McDonalds is one of the world’s best-known brands, so when it introduced free Wi-Fi for the millions of customers it serves every day, it needed a service – and the underlying WAN to support it – that would match the customer experience that is known from Dublin to Dubai.
Neil Wall is the Head of IT for McDonalds Ireland. It’s his job to keep the IT and telecommunications connected and working in 85 restaurants across Ireland. One of his top objectives was to find a partner that would provide a managed service, delivering a fast, reliable and secure Wi-Fi solution. McDonalds chose Three.
The project included replacing a different network provider’s WAN with the Three Managed WAN, as well as providing a Wireless Leased Line (WLL) into the company’s corporate headquarters.
“We were looking for a partner to manage the end-to-end experience;” Neil explains, “that would give us the whole managed service, from our data centre through the WAN, out to the restaurants and ultimately to the customer. We needed a network that could support a constant, seven-day-a-week, 365-days-a-year business. Especially as 29 of our restaurants are open 24 hours a day.”
McDonalds is a perfect example of where IT supports the business mission. Customers get an easy, consistent experience no matter when or where they visit a McDonalds restaurant. The Wi-Fi provided by McDonalds has to match that experience, to maintain the integrity of the brand.
“When you go into any kind of café culture coffee shop, you don’t just see everyone sitting at laptops anymore,” says Neil Wall. “What you see is lots of people with tablets and smartphones, a multitude of different devices.”
“Wi-Fi is not just important for connecting to email, but for the many ways people connect to the outside world. They expect to have their social networks available to them all the time, so if we are going to offer Wi-Fi as part of the McDonalds customer experience, it has to meet that expectation in every restaurant. It has to make it quick and easy for customers to connect, no matter what device they might be using.”
3Wi-Fi gave McDonalds the speed and simplicity it needed for its public Wi-Fi service. The 3Wi-Fi service is unique to the market in that it requires a once-off registration and is free for the McDonalds customer, whether they are a Three customer or not. Registered users can also use 3Wi-Fi hotspots across hundreds of locations in Ireland. Other Wi-Fi providers often require customers to register each time they use the service and charge after a period of time. Customers who have already registered to use 3Wi-Fi prior to entering a McDonalds simply connect automatically when in a restaurant. For a business like McDonalds, which has high volumes of repeat customers, it’s a valuable additional service. It helps to keep customers loyal, because it’s consistent with the kind of experience they have to come to expect from McDonalds. It gives them another reason to visit.
Says Neil Wall: “For many of our customers, the welcome page we present when they browse the web is the only real chance they get to interact with us, beyond ordering their food. It’s a chance for us to communicate our ethics and our values – to show them another side of McDonalds. We can also use it to support any promotions and campaigns we are running.”
Switching to 3Wi-Fi needed to happen with zero downtime or interruption to the routine of the restaurants. In the end, the entire migration of all 85 restaurants happened within six weeks with no perceivable downtime for any restaurant.
This included transferring all the lines at each restaurant, and replacing existing routers with new ones to provide redundancy and resilience. Each restaurant now has a dedicated line, coupled with a back-up 3G solution. This resilience is of paramount importance for McDonalds as they use the network for their customer transactions.
“It was very clear to us that we needed robust redundancy and resiliency,” says Neil Wall. “The demand on our network and our communication now is far more than it’s ever been before.”
Three also provides a support desk that manages all the services around the McDonalds network, as well as the Wi-Fi and the network inside the restaurants. The support team, based in Limerick, proactively monitors the network and deals directly with the McDonalds Helpdesk or restaurant in the event of any incident.
“It’s good that it’s the Three team who are the first people to pick up any issues, rather than me,” says Neil Wall. “Anyone in my job knows that if people aren’t talking to you about your network, that’s a good thing.”
“All the change management and development services we need are also provided by Three,” he adds. “If I have new requirements or I want to make a change to some of my configuration, they have the capability to do it for me.”
McDonalds customers vary from very young children to senior citizens. Families are one key group, which places a significant additional demand on the Wi-Fi service.
“We have strong content filtering in place with 3Wi-Fi. It gives us the ability to block inappropriate content, but it’s also very flexible,” says Neil Wall.
“If acceptable content is blocked for some reason, customers can tell us and we can modify the filters. It’s an important part of the customer experience for the families who visit our restaurants.”
If any organisation could be said to understand its customers’ expectations, it’s McDonalds. A step back to the first McDonalds to open in Ireland in 1977 would show you a different customer experience to the one you find today; yet McDonalds has succeeded in evolving its brand and its experience in line with the shifts in customer expectations. It’s a master class in brand development and, in recent years, the introduction of public Wi-Fi has been a key part of it.
As Neil Wall says: “IT is there to support the brand and operations. The free Wi-Fi we offer, and the connection we have into our restaurants that allows the free Wi-Fi, has to be managed properly, and it has to be delivered in the right way.”