Ordering | September 2011 | By Robert Lillegard

One for the Road?

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Upselling to customers in the drive thru can boost profit margins.
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But even when the speaker sounds great, the floodlights are shining, and the menuboard is hinting that fries would go well with a burger, many customers won’t purchase a large meal on their own. A friendly cashier suggesting a drink or side salad can increase an average ticket and boost the bottom line.

There are several strategies for getting the sale, and it starts with the people an operation hires. Gingrich says that for drive-thru workers, enthusiasm is especially important.

“You look for the most upbeat people who literally can smile through their voice,” Gingrich says. “You look for those people who really have good service skills and want to work in that position.”

Once a good group is hired, they must be trained properly. Bower says part of that training involves an attitude shift. While operators may see drive-thru customers as wallets on wheels, he says, it’s important to remember that upselling can also improve a customer’s experience. Cashiers do a better job selling if they feel they’re helping the customer, rather than trying to squeeze him out of his last dollar.

“What we try to explain to our folks is it’s about making sure the customer gets everything they need,” Bower says. “Whereas some people might get uncomfortable in that sales position, by nature of the fact that they are cashiers, they do like servicing customers. If you change the mindset, it becomes a lot more palatable.”

Helping the customer is one element. Another is friendliness. When cashiers act cheerfully, they prime the customer to be more receptive to suggestions. Bower says that while time goals are important, they should not get in the way of being courteous.

“The reason you want to be fast is so you can get your customers better service,” Bower says. “If you’re fast and rude, that kind of defeats the purpose.”

Helpfulness and friendliness are fundamentals of customer service, so they’re an obvious place to start. But truly successful upselling goes a little deeper. Every stage in the transaction is a possible place for entry. Gingrich says that even the greeting is a good place to slip in some upselling by mentioning an LTO or a new item.

“Hi, welcome to TacoTime!” the cashier might say. “Would you like to try one of our new steak grilled fajitas today?”

This gets them interested, and may even entice them to buy. Either way, the next step in upselling is to turn an entrée into a combo meal. Olafsson says it’s good for the cashier to take charge of the ordering process by bringing up this option proactively.

“One of the key theories is, you take the guesswork out of the customer’s lap,” Olafsson says. “You only have three questions before customers lose interest. You can’t waste them on clarifying the side orders.”

While cashiers might feel they’re being pushy at first, it’s more a matter of making things more efficient. By making it part of the standard script, it soon becomes part of a cashier’s routine.

“We’ll automatically try to sell them into a combo meal,” Gingrich says. “If they say yes, we’ll see if they want sour cream or guacamole in their burrito. Probably a good 20–25 percent will say, ‘Fine, put it in a combo meal.’”

One classic sales technique is visualization, where the salesperson encourages the potential customer to imagine how wonderful their life would be if only they had the product being offered. There’s obviously not enough time to paint a vivid scene in the drive thru, but operators can accomplish the same effect by using focused descriptions.

“We ask the cashiers to be laser specific when trying to sell an item,” Wendy’s FourCrown’s Schmitz says. “Instead of asking the customer if they want a drink, ask them if they want an ice-cold Coke. Or, instead of asking the customer if they want anything else, how about asking them if they want a hot fry?”

Finally, removing options can be just as powerful as adding them. Customers who have a choice between “yes” and “no” usually say “no.” Instead, Olafsson says, try phrasing the question as a choice between two options.

“You haven’t ordered a fruit or vegetable yet,” a cashier might say. “We just added a new fruit smoothie and a side of sweet corn. Which one could I tempt you with?”

Generally speaking, this kind of psychological positioning increases an operator’s chance of making a sale without offending the person on the other side. After all, if a customer wants to say “no,” it’s not that hard to do. However, customers who are shy or uncomfortable may say “yes” just to be polite. In this case, Gingrich says, it’s extremely important for cashiers to be willing to give them every chance to get out of the transaction.

“If you can sense in their voice, ‘Wait, I was expecting to spend $4, not $7,’ you retract as quickly as possible so that they’re not upset,” Gingrich says. “As soon as they’re questioning that price you know that you’ve gone too far.”

He suggests quickly explaining what the costs of each item are and assuring the customer that part of their order can be removed.

Your Upsell Check List

Is your crew following these basic
steps to improved check averages?

  1. Welcome drivers with a clear, friendly greeting that proactively guides their order to a specific menu item.
  2. Offer combo options once the driver places his order.
  3. Prompt the driver with specific descriptions to consider healthy extras such as fresh salads, ice-cold bottled water, or portable fruit cups.
  4. Never ask yes or no questions. Upsells should be phrased so that the driver is picking between two menu items.
  5. If a driver seems reluctant of the price of the upsells, review the order and offer to remove any unwanted items.
  6. Thank the driver for their business and ask them to come again.

While this makes sense from a customer-service standpoint, it can be a surprisingly difficult tactic to implement. If a brand’s store culture penalizes employees for canceling part of an order, they’re never going to do it. In this case, “customer first” thinking means giving employees the benefit of the doubt and encouraging managers to do the same.

Ultimately, upselling is a basic question of psychology. While drive-thru cashiers have pressures other crewmembers don’t face, the techniques end up being very much the same.

A clean, attractive drive-thru lane, good lighting, and clear speakers make a good first impression. A cleverly designed menuboard primes a customer to buy. And a friendly, helpful cashier with just the right suggestions can move an average ticket enough to make a real difference.

So even if you haven’t had much drive-thru success, it’s not too late. Olafsson says by putting the right behaviors into place, it’s possible to make the drive-thru a great source of profits.

“We had a client back east that called us up: ‘We’re just dead on upsells,’” Olafsson says. “We taught them ‘earning the right to sell’ and a few choice ways of doing it. Within 45 days they were up to 18 cents per transaction on add-on selling, [or] 900 percent.”

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