McDonald’s customer service hits rock bottom in drive thru ratings

McDonald’s was founded on the basis of customer service. Ray Kroc, the original McDonald’s CEO put a huge emphasis on a customer-first mentality. He said, “McDonald’s is a people business, and that smile on that counter girl’s face when she takes your order is a vital part of our image.” Now, our McDonald’s case study will show how McDonald’s customer service hits rock bottom in drive-thru ratings

In a recent study by QSR magazine on the attributes of customer service through the drive-thru window, McDonald’s drive-thru customer service finished rock bottom on friendliness. I always believe “manners and smiles are free.” The reality is they need to be embedded within the culture of the organization. They are hard work.

McDonald's Service level, McDonald's case study

To illustrate, click on the chart to zoom in on our McDonald’s case study data


Our McDonald’s case study looks at the various attributes that matter to customers. When it comes to smiling, McDonald’s drive-thru customer service finishes last at 62%. That’s almost 30% lower than Chick-Fil-A. And,”Thank You” only hits 78%. Whereas 95% for Chick-Fil-A. 

Chick-Fil-A is the gold standard for quick service restaurants (QSR) when it comes to the drive-thru.

It looks like Chick Fil-A has learned from Ray Kroc. They believe that employees are the company’s “secret recipe.” And the drive-thru strategy is designed around people as much as it is technology and systems. “It’s all about speed and accuracy. But we know our customers appreciate that we can be nice while being fast and accurate. Eye contact and smiling go a long way in the drive-thru experience.” 

Even on speed of service, McDonald’s drive-thru customer service now finishes mid-pack. Wendy’s is the leader in speed, about 45 seconds faster on average. A quote from Wendy’s on the drive-thru service says the fast service is the result of the company tirelessly tracking line times and optimizing the layout of the kitchens. “Customers visit the drive-thru due to its convenience. So we strive to meet that expectation every day, every customer.”

Mcdonald's service


McDonald’s drive-thru customer service might just get worse, not better

McDonald’s once thought about investing billions to revamp their entire kitchens to be able to serve high quality and fresh meat in their hamburgers. Wow. I am a big fan of Five Guys, In-N-Out Burger, Shake Shack, and Big Smoke burgers. But, those burger places are never fast. They each say they won’t start cooking your burger until you order it. 

At Five Guys, you can see them even pull the burger out and placed it on the grill. The one big difference is that Five Guys basically only serve burgers. 

What will happen to the McDonald’s drive-thru if I just want a coffee, yet have to sit behind 9 people ordering fresh burgers. It would never work. That would lead to an entirely new McDonald’s case study. 

How do you communicate your brand story internally?

With most brands I meet up with, I ask “What is the Idea behind your brand?” I rarely get a great answer. When I ask a Leadership Team, I normally get a variety of answers. When I ask the most far-reaching sales reps, the scientists in the lab, or their retailer partners, the answers get worse. That is not healthy. 

Everyone who touches that brand should be able to explain what it stands for. In seven seconds. Sixty seconds. Thirty minutes. Or at every consumer touch-point. They should always be delivering the same message. 

What gets said to the consumer can never be different from what gets said inside the company. The Big Idea must organize the culture to ensure everyone who is tasked to meet the needs of both consumers and customers. Whether they are in HR, product development, finance, operations, or experience delivery teams. Everyone must know their role in delivering the Big Idea. The big idea must drive McDonald’s customer service

Too many brands believe brand messaging is something that Advertising does. We need to make sure the external and internal brand stories are aligned. 

It should be a Brand Idea that drives that story. Every communication to employees. Every town-hall speech. A simple memo. Every celebration should touch upon the brand values that flow from the Big Idea. We should highlight examples when employees have delivered on certain brand values.


Brand culture

The Brand Idea Should Drive The Culture

Brand Management was originally built on a hub-and-spoke system. The Brand Manager expected to sit right in the middle of the organization. This drove everything and everyone around the brand. However, it should actually be the brand’s Big Idea that sits at the center.  The brand idea connects everyone. 

Aligning the brand with the culture is essential to the long-term success of the brand. The best brands look at the overall culture as an asset that helps create a powerful consumer experience. The expected behaviors of the operations team behind the consumer experience should flow out of the brand values that flow from the big idea. These values act as guideposts to ensure that the behavior of everyone in the organization is set to deliver the brand’s promise.

Based on our McDonald’s case study, what do you think they need to learn?

Brand culture

To illustrate, how would this thinking impact our McDonald’s case study?

Use the brand strategy to steer everyone who works on the brand

The best brands consistently deliver. Use a cross-functional team, including salespeople, R&D, human resources, finance, and operations. Their participation is one way to gain their buy-in. But that’s not where it stops. 

Use your internal brand communications tools to drive a shared definition. Get everyone to articulate how their role delivers the idea. Give the external and internal brand story equal importance to the consumer experience you create for your brand.


Everyone needs a common understanding of and talking points for the brand

When you work on a brand that leads to the customer experience, your operations people will be responsible for the face-to-face delivery of your brand to the consumer. Importantly, develop a list of service values, behaviors, and processes to deliver the brand idea throughout your organization. 

Everyone who works on the brand should use the idea as inspiration, and to guide decisions and activities across every function of your organization. Essentially, it is the people within the brand organization who will deliver the brand idea to the consumer. Everyone needs a common understanding of and talking points for the brand.

When you work on a brand that leads to the customer experience, your operations people will be responsible for the face-to-face delivery of your brand to the consumer. Indeed, develop a list of service values, behaviors, and processes to deliver the brand idea throughout your organization. 

Explaining your brand strategy through a brand credo

Having spent time at Johnson & Johnson, I was lucky to see how their credo document has become an essential part of the culture of the organization. Not only does it permeate throughout the company but you will also likely hear it quoted in meetings on a daily basis. Essentially, it is a beautifully written document and ahead of its time.

To illustrate, click to zoom in on our brand credo example. How would it impact our McDonald’s case study?

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The marketing fundamentals that we show in this article are part of what we use in our marketing training programs. Ambitious marketers will learn about strategic thinking, brand positioning, brand plans, writing creative briefs, advertising decision-making, marketing analytics, and marketing finance

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Graham Robertson

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