operationally it’s going to be smooth,” Easterbrook said.

The evolution to more futuristic restaurants actually started in Poland, where McDonald’s tested in small markets. They’re more agile, and lessons can be learned fast, he said. It’s a good takeaway for any business trying to experiment and innovate. Try out changes with small groups, and quickly learn how they are received.

The proof is in the public’s reaction. And there, I was surprised by how positive it was. The story we ran on McDonald’s new high-tech location in Sioux Falls has been one of our most-read stories in the past month. And on social media, I have seen people post about how much they enjoyed going to the new restaurant. I can’t say I ever remember seeing McDonald’s mentioned by friends in my feeds before this.

No matter how established your brand and your business, the way customers experience it generally should be changing. Businesses need to be aware of that enough to define what the “experience of the future” should be and then execute it. Much harder than it sounds, but the only choice if you want to evolve with your changing consumer.

McDonald’s new high-tech location opens Thursday

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Jodi’s Journal: In McDonald’s, observe the ‘experience of the future’

From how customers order to how they receive their food, McDonald’s has defined their “experience of the future.” Has your business?

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