James on customer experience in fast food restaurants

The Superhero Burrito Lady

Lessons in delivering remarkable customer service from an everyday superhero burrito lady. What small thing could you do to create an unforgettable experience?

It’s 1 o’clock on a Wednesday and I’m standing with a friend in Tortilla (fast food burrito joint), a bit moody with hunger, and eagerly waiting to order my Burrito. The only problem is… So is the rest of London.

I finally reach the human conveyor belt of Tortilla staff where each member is responsible for adding a different component of your Burrito. But temporarily subduing my need to order were the funky sounds of a Latin Mariachi tune. Quickly opening up Shazam (a mobile app that listens to music and tells you the song details) and holding my phone to the speakers, it soon became clear that the murmur of hungry burrito fans was too overpowering for the app to recognise the song.

Just as I had accepted defeat, my friend asked the girl responsible for the addition of salsa what the song was. Struggling to hear the song over the crowd (just like the app), she did the unthinkable – heroically whipping off her plastic gloves, abandoning her station and the mega queue of burrito fans, only to come back to me a few minutes later with the song details written down on a piece of paper – as if she was just doing a favour for a mate. And the conveyor belt continued churning out burrito’s just fine for a few minutes without her. What a refreshing display service.

A couple of days later I met with the Head of Talent & Culture of a large hotel brand to discuss ‘Entrepreneurial Spirit’ as a desired Leadership competency. This was to be modelled by Leaders and cascaded down to enable front line staff to offer service with an ‘Entrepreneurial Spirit’. Whilst the term ‘Entrepreneurial Spirit’ wasn’t exactly defined at this meet, the burrito lady certainly became a pinpoint example.

When it comes to Service, people want to deal with real people, not robots. And acts like this can make all the difference. In a world where technology is taking over, this story highlights that the ‘robotic’ nature of technology (even though apps like Shazam are awesome) is no match for this kind of very human, human service. And even though I was actually already in possession of the song, this lovely lady was able to delight a customer beyond the taste of the burritos she is partly responsible for putting together.

Ultimately, the term ‘Entrepreneurial Spirit’ is a bit of jargon for being a good bloke or blokette, and serving a customer in a way that hasn’t necessarily been given the green light by the ‘Customer Service Rule Book’. So when it comes to leading a Service with ‘Entrepreneurial Spirit’, or just generally enabling your people to be a good bloke/tte to customers:

  • Unshackle your people from rigid process
  • Encourage them to ‘break the rules’ (within reason)
  • Don’t scare them away from using common sense to find ways of pleasing the customer that are outside of the ‘smile and nod’ guidelines
  • Lead with personality, allowing your people to serve customers with their own

How do you interpret the term ‘Entrepreneurial Spirit’? Do you think its jargon? And how do you enable your people to serve with it?

James Hynes