McDonald's customers just got great news. It began as an engineer's bit of fun

Sometimes, it just takes the ingenuity of a casually bystanding engineer to completely change a passionate customer's mood. And teach a huge company a lesson.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

Why go there, only to discover there's no ice cream?

Think of it as a business problem.

You have a product customers love to distraction. The only kink is that whenever they go to your store to buy it, there's only a small chance they can get it. Which means you don't make as much money as you should.

Now think of it as a customer service problem. Because of your business problem, your customers increasingly snort at your very being and this leads to you not making as much money as you should.

This absurd pickle has been going on at McDonald's seemingly since Ronald was emerging from Ma McClown's womb.

The burger chain's soft-serve ice cream is utterly wonderful. It reminds me of the sublime ice cream I used to buy from an truck that played shrill tunes as it rolled down our street.

Yet, if I go to a McDonald's to buy it, the refrain may be familiar: "Sorry. The ice cream machine's not working."

This is often something of a mistruth, but we'll come back to that.

Let's instead hail software engineer Rashiq Zahid. He thought it might be amusing to create a site that would tell McDonald's customers whether the ice cream machine at their local restaurant is working.

It's called McBroken and it's an utter marvel.

Zahid's idea was to create a bot that constantly tries to order McDonald's ice cream, in order to see if the chain's app will accept the order. If it does, the machine must be working. If it says "ice cream is unavailable," then you know what's happened as you've been saved a trip and a lot of very deep irritation.

Zahid explained to The Verge that his bot makes a McSundae order every 30 minutes and McBroken marks the location with a green dot if the order is successful and a red dot if it isn't.

It's become an instant success.

"I just made it for fun," Zahid told The Verge. "But people were like 'Wow, this is the best thing I've seen this entire week.'"

It's the best thing I've seen this entire month. Not only does the site quickly identify the McDonald's locations near you, it offers you blissfully involving statistics about the whole McDonald's ice cream operation.

As I currently write, 7.24% of McDonald's ice cream machines are broken in America. In Philadelphia, the number is 15.62%. In Washington DC, it's almost as bad -- 15.38%. Even in the home of everything technological -- San Jose -- 11.11% of these machines are out of action.

When McDonald's VP of communications David Tovar heard about it, he tweeted: "Only a true @McDonalds fan would go to these lengths to help customers get our delicious ice cream! So, thanks! We know we have some opportunities to consistently satisfy even more customers with sweet treats and we will."

Those deeply embedded in tech -- or merely life -- will recognize unctuous words to mask a serious business issue. Which Tovar may be used to, given that he was formerly with Sprint.

The quiet beauty of Zahid's creation, though, is that McDonald's is internally so embarrassed by its ice cream incompetence that it's decided to give away ice cream for free for the rest of the year. Ah, no that's not quite right. What it's actually done is created a task force.

Indeed, the leader of the chain's National Supply Leadership Council equipment team Tyler Gamble, who's also a franchisee, declared at the annual National Owners Association meeting: "I will not feel that my tenure as your equipment lead has been a success unless we find a way to ensure that McDonald's is no longer the butt of the joke, even with their own social media team."

The words of a true fighter, those. But why did it take so long?

Now back to why these machines break down so often. I understand from chatting with several McDonald's employees that the machines aren't so bad. Cleaning them, however, is so annoyingly difficult that some employees do it carelessly or not at all.

Which merely results in chillingly livid customers.

Zahid's ingenuity is the sort that should have been adopted by the likes of McDonald's a long time ago. If you know you have a big, clear and vastly irritating problem, at least use technology to mitigate it. This is one time when technology can assuage your customers' feelings.

So why didn't McDonald's -- a company that's currently investing hugely in technology -- think of this?

Sometimes, the biggest companies don't quite get to the simplest, most customer-pleasing ideas.

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