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.

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