I think it’s time we came clean about something; McDonald’s coffee is actually pretty good.  It may not be independent, single bean, cold-extracted blahppuchino, but it’s a decent cup.  And, face it, if you’re out and about, hacking into a town centre, paying the second mortgage parking fees and finding a spot isn’t always easy.  So the roadside golden arches it is.

I’ve lost count of the cups of McD I’ve enjoyed, but it was only yesterday morning that I realised what utter genius their loyalty card is.  It’s a perfect example of how seemingly small things have a huge impact and how to make processes take less effort – two of my favourite subjects.


Take a look at the picture and you’ll see why.  It’s a loyalty card – so far, so good.  But it’s a perforated loyalty card that’s part of the outer layer of the cup that you can remove and keep.  And there’s a little bean sticker that you can peel off and stick on it – one per cup.  Collect enough little bean stickers and you get a free coffee.

Walk into your local coffee shop and there’s a good chance they’ll hand you a loyalty card too.  Get it stamped a few times and a free coffee will be yours.  Exactly the same principle as our friends at Maccy D.  But completely different in execution and a huge process for such a small thing.
Look what your local coffee shop has to do to get their loyalty scheme off the ground…

  • design the loyalty cards
  • check the proofs and probably go through a couple of design variations
  • design the stamp – same as above
  • find a printer
  • find a stamp maker
  • work out how many cards to order
  • order the cards
  • order the stamp (do we need more than one in case the original gets lost?)
  • get the cards printed
  • get the stamp made
  • get the cards delivered
  • get the stamp delivered
  • forget who the printer was and have to do it all again when you run out and reprint

And that’s before you’ve even handed a single card out.  It’s when the process becomes operational that the nightmare really starts.

  • put a pile of cards somewhere either the team or customers can get at them
  • find somewhere in the storeroom to store the rest
  • train the team on how to issue, stamp and redeem the cards
  • make sure the team are training the Saturday lad to do the same thing
  • replace them when someone spills coffee all over them
  • hand out the cards to customers, having wiped off the coffee stains
  • try to collate all the stamps across four loyalty cards that Steve from the dry-cleaner next door comes in with
  • answer all the questions the Saturday lad will have about where the cards are, where the stamp is and how many stamps for a large latte
  • keep an eye on stock levels and order new cards when it’s running low – or delegate that to someone already busy and focusing elsewhere
  • apologise to customers when you run out because someone forgot to order more cards
  • pin a passive aggressive note to the till reminding everyone to hand out the cards
  • find a scratty bit of string to make sure the stamp doesn’t get lost
  • order a new stamp when it inevitably does 

You get the idea.  And all for something as small as a loyalty card that means you can give people free coffee.  Bear in mind that’s for just one, local shop.  Imagine the nightmare a simple loyalty card will be for a chain of, say, five shops.

Look at the McD solution and the process that underpins it.  The first part is the same – designing, ordering and making the cups – but then it starts looking very different indeed…

  • hand a customer their cup of coffee with its integrated loyalty card and sticker
  • the customer drinks the coffee, peels off the loyalty card and and sticks on the sticker

Er, that’s it. 

  • no stamp, so no need to design, order, put it on a bit of string and lose it regularly
  • every time you order more cups you get more cards – automatically
  • you store the cards with the cups, because they’re automatically together
  • as soon as you hand out a coffee, you’ve handed out a card – automatically
  • no-one needs training
  • there are no policies that need policing and chasing
  • when you order more cups, you get more cards – automatically

A loyalty card is a little thing, but look at all the actions, processes and tasks that sit beneath the surface.  Look at the time, effort and hassle they’ll take.  Look at the opportunities for things to go wrong and take up even more time.  Small things often take a lot of effort and most of it’s behind the scenes.  But it’s stuff like this that ties teams up on things that add little value to anyone and just slow service down.

McD’s have done what they do best – looked to reduce both customer effort (no need to ask for a new card – you get one automatically) and effort for the team.  They’ve removed the potential for cockups throughout the process.  They’ve almost completely eliminated human error too.

Of course, you can have an app that’ll do something similar, but not everyone wants to use one (or can use one).  And, in this case, a little press-out card is going to be so much easier than holding up the queue while someone has the workings of the app explained to them.

So, can I suggest something?  You take your team down to your nearest Maccy D, treat them to a coffee and use it as inspiration about how you could do the same with your top three process.  Keep reducing effort for customers and colleagues.  Keep finding ways to make processes simple.

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