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A recent study indicating that a 90-percent order accuracy rate is considered to be best in class when it comes to drive-thru operations surprised me, particularly from my vantage point in the software as a service (SaaS) industry, in which 99.9-percent reliability is considered table stakes for doing business. What does that say about the industry if one out of every 10 orders is wrong – and that's the gold standard? Some operators even report accuracy as low as 70 percent, meaning three customers of every 10 leave the drive-thru unhappy.

So what's the cost of a botched order? A 90 percent accuracy rate means nine happy customers, right? Well, yes. But that one unhappy customer can be disastrous when seen through the lens of the lifetime value per customer (LVC).

First, consider what happens when a customer has a bad experience at the drive-thru because they get an inaccurate order. They either:

  • Drive back around to complain to the crew staffing the drive-thru.
  • Park, storm into the restaurant, and complain to the manager in the store.
  • Complain to corporate headquarters or
  • Drive off, bite down, frown, and vow never to return again.

To truly understand the bottom-line impact, imagine the fourth scenario. Then imagine that the customer previously visited your restaurant four times a month, averaging $8 per order. Say that customer would have frequented your restaurant for 10 years. Using this scenario, the total LVC of that unhappy customer can be calculated as $8/order times four orders per month, multiplied over 12 months and then again over 10 years. In this scenario, the botched order at the drive-thru is not a potential loss of $8. It's a major event that could lead to the loss of nearly $4,000 over the lifetime of that customer.

Add to that the multiplier effect of an unhappy customer's social network. Restaurateurs are well aware that a negative experience today affects more than just one customer. A delighted customer will take to social media (Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus) and rave about your brand. A vegetarian customer who said "no bacon" only to bite down on an "extra bacon" breakfast sandwich will do just the opposite.

Now we're talking about a real problem. Thankfully, there is a solution.

The first step is determining the causes of order inaccuracy at your drive-thru. Errors generally fall into the following categories:

  • Customer confusion. The customer said they wanted something but changed their mind between the time of ordering and the time of receiving the order.
  • Drive-thru distortion. The customer said the right thing, but the drive-thru operator misheard the order due to faulty equipment or human error.
  • POS slip-up. The customer said the right thing. The drive-thru operator heard the right thing but then mis-entered the order
  • And kitchen chaos. The drive-thru operator got it right, but the kitchen made the wrong order.

The solution to eliminating the majority of these error categories might surprise even veteran operators. The solution is mobile ordering. When customers order using a smartphone or other mobile device, they can take all the time they need to review the menu, make a choice, delete a choice, make another choice, etc., without being rushed by a growing line of cars behind them. Customer confusion is eliminated.

When customers use a mobile device, their orders are sent straight to the kitchen for production. The squawk box doesn't make a peep, and orders are transmitted with no distortion or data entry issues. Drive-thru distortion and POS slip-ups eliminated.

Kitchen staff can still misread the order, or miss any special requests, but reducing three of four possibilities for error will definitively increase a restaurant's overall order accuracy – and maintain the lifetime value of the customer.

So it's time to change the gold standard. Though it changes the paradigm of the drive-thru, a long-loved tradition in our country, it also changes the paradigm of expectations. Customers no longer have to expect that one of every 10 of their drive-thru orders will be wrong. Using mobile ordering, customers no longer have to consider the risk of disappointment when heading to one of their favorite restaurants. Instead, they can choose YOUR restaurant based on your core offerings, your food, your staff, and your level of convenience.

Now that's gold.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Angus McLachlan
    16635474
    Great article. Checkout Boppl app; allows customers to preorder and pay for food and drink at nearby venues. www.boppl.me
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Latest posts by Noah Glass
Noah Glass
Noah Glass is the Founder & CEO of online and mobile ordering pioneer Olo. Since 2005, Olo has raised $13.75M from PayPal and leading venture capital firms. Olo has been featured on “Good Morning America,” The Wall Street Journal, and ABC World News.
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