OT rant: "customer service" is a cost to be minimized

Remember the 80s, when Nordstrom was held up as an exemplar of great customer service?

That was 40 years ago.

Wandered in to a local Burger King to exploit a coupon, and saw a handyman hanging “order here” signs over the order kiosks that were installed a few weeks ago.

Considering the experiences I have had with other places that installed kiosks, I asked if they were still manning the counter. They were, so I ordered my lunch. Then I asked one employee, who has been there a couple years, if their kiosks offered customers the same obstacles as the kiosks at other stores. Yes, they do. You can’t ring up a coupon, or a senior discount, on the kiosk. Wendy’s and Mickey D’s are pretty stingy with coupons, but BK is prolific. I hardly ever pay full boat for a meal there. I told the employee that it is probably only a matter of time until the “JC” cuts their staffing by one person, and orders them to ignore customers standing at the counter trying to order their food, so they have no choice but use the kiosk, and pay full boat, in spite of the coupon offer they have in hand.

I suspect the stores would be going to kiosk, regardless whether minimum wage is increased, held the same, or cut, because the kiosks are nothing but a dumbed down version of the POS terminals the employees have been using, so the marginal cost of installing them is minimal.



Seems unlikely.

Companies don’t offer coupons out of the goodness of their hearts. They serve a purpose. They allow companies to expand their customer base to more price-sensitive customers without lower their prices to all customers. It’s a classic, legal instance of price discrimination - a non-perjorative economic term just referring to charging different prices to different customers. Coupons, discounts based on customer characteristics (student and senior discounts), time of day discounts (early bird specials or matinee pricing) are all ways that companies can do this.

Burger King wants coupons to be useful - and used - by customers. That’s the point. They offer them so that they can still sell burgers to folks who ordinarily wouldn’t eat at BK (or wouldn’t eat there as often) if they had to pay full freight. This way, they can charge higher prices to folks who are less price sensitive, while still getting the customer that’s paying more attention to price.


Conversation I had at a Wendy’s, shortly after they installed kiosks, when Wendy’s had mailed out some coupons:

Me, standing near the kiosk, to an employee standing near the counter: “how do I ring up a coupon on this?”

Employee: “you don’t. if you want to use a coupon, you need to go to the drive-up”

Conversation I overheard at that same Wendy’s, while waiting for the food I ordered on the kiosk, last week:

Employee to customer standing in front of the counter “you need to use the kiosk”

Man “I can’t use cash here?”

Employee: “no”

Man walked out empty handed.

Remember when oil companies offered their own credit cards? The oil company credit cards were a means to build customer loyalty, until the late 80s. Then gas stations started imposing a surcharge on people using the oil company’s own credit card, effectively punishing their customers for using a company provided loyalty program.

Somewhat reminiscent of management’s attitude at RS, by the end of the 80s, an attitude that their customers will put up with anything, to be able to give their money to the company. I heard the President of RS, with my own ears, say “we do people a favor when we sell them our products”.

Steve…has seen this “merchant as center of the universe” attitude before


Companies have increasingly decided that cards are cheaper that cash, and apps are better than coupons. If you don’t want to pay full freight, that’s the way things are headed.


I suspect the marginal cost to add coupon entry to the kiosk would be about zero, as they already have that function in the system, for the POS terminal the employees use. But no, better to put obstacles in front of the customer, so they give up and pay full boat, after being induced to enter the restaurant by the coupon offer.

Meijer has a system to use coupons at the self-scan terminals at their stores: scan the barcode on the coupon, then drop the coupon into a slot in the terminal, where, apparently, a photocell verifies the coupon has been inserted.

But no, that would be too much work for BK or Wendy’s “management”. Better to send out coupons, then obstruct their use.



@steve203 I do not know why but the staffing needs increase with the kiosks. Same with self-checkouts.

I just came from MCD where I skipped the kiosk and went to the register to order and pay for my ice cream. It is not like the staff have any power to care. The owner sure as hell wants my $1.71.

I think the kiosks make sense during the rushes. I am never in a fast food place during a rush. I do not eat meals in FF restaurants.

The cash-not-accepted “no card no service” payment system has made its way into our healthcare industry, too.

I watched a couple men at the check-in counter for a local hospital cardiology unit, be told they could not pay the required pre-pay amount with cash.
They had to bring payment in some card form.

No card, no health care.

These guys might be unbanked? I heard one tell the other that they could get it at the local grocery store, which offers money orders, Western Union, and maybe prepaid cards, etc at the customer service desk.


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Hopefully they keep implementing solutions that consumers find horrible so that nobody goes eats at McD, Wendy’s, etc.

As far as coupons and promos, they are usually implemented for a purpose such as effecting consumer behaviour (take out only) or testing price points, etc. But the reality is that organisations are complicated, teams working on promotions do not have a great understanding of operations and teams that are creating operating solutions aren’t aware of some team that are designing promotions.

