Missing From McDonald’s Hamburgers: Customer Loyalty


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Missing From McDonald’s Hamburgers: Customer Loyalty McDonald’s has been receiving a great deal of negative press for their financial performance after announcing their new turnaround plan. For the quarter that just ended June 30, the company’s profits sank 13 percent to $1.2 billion and revenues dropped 10 percent to $6.5 billion. That’s a big problem. Both the The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal recently ran articles: McDonald’s Earnings Falter Despite Turnaround Efforts and McDonald’s Initiatives Have Yet to Turn Tide.

According to McDonald’s new CEO, Steve Easterbrook, the company is trying to change the menus, work on reducing complexity and streamlining tasks for its franchises, like taking steps out of assembling menu items, changing the way packaging is laid out and implementing technology to improve communication between the counter and the kitchen. However, I failed to see any plan focusing on building customer loyalty or creating the ideal customer experience. What about improving the communication between the front-line associates and the customers?

I understand we are talking about hamburgers. Fast food drive-ins have all become a commodity. However, go to almost any neighborhood coffee shop and just stand back and see how the staff knows the customers’ names, their schedules, how they want their coffee and importantly, how they welcome a customer with that big smile. A smile costs nothing, but is priceless.

McDonald’s, in addition to changing the menu, should make creating and building customer relationships a priority.  Hiring the right employees and training them to deliver a customized experience and ensuring employee turnover is kept at a minimum is critical.  True, many McDonald’s customers are transient and drive-through, but worldwide are neighborhood stores where just as many people frequent the same establishment.  Do any McDonald associates know the names of their customers or anything else about them?  I guarantee that employees at Mary’s coffee shop do.

The following statement appears on the McDonald’s website to prospective employees: McDonald’s offers a chance to learn, grow and gain hands-on experiences that can set them up for success – whether here at McDonald’s or anywhere else they pursue their opportunities. And the pride that comes from bringing a little lovin’ to our customers every day.

I am not really sure how they bring a little lovin’ to their customers. Lovin’ is important, but there is more to creating a great customer experience than that. Teach associates the principals in the most successful business book ever written, How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie, in 1937.  His message is as valuable today as when the words were first written.  Mr. Carnegie believed that “financial success is 15 percent professional knowledge and 85 percent the ability to express ideas, assume leadership and arouse enthusiasm.”

It is most important that staff at the counters and drive-in windows be taught to understand the value of creating and building that special relationship. Going to a fast food restaurant should be no different in theory than going to a 5 star hotel.  A simple smile and trying to make a connection with another human being must be the basic standard in any industry.  Remembering the customer’s name and recalling it on their next visit can be the best turnaround plan for any company. Keeping up with a more nutritional conscience nation, apps that make our lives easier and looking at ways to improve productivity are all important, but when there is no focus on person-to-person communication, the package is incomplete.

Make sure your company grasps the importance of improving the human-to-human connection.  That emphasis is the secret sauce to create a winner.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Richard Shapiro
Richard R. Shapiro is Founder and President of The Center For Client Retention (TCFCR) and a leading authority in the area of customer satisfaction and loyalty. For 28 years, Richard has spearheaded the research conducted with thousands of customers from Fortune 100 and 500 companies compiling the ingredients of customer loyalty and what drives repeat business. His first book was The Welcomer Edge: Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business and The Endangered Customer: 8 Steps to Guarantee Repeat Business was released February, 2016.


  1. In-N-Out Burger could serve as a model here. When you look at the product, it’s still just a burger and In-N-Out has the simplest menu of them all. But they have the customer-centric model, perhaps not perfected, but the closest of the burger joints. I was at an In-N-Out in Long Beach on Los Coyotes Diagonal not long ago and during an unbusy time while I was waiting for my order (yes they are made to order unlike McDonalds) no less than 10 employees behind the counter came up one by one and asked me if I’d been helped. Finally the manager came up to me and told me that this is how they train their employees and that he hoped I didn’t mind the constant attention and concern that I’d been helped. I was quite taken aback. This is the kind of thing that you notice and it sticks with you, even if it’s just a burger joint.

  2. Karl, thanks so much for your comment. I had never heard of N-Out Burger but it’s great to hear about your wonderful experience. When people try to help, it can definitely “help” create and build customer loyalty. Richard

  3. Richard,

    Thank you as well. In-N-Out are west coast based company but get as far east as Texas I believe. If you are ever in CA, you owe it to yourself to visit one and try them. I’m not as enamored with their product although to me it is superior to McD’s and their french fries are totally superior. But it’s the overall experience that is what sets them apart. They started in 1948 just to give you an idea that they are not the new kids on the block.


