February 17, 2008

Think back to your last drive-through order. Or maybe your last tech support phone call. Or even your most recent phone call to a store. Can you honestly tell me that you were greeted with clear-speaking, intelligent folks who made you feel valued as a customer? Me either.

In the past few days I’ve had an ongoing parade of interactions that make me wonder if there’s some ultra-secret Lou Ferrigno school of elocution that companies are now using for their front-line employee training.

OK, that might be unfair and maybe I should have used Sylvester Stallone or Marlon Brando or Humberto Brenes, but the crux of the matter is that the people who greet us, answer company phones, deliver information and take our orders can’t speak clearly.


I was tempted to let this degenerate into a “build a fence”, “deport all illegals”, “learn the language or perish” type of post. But I’m not. But don’t be fooled, I still fell that if you’re in this country illegally, either get legal or get out. If I invade someone’s home, the police don’t come by and say, “He’s in your home illegally but the government says he has XXX amount of time to get proper paperwork before we can force him to leave.” But back to clear speech.

Here are the two examples that most struck me recently in the mini quest for clear communication.

1 – Drive-through transaction at McDonald’s

McDonald’s IS my kind of place. There’s nothing like a Big Mac in the morning and their fries are still the best. I enjoy the dollar menu and further jump for joy when they do a two-fer special on Egg McMuffins and any other Mcfood item they put on sale. But I cannot stand it when I’m at the drive-through and I can’t understand what the headset jockey is saying.

How hard is it to put an English-speaking person on the speaker so the order is taken clearly and correctly? It’s nice that they now list out your order on the video screen so you can check it yourself, but when I say, “Big Mac no lettuce, PowerAde and a McChicken” I want the screen to reflect that.

Guess what the screen said back to me the other day. That’s right:

Three Big Macs with extra lettuce
Chicken McNuggets


ARE YOU KIDDING ME? It took me about eight minutes to finally get her to correct the order and when I pulled up to the delivery window I could see that she didn’t understand a word I had said. The bag that was about to be passed to me was larger than my lawnmower. I’m guessing she just doubled the wrong order in hopes that six Big Macs would placate me.

And no, the trouble was NOT the equipment. The speaker system at this particular McDonald’s is state-of-the-art and was just installed a few months ago. Further proof that it works is that when a native English-speaking person has been on the speaker during prior visits, my order, the weather and all manner of other topics have been discussed via speaker without any issues.

2. Foxwoods Resort Casino

(at this stage of the game I’m thinking this should be a podcast and not just a blog entry, so it might turn into a Bowl of Cheese podcast)

I called the casino this morning to make sure my 2-hour drive south wouldn’t be for naught. I wanted to find out what tournaments were scheduled today and what satellites would be offered. The reasoning was that I didn’t want to jet down to Connecticut for a tournament that wasn’t happening and I figured a phone call was the simple way to find out. Not correct.


After being dumped from their automated phone system twice—voice recognition is still not the best technology—I got in touch with a friendly operator. I could understand her. She routed my call to the poker room and suddenly it was like that night I went to meet my friends at the Portuguese bar and found myself drinking alone for 40 minutes before I realized I ‘might’ have taken one wrong turn.

Let me assure you that mangled French and limited Spanish are not substitutes for a knowledge of Portuguese. Onward…

No, the people at the poker room weren’t from another country, more like from the land where talking with your mouth full or mumbling your sentences is standard practice. The woman who first answered spat her name and some other syllables at me and I just guessed at what she said. Then I explained I wanted to check today’s tournament schedule. She transferred me to the guy who inspired this post—Andre the Giant.

Because we don’t yet have Jetson’s viewphones, I can only imagine his visage but this guy talked as if he were pulling a train with his teeth and eating an 11-pound pizza at the same time. I had to ask him to repeat the tournament schedule three times before I sort-of figured it out. But to be sure I spoke it back to him twice and got him to grunt in the affirmative both times.

Why do businesses let people who can’t talk even touch their phones? Is it a political correctness thing? Get over it. Some people are good at communicating and some are not. That’s just the way it is.

Sadly, the same people who put these morons on their first line of defense are the ones who often miss the point of sarcasm and ignore genuine feedback. Not to wrap this up with poker, but Sitboaf and I have been playing poker in NH for about three years now. In that time we have seen multiple rooms open up and multiple rooms close.

We are trained in advertising and marketing and have offered our services FREE to these people to keep their rooms running along seamlessly. But they have declined our offer and more often than not are out of business in a matter of months. It just happened at the Big Bear Cardroom and who knows which room is next.

I wish people would listen. And I wish they would learn to speak.

Can you hear me now?

More to come…