Its menu boards have often noted that “smiles are free,” but McDonald's this week has joined the brands who are formally recognizing that an outstanding customer experience requires a significant investment in the right leadership and talent.
Just days before announcing its second-quarter results, the quick-service restaurant (QSR) giant said it was bringing four different departments together into a single customer experience team that will work across the entire organization. It also announced the promotion of one of its executives to a chief customer officer role.
In a sense, the moves help articulate McDonald’s vision of how effective CX in fast food should be defined, and reflect the increasing need to connect with customers across both physical and digital channels.
The departments making up the CX team, for example, include the company’s Data Analytics, Global Marketing, Global Restaurant Development and Restaurant Solutions and Digital Customer Engagement groups.
In other words, McDonald’s is saying CX needs to be based upon collecting insights, creating the right message, setting up the right environment, and then encouraging customers to be active within them.
The customer journey towards a Big Mac
McDonald’s is one of those brands that seems to be everywhere, which is good when you want to be the industry leader but bad when you’re trying to be good at being the industry leader. Consider the comments from McDonalds CEO Chris Kempczinski that were reported by CNBC:
“Our customers should be able to move seamlessly between the in-store, takeaway and delivery service channels so that we offer even more convenience and better personalization . . . As I thought about this future, I concluded that we needed to remove some internal barriers and silos that ultimately lead to a fragmented customer experience.”
The choice of Manu Steijaert as chief customer officer is also telling. His previous role was operational rather than in marketing or technology. His tenure with the company spans 20 years. Most importantly, his family was once McDonald’s franchisees, which means he’s gotten a closer look at the brand’s CX than most.
Now think about the timing. McDonald’s probably fared a lot better than most restaurant companies during the pandemic, but the increase in takeout and ordering in advance could create a longer-term shift in how customers choose to partake of its food. A few years ago I saw customers struggling to make sense of McDonald’s in-restaurant kiosks. Today, I imagine mobile apps (and maybe in-car apps to improve the drive-thru experience) will be a higher priority,
Though there was no mention of it in the press release announcing the CX team, McDonald’s was already making strides in improving its ability to personalize experiences with the acquisition of Dynamic Yield.
The idea was to use the firm’s technology to show customers menu options based on time of day, weather, existing restaurant traffic, and what's trending. That kind of capability would be useful across any channel, physical or digital. It also changes the conception of QSR — instead of behaving like a fast-food factory that just wants you to come in, get your food and get out, it suggests a brand that wants to get to know you.
Making that kind of personalization consistent that’s tricky, though, because it requires having customers opt in to being studied so that a brand like McDonald’s can anticipate your needs. You need to trust the brand. Having a CX team and chief customer officer that makes its intentions more visible could help with what, even if the average consumer isn't aware of who they are or how they're improving the experience on their behalf.
On some level, we all know what the CX of fast food is supposed to look and feel like. It should be convenient, cheap, and speedy. Like a lot of great customer experiences, it all sounds so simple. McDonald’s has been at this long enough to know it takes a lot of work behind the scenes before anyone’s lovin’ it.