The Challenge

Founded in the early 1960s, this fast-food restaurant chain has grown to 3,500 stores across America. With its iconic carhops, it is universally recognized as America’s Drive-In. One might not think that fast food would generate the same level of passion or need for assistance as other industries with far more complex products or services, but given the sheer number of transactions, and the immediacy and ease of digital interaction, there is an essential need for effective customer care and quick resolutions.

The franchise business model is fraught with inconsistencies and complexity. The brand relies on independent store owners. Despite specific brand protocols and franchisee agreements, service offerings can fluctuate. Furthermore, their move toward mobile app ordering exacerbates customer service issues both on the part of the operator and the customer. As with any technology, errors occur. Wrong location, incorrect orders, missing items, etc. can trigger adverse customer interactions that are detrimental to their brand.

The restaurant chain also needs a mechanism to help identify potential problematic franchisees and system operations.

Our Insights

While issues and complaints for tots and burgers seem pretty innocuous, customers have very specific expectations of their orders. In the moment, any alteration of what they anticipate can cause an instant backlash response that can range from disappointment to outward hostility. The faster a customer problem is resolved, the less likely a situation will escalate and the more forgiving a customer will be going forward.

The restaurant brand and the local store experience are inexorably linked. To the customer, the experience is the brand. So, it is crucial to identify any endemic problems within the franchisee system or with any particular operator group as early as possible.

Our Approach

This solution required a comprehensive Customer Support initiative that could address a wide variety of different situations. Named after one of their popular deep-fried potato side dishes, we created the “TOT LINE.” It is essentially a general brand crisis line where customers could easily connect with the brand and avoid the awkwardness of having to deal directly with store management. Mobile app issues were able to be dealt with instantly, diffusing customer dissatisfaction. The TOT LINE was built to be scalable based on seasonality.

Our TOT LINE team members were trained to address almost anything from orders being delivered cold to actual crisis management situations: assaults or health emergencies.

We armed a front-line defense of coupons and gift cards. Where these tools proved inadequate, usually pertaining to a personnel conflict rather than a product matter, a higher-level supervisor stepped in to help resolve an issue.

Our system was set up to advocate on behalf of the operators as well. We maintained a database of all inbound interactions, which populated franchisee scorecards. Franchisees participated in a bonus system. They could be penalized based on the number of complaints received. Sometimes those complaints were caused by supply issues or circumstances beyond their control. Within our model, franchisees could request reclassification of complaints so they were accurately reconciled.

The Results

We pushed much of the customer care traffic into digital channels, such as SMS or other text-based apps, which dramatically lowered the cost of resolution. Much of this type of interaction is handled offshore.


first call resolution

Only 33%, and shrinking, of customer complaints are being handled by the drive-in managers.


app incidents

Harte Hanks resolves 99% of all mobile app issues without escalation to the restaurant.