Chick-fil-A is Still America's Friendliest Drive Thru

    The human element remains strong, despite the rise of AI and other technology.
    Drive Thru | October 2019 | Sam Oches
    Customer Service

    Chick-fil-A / Stanley Leary

    Customer service heavy hitter Chick-fil-A may fall behind in speed of service, but the brand’s personal, friendly approach to guest interaction consistently pushes it ahead in nearly every service category.

    As drive thru goes digital, a customer service question naturally arises—will human customer service be replaced with AI or other technology?

    Not yet. Brands are reticent to name technology as a substitute for drive-thru customer service, preferring to look at digital innovation as a tool to add to the customer service mix, taking some stress off human team members but leaving face-to-face communication in its place.

    “No matter how advanced our technologies become, they’ll always be used to simplify and enhance a fast drive-thru experience for our customers, but never at the cost of great customer service,” says Deepak Ajmani, senior vice president of U.S. company operations for Wendy’s, a brand that performed in the mid to high range in every 2019 service category.

    Overall, saying “please” was the customer service attribute that guests encountered least often, and late afternoon was when customers were least satisfied with their service, with only 26 percent ranking the service at the highest level, or “very friendly.” About 40 percent of customers ranked their service at the highest level during every other daypart, pointing to a mid-afternoon lull in customer service that could use some livening up across all brands.

    Customer service heavy hitter Chick-fil-A may fall behind in speed of service, but the brand’s personal, friendly approach to guest interaction consistently pushes it ahead in nearly every service category. What can other brands glean from Chick-fil-A’s approach? Focus on the rare moments in the drive thru when customers communicate with employees, Cooper says.

    “We think that customer service is critical, especially in an environment like the drive thru where the customer has limited touch points to experience our people and our brand. Team members deliver what I like to call microbursts of hospitality to make sure our customers know we care about them,” she says.

    Customer Service by Chain:

    brand very friendly pleasant average lackadaisical rude
    Arby's 40.0 43.6 11.5 3.6 1.2
    Burger King 28.5 44.2 21.2 4.8 1.2
    Carl's Jr. 39.0 39.0 18.3 3.7 0
    Chick-fil-A 65.0 27.9 6.6 0 0.5
    Dunkin' 40.0 37.0 15.8 6.1 1.2
    Hardee's 31.3 45.8 14.5 8.4 0
    KFC 37.6 38.8 17.6 5.5 0.6
    McDonald's 28.5 42.4 20.6 7.9 0.6
    Taco Bell 43.0 32.1 15.2 7.9 1.8
    Wendy's 41.2 37.6 15.8 4.8 0.6
    Total 40.2 38.3 15.5 5.1 0.9

    Service Attributes by Chain:

    chain eye contact please pleasant demeanor smile thank you none of the above
    Arby's 87.9 47.9 89.1 74.5 89.1 2.4
    Burger King 88.5 44.8 81.2 71.5 86.7 2.4
    Carl's Jr. 89.0 53.7 91.5 75.6 95.1 0.0
    Chick-fil-A 93.4 62.8 93.4 91.3 90.7 0.5
    Dunkin' 88.5 50.3 85.5 77.6 81.8 3.6
    Hardee's 83.1 37.3 75.9 68.7 84.3 0.0
    KFC 81.8 38.8 78.2 67.3 86.1 1.8
    McDonald's 86.1 37.6 75.2 69.1 84.8 2.4
    Taco Bell 83.0 41.2 76.4 72.1 84.8 4.2
    Wendy's 84.8 45.5 79.4 71.5 89.1 1.2
    TOTAL 86.8 46.2 82.6 74.3 87.0 2.1

    2019 QSR drive-thru performance study Methodology

    Data for the 2019 QSR Drive-Thru Performance Study was collected and tabulated by SeeLevel HX. The study included 10 chains and data from 1,503 visits, with the following break-down of visits by chain: Arby's (165), Burger King (165), Carl's Jr. (82), Chick-fil-A (183), Dunkin' (165), Hardee's (83), KFC (165), McDonald's (165), Taco Bell (165), and Wendy's (165). Visits were conducted across the country, across all regions and dayparts. No restaurant location was visited more than once. All data was collected between June 1 and August 1.

    Daypart analysis was based on the time of day of the visit—breakfast (5-9 a.m.), mid-morning (9-11:30 a.m.), lunch (11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.), late afternoon (1:30-4 p.m.), and dinner (4-7 p.m.). The distribution of visits mirrored revenue by daypart.

    Upon each visit, a data collection researcher surveyed the drive-thru lane and then entered the line as any other customer. Each order placed by our researchers consisted of one main item, one side item, and one beverage. A minor special request was also made with each order, such as beverage with no ice. Although two different speed-of-service times were recorded for each visit (one for the researchers' order/experience and another from a randomly selected vehicle), all tables within this feature are related to the researchers' own vehicle and experience only, as this was the controlled order. Service time was defined as the time from stopping at the order station to receipt of all items (including change). Additional data collected by each researcher included but was not limited to: order accuracy, drive-thru and exterior appearance, speaker clarity, and customer service. All purchases were made using cash so as not to influence timing.