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Business

Chick-fil-A just took an idea from Starbucks (and some customers may hate it)

Technology solves problems. Too often, it simultaneously creates them.
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Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer on
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New ways, less friendly

A screenshot from a Chick-fil-A ad.

A screenshot from a Chick-fil-A ad.

Some ideas sound so good in theory.

Yet, when put into practice, they bring with them unforeseen complications. Problems, even.

I'm concerned, then, that Chick-fil-A customers may shiver a touch on learning of the chicken chain's latest -- and possibly greatest -- creation.

Chick-fil-A has a big problem. Its drive-thrus are both extremely inefficient and immensely popular.

They're slow. They cause traffic jams. They cause the chain to be slurred as a public nuisance

Why, Chick-fil-A estimates that a third of its customers leave the drive-thru line before buying anything because they're fed up with waiting.

So the company is trying something new. Well, new to Chick-fil-A. It's introducing a drive-thru lane exclusively for mobile orders.

Yes, if you had the spontaneous urge for a fried chicken sandwich, you may be in a long, long line. You may also look over your shoulder and see some fellow Chick-fil-A customer breeze through another line, grab their food and go.

Now where have you seen this before? That's right, Starbucks. Where you stand in line hoping to have a quick chat with your friendly barista. Meanwhile, some surly person pushes through, grabs their pre-ordered drink without so much as a thank-you and wafts away to surl at someone else.

I almost forgot to give you the big sell. Chick-fil-A's big sell, that is.

Jonathan Lassiter, a senior integration leader on Chick-fil-A's Service and Hospitality team, crowed: "The express drive-thru lane is a game-changer for our busy customers and our team members."

So the customers are busy, but the team members aren't? What an odd juxtaposition.

Lassiter calls this "a more streamlined experience." Some might prefer to describe it as "a force-the-customers-to-download-our-app experience."

The Chick-fil-A method is slightly less simple than that of Starbucks. At the latter, you just walk up to the mobile orders, find your name on a cup or a bag, and off you go.

At Chick-fil-A, you'll have to pull up at the so-called Express lane, pull out the app, scan a QR code and only then get your order " from a friendly restaurant team member."

Lassiter explained that this is still better than talking to a friendly restaurant team member: "The lengthiest part of our drive-thru ordering process is the brief wait to get your order taken. The express lane cuts down ordering and payment time significantly, granting customers access to greater speed, ease and convenience when they want it most."

Chick-fil-A believes this new creation is a step forward in personalization. Which, some might snort, is the tech word for dehumanization.

In its testing, Chick-fil-A says its Express customers have loved it so much they've chosen that lane again. Which, perhaps, shows that humans are now far more interested in speed and convenience than in, say, interactions with other humans.

Around 60 Chick-fil-A restaurants are enjoying the new Express service. Naturally, Chick-fil-A promises more. However, talk to many a Starbucks barista and they may tell you that this dedication to app orders isn't quite the nirvana it seems.

People can sometimes make too many mobile orders at the same time, causing a flood with no respite. Then they get angry when their order isn't ready at the promised time. Then they get angrier because it's the morning and they haven't had their coffee yet.

Now it's one thing to be without your coffee, it's another when you're just plain hangry. I fear for many of the friendly team members when they're trying to say "my pleasure" and all they get is a grab of the takeout bag and a grunt akin to that of a dog with colic.

Still, this is the trend for fast food, isn't it? Inspired by the pandemic, all fast food chains are becoming little more than vending machines. You roll up, you speak to a machine, you pay and you go.

What may be fascinating, however, is how much this new system will erode Chick-fil-A's brand image.

When you're known for your (extremely) friendly customer service, will that be eroded as the customer experience becomes less personal? Or, rather, less human?

Or is the love of the product so great that customers really don't care that much about the human side of things?

Perhaps they just say they don't.

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