Sunday, January 17, 2010

Respect for People One Cup at a Time

This is a guest post by Rebecca Kane Dow, Marketing and Communications Manager for  CONNSTEP.   CONNSTEP is Connecticut's NIST/MEP affiliate, helping Connecticut's small and midsize manufacturers compete and grow through highly personalized services tailored to the specific needs of companies.  Rebecca is also the voice behind @CONNSTEP on twitter.

I visit Dunkin Donuts far more than I should. With the ease of a drive-thru at most every location and one directly across the street from my office, the convenience of getting a quick coffee is often too hard to resist… or so I had thought.

During one visit in late November, I became incredibly frustrated by having to repeat my order three times at the microphone and then again when I got to the drive through window only to realize, when I got to my office, that my coffee had no cream and all sugar, and my bagel had cream cheese, not peanut butter - exactly the opposite of what I requested. But the real disappointment lie in that, at no time, during that whole transaction, did I get a simple “thank you.”

So, for the next few days, I waited. After the transaction was completed and there was no “thank you,” I waited, and when the employee annoyingly asked, “what?” I simply said, “you’re welcome.” This exercise got me a few annoyed, “thanks” or for the most part absolutely nothing.

I called and spoke with three store managers – nothing changed – and after reading about how Comcast and Dell use Twitter for customer service, I developed the “12 Days of Dunkin Donuts” campaign (as it was the holiday season). Each day, I would use my allotted 140 characters to share my experiences – good or bad (mostly bad) - to illustrate how unvalued I felt as a customer with the hopes of getting corporate attention, and by day three, I got a direct message from the voice of corporate Dunkin Donuts. We chatted, I got a lovely gift of coffee and a travel mug for my time and follow-up calls from the managers of the stores that I specifically highlighted.

Sadly, though, poor customer service seems endemic regardless of franchise, so I continue on with my campaign to highlight the poor customer service culture at the largest coffee chain in America. But what does this have to do with Lean?

The two basic tenets of the Toyota Production System, the genesis of Lean, are “Just-In-Time” and “Respect for People” and they are equal in importance.

During the times I have been inside a Dunkin Donuts, I’ve noticed the successful implementation of some Lean principles including single piece flow, kanban, point of use storage, FIFO and takt time, however, I believe it is the intense focus on takt time or, as they call it, the “customer wait time,” that is partially to blame for the degradiation of customer service. And witnessing how managers treat employees and employees treat each other, the root cause of poor customer service is glaringly obvious - if you don’t work in an environment where there is “respect for people,” then how can you pass respect on to the customer? Dunkin Donuts is out of balance.

DD’s biggest competitor, Starbucks, provides health insurance, benefits and a higher paywage to their employees and the culture of customer service is evident throughout your visit - from the greeting when you first arrive in the store through to the appreciation from the barista when you receive your coffee. Granted their coffee is more expensive, but I feel valued – and that value is worth paying for.

Every customer has choices today – from the customer who buys coffee to the customer who buys actuators or circuit boards or fuel systems – and in this commoditized market, how do you differentiate your company from that low-cost supplier?

Respect and value your employees, they will in turn respect and value your customers.

And don’t forget to say thank you.

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  1. Tim, I really enjoyed this blog post and shared the link with my team. Ironically, Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks, have opened shops within 1/4 mi of each other near my neighborhood. I enjoy a certain type of coffee from each establishment but there is a difference in the overall customer experience. I can say that I did not have the negative experience that is shared in the article. Overall it's an interesting relation to TPS and I agree with Rebecca that "respect and value your employees, they will in turn respect and value your customers". I actually have recognition on my leader standard work as a daily accountability. It's not just a check off but a remind to say thank you while in the Gemba.

  2. Hi Rebecca,
    I had a similar experience with DD in Danbury, CT, just this past Sunday. I got the order home and it was completely wrong.

    This has happened a few times before at the same store - at the counter and at the drive thru. The employees don't seem to have had much training, whether it's taking an order or working a cash machine. Shame on DD management. It doesn't seem to respect either employees or customers. I'll be getting coffee and bagels somewhere else.