  4. Hi Richard

    Being polite and attentive to customers should be part of retailing 101 at any restaurant. But staff at McDonalds getting to know customers’ names and personal preferences? I am not so sure for a number of reasons.

    Firstly, companies should look to compete on the things that are important to customers. On the infrequent occasions I go to McDonalds I am invariably in a hurry and just want my food as quickly as possible. I expect front-line staff to be polite, attentive and efficient. That is all. I am certainly not interested in developing any kind of relationship with McDonalds or its staff. My local McDonalds in Germany has introduced self-serve kiosks for customers to order their meals (all cooked to order). In my experience, the kiosks allow me to order what I want much more efficiently than talking to front-line staff, particularly if there is more than one person in the queue.

    Secondly, companies should look to compete on the things that are feasible. Mary’s coffee shop may be open from early till early evening with maybe a few dozen customers per hour. But McDonalds is open 24 hours a day with thousands of customers per hour. It is simply not feasible to expect staff to remember customers’ names and preferences. And as British Airways discovered on introducing the computer-based ‘Know Me’ programme for cabin crew, it is very easy indeed for computerised recognition systems to be perceived as creepy and intrusive by customers.

    And finally, companies should look to compete on the things that are sustainable. Some McDonalds franchises reputedly pay their staff so little that they are unable to even afford to eat at McDonalds. As a result, there is extreme staff turnover such that some franchises only keep staff for a few months before they move on to a different minimum wage job. It is silly not realistic for staff, even if they were motivated enough and had the cognitive capacity, to remember customers’ names and preferences when they may only be there for a few months.

    Competing on personal service may be fine for Mary’s Coffee. But it is unlikely to be the foundation for a successful turnaround for McDonalds. It is simply unrealistic to suggest that McDonalds should be anything like a 5-star hotel… other than the basics of politeness and attentiveness.

    Graham Hill

  5. Hi Graham, thanks so much for taking the time to provide comprehensive feedback on my blog post. I can definitely understand your viewpoint. I’m not sure what is happening in Germany, but in the United States even luxury brand retailers or high end restaurants don’t bother to try and connect with the customer. If the associates at McDonald’s don’t have the time to have conversation to learn a customer’s name they certainly could give regular customers a “welcome back” smile. I go to a Dunkin donuts or Starbucks in New York City that gets hundreds of customers a day and the staff is trained to recognize customers and automatically know how they want their coffee and that’s in New York City! In almost every business today, the product ends up being a commodity. Except for brands like Apple and Amazon, most companies need to create a relationship because most likely their product can be sold at a lower price if not today, then tomorrow. I greatly appreciate your comments and hope to travel to Germany one day. Have a wonderful rest of the week. Richard

  6. Hi Richard

    I think it was Grouch Marx who said, ‘if you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made’. This fakery is what I see in so many smile-trained front-line staff that I interact with, particularly in retail. And it doesn’t work. I can see through the fake smiles a mile away!

    It doesn’t have to be like that.

    My local McDonalds in Cologne, Germany, also has a McCafe. Other than three proper italian coffee shops in the city centre, McCafe is the nearest decent cup of coffee. My wife and I have been going there regularly for years. We have become genuine friends with some of the staff there who have gone beyond the smile-training to show a genuine interest in us as customers. And this (along with the coffee) keeps us going back to the McCafe time and time again. Does this make me loyal to McDonalds? Not a bit. Does this make me loyal to McCafe? Not really, only retained. Does this make me loyal to the staff at McCafe? Completely, including up to the point of helping one of the members of staff to get a better job outside McCafe.

    Retailers would be wise to remember that customers are human. And have 100,000 years of evolution that helps them differentiate fake sincerity from the real thing. Far better to hire staff with a high EQ than to try and train them to sycophantically smile. If they aren’t willing to do that, there is still self-service and in the near future, Turing-compliant robo-service.

    Graham Hill

  7. Graham, thanks for continuing the dialogue. I agree 1000 percent. Every time I make a presentation I explain how loyalty is generally towards a person at retailer and not the physical store. If the staff at McCafe went to new coffee shop that open nearby, you would certainly follow them. My first book, The Welcomer Edge was all about people who are natural welcomers who see the customer as a person first, customer second. If more businesses hired these type of associates the smile would never be fake. Greatly appreciate your insights! Richard


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