Writing the anger out of roast beef

I occasionally like to have Arby’s. I say occasionally because my wife doesn’t like it that much and the nearest one is about 30 minutes away. The main reason, though, is the ridiculously long wait at the drive-thru.

Always with the wait. Arby’s always delivers decent food (for fast food) at a slightly high-end price (again, for fast food) but by the time I’m through the drive-thru I’m usually so irritated about the wait I don’t even want the food anymore. It happens every time at every Arby’s I’ve ever been to. Obviously it can’t be fixed or they would. The delay is because they put together all the food fresh (once again, for fast food) when you order it. I guess if they just pre-made everything and left it under hot lamps I’d be angry it wasn’t fresh.

So how do you fix a problem for a customer who won’t be happy either way?

Good writing.

On a recent trip (by myself) I decided Arby’s was what my rumbling stomach was asking for. I pulled up and ordered (By the way, why can’t we list the main deals on the menu? I hate having to ask if you still have something.) and was about the pull through. The lady on the other side of the worst-speaker-ever-conceived-by-man gave me my total. I was about to pull forward when she threw one last line at me.

“Give us a few minutes while we make your order fresh for you.”

The phrase bounced around in my head for a few seconds as I pulled around. “They are making my food fresh,” I thought. I pulled up to the window and handed her my card. I then pulled up my e-mail on my phone and proceeded to return a few messages. A few minutes later I looked up from my phone and that old impatience began to well up inside me. “I want my roast beef!” it said loudly. Then another voice quietly protested, “But they’re making it fresh for you. That takes time.”

And my anger disappeared. With one friendly, well-written line, they managed to diffuse my annoyance. Amazing. Each time in the ten minute wait I would start to get impatient, the line would do its job and quell the anger.

I know the girl, nice though she was, didn’t come up with that turn of phrase on her own. No, somewhere in the bowels of Arby’s HQ, they collect data about customer wait times and subsequent complaints. Eventually the complaints reached a level that couldn’t be ignored. They looked at the process and discovered they couldn’t speed it up if they still wanted to make the food fresh. They would rather be known as being slow than serving stale food. Instead, someone in the organization handed the problem off to their ad agency.

And this is the beauty of ad agencies. We don’t just create ads. We use creativity to solve business problems. “We have an image issue,” Mr. Arby said, “We’re known as being really slow.”

“Let us see what we can come up with,” Mr. Ad Agency responded. He then handed the problem off to the Arby’s creative group. Some smart writer in that group realized that you have to explain the benefits of the wait to sell it to people. After much thinking, strategizing, brainstorming and concepting (all of which, by the way, looks like doing absolutely nothing), that great line was born. “Give us a few minutes while we make your order fresh for you.” I’m sure it ended up being a minor line item on a huge bill. “Drive-thru copywriting, four hours, $500.”

And yet how much good will that $500 line do them? When you consider the millions of customers Arby’s sees each year, I’m guessing a lot. If even a fraction of those customers returned again because they didn’t mind the wait anymore, it would yield millions in revenue. All from one well-written line.

The moral of the story: Don’t make people wait for fresh roast beef. If you have to, hire a smart writer.

Excellence

Steve Jobs changed the world. I don’t think that can be effectively argued against. The products Apple has introduced in its history have revolutionized the way we create, communicate, and consume.

Every bit of that change was because of an undying pursuit of excellence. That pursuit means attention to every detail. That pursuit means skipping shortcuts. That pursuit means having a vision for how great things can be. That pursuit means focusing on what’s best for the customer, even if they don’t know it’s best yet.

Apple has always had a laser focus on creating the best user experience. “Everything just works” has been their mantra. In an industry of over-complicated products and techno-babble, Apple’s approach is a breath of fresh air. Many have tried the same approach, but cut too many corners to make it work.