At least that is my internal experience of working in commercial operations and often trying to get the global marketing team that does promos to understand what happens down stream. It is not always so calculated…

I don’t like random apps or getting discounts by signing up for extra spam etc so I will often pay more to avoid what ever it is what they want in order to give me the discount. But I do see even Kiosks becoming somewhat redundant. If my coworkers want McD, they just open the app, order and pay… take the elevator down and 5 min walk and pick the order up on the counter.

Why queue at the kiosks?


The guy at the BK said his experience, as BK is so prolific with coupons, is that people will use the kiosk, with a coupon in hand. After entering their order, they hand the coupon to the guy at the counter. The guy at the counter then needs to void the order they entered on the kiosk, and reenter everything himself, to ring up the coupon.

The owners around here could not care less about your $1.71. They want to avoid paying anyone to enter your order for you. At one local Wendy’s, and two different Mickey D’s I have been in, they simply do not man the counter. If you flag someone down, they will refuse to take your order, and tell you to use the kiosk.

It’s the beancounter in action. They are only interested in what can be quantified with precision. You can’t precisely quantify how much business is lost, by refusing to take cash, or making it impossible to use a coupon in the store. But, you can precisely quantify how much payroll is cut by not staffing the counter, and leaving customers to fend for themselves.



I suspect this is the case. I doubt Wendy’s is intentionally sabotaging their coupon program. Rather, the kiosk people aren’t focusing on it, and the coupon people (probably) haven’t yet seen enough of a decline in redemption rates to force the intra-company decision on getting the kiosks to accept coupons. They might decide not to, of course - in which case they would stop providing physical coupons. But it’s pretty unlikely that they’ll simultaneously keep printing physical coupons and not accept them at many locations.


I don’t remember any of this (punishing). Branded credit cards were indeed used to instill loyalty, and they were treated exactly like credit cards (because they WERE credit cards issued by some random bank, just with a picture of the gasoline brand on it). When credit cards have surcharges (over cash), these branded credit cards also have them. Very few people use cash to buy gasoline nowadays, it’s a hassle to have to walk inside (sometimes twice if you need to get your change).

Today, branded gasoline company credit cards give discounts to customers using them, and bigger discounts to customers that are frequent users of them.

“Affinity” credit cards now, can have the logo of the oil company on them, and a Mastercard or Visa logo, because they are a Mastercard or Visa, that can be used anywhere, including other brands of gas, tho they may pay a bonus for using the particular brand of gas featured on the card.

In the 80s, and before, oil companies issued captive credit cards, that were only good for gas and services at that brand station. There was no “pay at the pump”. You still had to walk into the station, present the card, and the attendant would run it through his card grinder. The card was entirely a loyalty program, because you didn’t need cash to fill up at that particular brand station.

But then the US went Shiny, and dinging customers with extra charges became “good business practices”. Remember the uproar over banks dinging their customers with service charges?



Steve is right. Gas cards were issued by the oil company, not by a bank. Ditto for department stores. Back in the day I had a wallet full of cards - Mobil, Chevron, Exxon, Texaco, Sears, JCPenny, probably a couple others I don’t remember.

Then one by one they got converted to Visa or Mastercard cards with some bank. Except Sears, which used their card holder base to jump start Discover.


Yeap, you could also have a Sears card or JCPenny card that was a credit card but only good in their store. My mum has a Talbot card which been trying to cancel but always seems to be some small residual interest charge from missing a previous payment.

I don’t think stores do that as much anymore as they much as just running some kind of loyalty program where they give you 15% off your purchase if you give them your phone # and email. Not sure what you get after that other than SPAM so I refuse the onetime discount

Discover did the back office work on a number of individual store credit cards, starting in the 80s. I noticed that both Radio Shack and Office Depot credit card account numbers started with a 6, indicating Discover, vs a 4 for Visa, or a 5 for Mastercard.


The point is that when they were charge cards (issued by gasoline company) they were NOT punished by higher per gallon prices. When they were issued by banks, like other credit cards, they WERE punished by higher per gallon prices. I addressed the “punishing” part of the statement.

They give you the discount if you give A phone number and AN email address. Try giving (321)987-6543 next time, and abc123@gnail.com to get your discount.


Negatory. I distinctly remember Mobil having pumps with two buttons, one for cash, one for credit. Press the credit button, for any credit transaction, and you were automatically charged more.

Somewhat related, NBC evening news tonight had a piece on the increasing popularity of offering a discount for cash. The piece quoted one small business owner who saved $33,000 in bank CC transaction skim last year.


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I’ve noticed that companies are getting around customers using fake email addresses by adding two more steps to the “get your discount” process. They send a confirmation email to the address you gave them with a unique confirmation code that you must enter on their website to get the discount.

So fake email addresses don’t work so much any longer.



Surely you don’t have just 1 email address!

Plenty of free email options.