Sunday, April 29, 2007



I will always remember 1987,among other things, as the year we started beating McDonald's in customer service.

It all started one morning when my boss, Abelle Carlos, called me into her office for a meeting. She had just met with our then Operations head, S' Ato Tanmantiong,who had shown her the results of surveys made by two independent research groups,Pulse and the PSRC. The studies compared how well Jollibee and McDonald's delivered in the basic areas of Food, Service and Cleanliness. The respondents were loyal customers of Jollibee and McDonald's.

In the areas of Food and Cleanliness, we were perceived to be better if not at par with our U.S. rival. We even had an edge in food because the respondents remarked that McDonald's food was bland.

In the area of Service, however, McDonald's clearly had a distinct advantage. Both Jollibee and McDonald's patrons basically said:"McDonald's service is faster,friendlier and in general, better than Jollibee."

S' Ato wanted instructed Abelle to launch a project that would correct the situation. Due to the urgency of the matter we had only one month to get the project going.

It would have been easy to come up with a solution if our problem with service was merely a training concern. But it wasn't!

As our customers pointed out,what they didn't like with our service were the following:

1. Our customer lines (or queues) were long and slow-moving.
2. It took us a long time to serve their food.
3. Our counter persons didn't look as smart and didn't move as fast as the McDonald's service crews.
4. Our crews were also not as friendly as their McD counterparts.

Analyzing our situation, we realized that we had recruitment issues, operating systems problems and training-related concerns all contributing to our service problem.

The recruitment concern was easily solved when we decided to upgrade the profile of our service crews. In hiring our counter and dining crews we didn't settle for applicants who just wanted a job. We got those who looked smart and pleasant. To attract better candidates, we also made the pay competitive.

The more challenging problems were systemic. Some of the factors that made our lines long and service slow were built into our way of serving our customers. But we didn't realize that until we started observing what the competition was doing.

For example, at Jollibee we still had guard rails which were supposed to keep customers in line. McDonald's didn't have any of these and yet their lines were more organized and were moving faster. Ours tended to be long and slow moving and not always organized.

We learned later on that McDonald's solution was simpler. They trained their cashiers to direct customers where the lines were to be. And since they weren't restricted by guard rails they could create more customer lines as they needed thus speeding up the movement of the queues!
Another example was our practice of validating order slips(which McDonald's didn't have.) Each order slip had to be inserted into a slot at the cash register to be tagged as served. The procedure took about an average of 4 seconds. However, this would take longer if the machine jammed or it was difficult to insert the slip into the slot.

When we reexamined why we were doing this procedure we realized it could be removed without any major consequence. By removing this step we could speed up transactions and keep the lines moving!

Another thing we learned from McDonald's was that their managers actively made things happen. They were managing service. Our managers, on the other hand,tended to just watch the lines build up and not do anything about moving the lines. We found out later on that one reason they did so was they thought the long lines were a SIGN that sales were good! What thye didn't realize was that there were customers who left the store because they couldn't wait in line too long!


Working together with our Systems department, we came up with a program which we called Managing Service. This was a two day training program where we taught our managers the new systems and procedures in serving our customers. We started our roll-out by training all our Regional Managers and Area Managers first.

I was always fond of adding drama to our sessions so for our opening I had our mascot Champ come in and punch some "effigies" which represented "Slow Service,""Long Lines,""Unfriendly Service."

The training itself was "packed" with a lot of content and exercises. During those days,pulling managers away from the stores was a luxury we couldn't afford, so we had to cram a lot in the two days.

We taught our managers how to "Break the Line" and "Move the Line. " These were procedures for keeping the customer queues short and moving. Hand in hand with this we emphasized to them that long lines were a bad sign that somehow there would be disgruntled customers who would leave the store if they waited in line too long.

We also introduced the tool called the "Break List." This was a form where the managers plotted when they were supposed to give the counter persons their 15 or 30 minute breaks.

The problem before was that the break schedules were posted on the stores' bulletin board every morning. The first thing that crew members would do was to check their scheduled break before manning their posts. Then when time came for their break the crews would notify their supervisor then just leave their post. The supervisor with really no choice in the matter allowed them to leave even if there were many customers in line.

With the introduction of the "Break List," the crews could not leave their posts unless their supervisor told them so.

To train our managers to pick up the pace we did a simulation where managers had to be able serve customers in line under time pressure. We played fast music and shouted"Hustle!Hustle!" as the role players tried to beat the clock.

As a fitting and symbolic ending to the training program, we had our participants write down on easel sheets their commitments to improve service levels in their respective stores. We then rolled this up to form something like a bat. With this they swatted at effigies that stood for the enemies of Good Service ( Slow service, Long lines etc.),symbolizing their concerted effort to beat our service problems.


The Managing Service Program was one of the first major system changes we rolled out at Jollibee. For the next three months after July,1987, our store managers trained their crews on the procedures we taught them.

The changes were noticeable even within the first month of the rollout. For one, with the guard rails gone,our lobbies looked a little more spacious. The customer queues started to move faster and one noticed a little more hustle at the counters.

To encourage more speed, the 60 Seconds and 40 Seconds Clubs for cashiers and counter persons were established. Only those counter crews who could handle transactions and serve customers within 40 seconds and 60 seconds made it to this elite group. They were recognized by being given pins and certificates by their store managers.

Of course, we at Jollibee noticed the difference in the way we were serving our customers,but the question was, did our customers notice it too?

The answer came when at the start of 1988, we commissioned Pulse and PSRC to do another comparative survey similar to what they did in 1987.

This time the results were different.

While we still had the edge in food versus our competitor,what was significant this time was that in the area of service we were now perceived to be at par, and sometimes even better than McDonald's.

Though there were still remarks about slow service, it wasn't as glaring as before. Where we fared better than McDonald's was in customer relations. Our crews were perceived to be more respectful ("magalang") than their counterparts. Our move also to allow crews to greet customers in the vernacular ("Magandang umaga/hapon po") also proved to be a big hit with our customers.

We had scored a major victory! We learned from the experience that we could make chainwide changes in our operating systems fast.

The Managing Service rollout made us more confident and strengthened our belief that we could definitely beat our rival!

Thursday, April 12, 2007


One of the peculiarities of the Jollibee culture that I noticed when I first joined the company was its strange way of using the title "Sir" or "Ma'am."

Having worked in organizations where I was used to being called by my first name, I felt uneasy being called Sir Ted,not only by people lower than me in rank, but also by my peers and even by my superiors!

Oh yes, even the owners themselves would sometimes refer to me as S' Ted if I was being referrred to in the third person in front of everybody else.

I was curious as to the origin of this practice so I asked "Sir Ato,"our Executive Vice-President and one of the Tan brothers,about it.

He said that in the early days of Jollibee,they started promoting employees from the ranks to supervisory positions as the company grew. They noticed though that these newly promoted supervisors did not seem to get the respect of their former peers.

To get around this problem,the Tans themselves decided to start addressing these new supervisors as "Sirs" or "Ma'ams," even though they were technically their subordinates. When the members of the rank and file noticed the owners setting an example, they somehow felt ashamed about doing otherwise. From that time on the supervisors were given the respect they deserved.

The practice has stuck up to now, and is one of the trademarks of the Jollibee way. It may seem funny or strange for some,but once they realize that it is one way by which the Tans fostered a culture of respect in the organization,then the smirks are immediately replaced by nods of appreciation.