What do you do when the systems go down?

A family trip to Stirling a few weekends back led to a lunchtime visit to McDonald’s in the city centre.

But at the front door of the restaurant, a member of staff stopped us coming in any further and said ‘Sorry, we can’t do anything today all our systems are down’. So off we went to Debenham’s Cafè instead.

And on the way I got thinking about that response and what’s going on inside the business.

How can it be, that they can’t sell burgers and fries when the system goes down?

What system is it that’s down anyway? The grills and ovens? From what I saw before being pushed out the door they were in full flow. The lights, the power? All seemed to be working fine.

The member of staff didn’t help by providing any explanation but, let’s assume, based on previous trips to McDonald’s and knowledge of how their systems work, that what’s actually ‘gone down’ is not the ability to cook food but rather the automated process of making and fulfilling orders.

An inconvenience for sure, but is it really so mission critical that they could not take an order and cook a meal without it?

Perhaps it was the payment system, the tills. Is the process for ordering and taking my money so complex that they couldn’t have told me what the meal cost and taken cash?

How your business responds when the systems go down is a choice.

Unless it’s not a choice and by that I mean if you’ve trained your staff only to follow the system…if they don’t know anything else other than how to follow the instructions on the screen, then of course you’ve lost that choice and you would have to close.

And if the system’s so important and the human beings aren’t…then surely you’re just one small step away from an entirely automated business with no human beings at all.

On that note, I experienced a recent British Airways flight where the system for taking payments for the trolley service went down. The cabin crew took cash and card payments, processed them by hand, physically wrote out receipts and even worked out the change and the Avios points IN THEIR HEADS. Amazing. But of course it shouldn’t be, really.

Train your staff well beyond the system. And if things go wrong and you do have to compromise your service delivery (or switch things off entirely) think about how you communicate that message to customers and the message it sends out.

That member of staff at McDonald’s in Stirling made no attempt to persuade us to come back later, or tomorrow. It was as though she didn’t care.

And you know what, I don’t think she did.

And I’m sure that’s not the message her bosses would have wanted her to send out.