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Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Hot Dog Stand – Customer Service?

At the game I went to the concession stand for some snacks and drinks, to be greeted by a long, slow-moving line. While the second quarter evaporated and the line inched forward, I looked at the hot dog stand operations to see why there was such a delay.

Here's some highlights:
  • 8 enthusiastic people - 5 at the counter and 3 doing prep in the back
  • the counter folks reminded me of a demolition derby, bumping each other and constantly crossing paths
  • the preparation folks were paying no attention - standing and talking
  • supplies (napkins, plasticware, cardboard trays) were on the right end of the counter but condiments were on the left end
  • the menu and prices were on a banner on the back wall of the stand
  • finally, the line was amorphous and confused, people lined up on a server but some also thought it was next available server

If a transaction takes an average of 4 minutes from order to payment per customer per server, a back-of-the-envelope calculation of service capacity is about 75 customers per hour. A person joining the end of this line at its peak can expect about an hour before heading back to the seat, partially due to the absence of training and flow.

From this experience, I saw several general guidelines for improving customer service, based on the pinch points and frustrations of the patrons at the hot dog stand. Consider these 5 items (the examples tie back to my quest of food and beverages):
  • inform the customer what you expect from them – in our example, how to navigate the line was unclear and the menu and prices were not visible until at the counter
  • design flow for efficiency – the servers bounced around to fulfill orders and customers had to cross the line and go to two locations for supplies and condiments
  • train staff on role and assignments – servers were swamped while preparers ignored the chaos while chatting – alternative roles for all staff are required for peak demand periods
  • manage customer perceptions – customers get angry while waiting when they see staff standing around - regardless of the reason
  • create as positive an experience as possible while addressing the customers' needssmile, be upbeat when serving the customer and remain focused on addressing the customers' need, NOT on why it can't be done.

It is not unusual to be too close to this issue to see the gaps and over-servicing areas clearly in your customer service operation – and an outside advisor will review and assess how things are actually done, not influenced by how insiders think things are being done.

Customers want to be heard and receive accurate, timely answers to their questions or concerns. Preferences aside, there are several channels to reach the customer – web site information, interactive topic search, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), employee blogging, telephone tree with simple questions answered by automated systems with an opt out for a real person who can do more than simply read the same web site screen to the caller. For the complex problems, one-on-one service by phone, in person, or by video call gets satisfying results.

The best approach to customer service is to put yourself in the customer's shoes and proceed the way YOU would like to be served.

Don't come to the game hungry is NOT a solution to the hot dog stand problem, even though you may see the second quarter.

Your thoughts?

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Thoughthebrowser said...

Instituting The Sales Prevention Department Policies is a standard function of status-based management.
I was running a conference this summer when a new management representative of the conference logistics contractor decided that rush hour opening day required her to institute a meeting to establish hierarchy, never mind that we had trained their people the previous two days while setting up. The volunteers took over and met the need. Thinking, planning, writing are all good ahead of time, but when it's show time, do something!

Unknown said...

The Man Who Sold Very Good Hot Dogs
There was once a man who lived by the side of the road and sold hot dogs. He was hard of hearing so he had no radio - he had trouble with his eyes, so he read no newspapers and of course he didn't look at television. But he sold very good hot dogs. He put up signs on the highway telling everyone how good they were, he stood on the side of the road and cried out to all that past 'buy a hot dog, they are the best in town'.
And people bought his hot dogs and he increased his meat and bun orders. He bought a bigger stove to take care of all the extra business. He finally got his son to come and help him out with his business.
But then something happen, his son who had been well educated said . . . ' Father, haven't you been listening to the radio or reading the newspapers or watching television? There's a big recession happening right now. The current business situation is terrible in this country - we have problems with unemployment, high living costs, strikes, pollution, the influence of minorities and majorities, the rich, the poor, drugs, alcohol, capitalism and communism '.
Where upon his father thought, ' well my son's been well educated, he reads the papers, listens to the radio and watches television, so he ought to know '.
So his father cut down on his meat and bun orders, took down all his advertising signs and no longer bothered to stand by the side of the road to promote and sell his hot dogs, . . . . and his hot dog sales fell almost overnight.
'You're right, son' the father said 'we certainly are in the middle of a recession'

Unknown said...


The right hand and the left hand always seem to have a coordination issue - this is a valuable example of not thinking things through on a grander scale and how the doers will jump in to fill the void created by the 'avoidable disruption.

Thanks for adding to the conversation.

Unknown said...


If a person plans to fail - they will.
If a person does the things that lead to success - they have a good chance of success, regardless of external circumstances.

The son did his 'research' and presupposed the effect on Dad's hot dog stand. Dad listened and scaled back - the son's prediction came true.

Wonder what the result would have been if Dad just kept doing what made the stand a success?

Thanks for the story, Ron.