People ask me a lot why I use Apple products so much. I’ve never been one to evangelize for the company. If you don’t want to use the products, then don’t. It doesn’t effect me. But I know a lot of people that try them, and like them for the same reason I do. They get out of the way. I don’t spend my day tripping over clunky user interfaces or software that constantly crashes. My computers and phones get out of my way and allow me to do what I need to do.

In my case that thing I need to do is creating. I have no trouble admitting that my business would not exist in its current form if not for Apple. Because I don’t spend my days dealing with tech issues, I am able to create more than a single person should really be able to. Because of that I can provide for my family and create work that my clients love. I spend my days doing the same thing Apple does. I think about the people involved. I try to make their experience perfect. I obsess over detail. This year I had some stickers made and I apply them to the box of every printed job that goes out. They read: “Designed and printed with an obsession for detail.”

Jobs’ legacy is excellence.

It’s the excellence of Apple’s products.

It’s the excellence of the things we create with those products.

What a legacy to leave.

Steve Jobs 1955-2011

Heartbreak at third base

Conner has struggled all year with baseball. Not with his play, which has been really good for a first-year player, but with how seriously he takes things. I place no expectations on him for each game other than to play hard and have a good time. Get a hit or strikeout. Catch the ball or miss it. Just play hard and have a good time. Nothing else matters.

But it does to him.

Every chance he has to play matters to him. He takes the weight of the world on his shoulders. A strikeout to him is devastating. It doesn’t seem to matter how hard we try to convince him that he’s doing well. And trust me, we’ve been trying.

Tonight, during batting practice, the coach decided to try a different stance for him. It worked wonders for his hitting. The first time up he hits a single and then made it home a few plays later. He started the season batting .500 but has since dropped a little. It was nice to see him more confident at the plate.

Unfortunately the rest of the team just wasn’t hitting tonight. It happens sometimes. Baseball teams can just hit strikeout slumps. Tonight was that night for us. If we scored five runs in the final inning, we would tie the game up. Conner was due up to bat third in the inning. I was nervous about the potential last out being in his hands.

Jace, who’s having a rough night, is the first kid up and strikes out.

One out.

The second kid up, Bryce, take a few pitches then hits a great shot and makes it to first base.

One out, runner at first.

Then comes Conner. I want him to get a hit so he can end the game on a high note. He takes the first two pitches. He has three pitches left and the coach tells him to swing at all of them. Two more pitches, two more swings, two more strikes. Last pitch. He has to swing no matter what.

I watched as the ball left the pitcher’s hand. Conner began to turn his hips and bring the bat around. It connected perfectly and was driven down the third base line. Conner ran as I prayed it would stay fair.

It did. One out, runners at first and second.

Dane walks to the plate. Another rough night, another strike out.

Two outs, runners at first and second.

Here comes Charlie. Charlie can get some good hits, and he does. He smashes the ball into shallow right field. He is safe at first. Conner is safe at second but it looks like Bryce might be thrown out at third. The throw comes in high and goes over the third baseman’s head.

The coach waves Bryce home and tells Conner to take third. Conner runs harder than I’ve ever seen him run. He kicks up dirt as he goes. The left fielder picks up the ball and turns to throw it to third. It’s going to be close. Conner’s extra burst of speed from deep down drives his legs and, almost in slow motion, he runs for the bag as the ball comes in.

His left foot touches the bag a second before the third baseman catches the ball.

He’s safe!

The crowd roars.

His right foot goes past the bag and lands on the dirt.

His left foot follows off the base.

The third baseman tags him for the final out after he leaves the base.

In unison, the crowd’s cheer turns into a long, disappointed “aaawwwww.”

Conner looks around not knowing what happened, but the coach’s angry reaction tells him it was bad. He had never been in that situation and didn’t know you had to stay on the base or you could be tagged out. Now he knows. He also knows that was the final out of the game.

He breaks down in tears when he realizes what he did.

I want to cry for him.

Two great hits for the game and all he’ll remember is the heartbreak at third base.