Drive-Through Remote Call Centers

The NY Times (via cNet) has an update on the novel concept being tested by some McDonalds restaurants: using a remote call center to take drive-through orders. The VoIP-based business surfaced in mid-2004 (BrandAutopsy), with followups in early (CommWeb, MSNBC) and mid-2005.

An early headquarters contract with Oak Brook, IL SEI Information Technology (relationship to Verety?) promised “professional order taker[s] with strong communications skills whose job is to do nothing but take down orders.” A Colorado franchise-holder, Steve Bigari, expanded his call center so that it could serve more than his own McDonalds stores. Bronco Communications is featured in the current NYT article — suggesting there are at least three firms providing this service to hamburger chains.

Hardee’s — a regional fast-food chain — began testing remote call centers for order-taking in early 2005, according to the Dallas Morning-News (via the Tennessean). The jury remains out at Wendy’s, according to the NYT.

Is this the modern day equivalent of piece-work?

The NYT article says that Bronco employees “[take] up to 95 orders an hour during peak times.” They have no health benefits and “earn the minimum wage ($6.75 an hour in California).”

Software, monitored by managers, measures both speed (how fast the
employee is on the mouse) and productivity (number of orders processed,
upsales, etc). From the NYT: “every so often a red
box pops up on her screen to test whether she is paying attention. She
is expected to click on it within 1.75 seconds. In the break room, a
computer screen lets employees know just how many minutes have elapsed
since they left their workstations.”

We’re using technology to enforce an industrial-age assembly-line workflow. Is this really how we want to use technology?

Contrast that with another firm, which is testing having employees work from their homes — a distributed call center network.

All the articles I’ve
read so far have been originated in the rah-rah business section/trade press. Conspicuously absent: any data (comparative or otherwise) on repetitive-stress injuries.

Talkr automagic podcast of this post.

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

One reply on “Drive-Through Remote Call Centers”

Your article is over 2 years old, so I wonder how things have fared over the past years. Have their been any studies looking at your concerns?

In today’s economic times, any job may just be good enough. Enjoy it now, because I just thought of a simple way to allow people to order their food through a simple iPhone App. That’s great – remove the people totally.

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