Sit-down chains are no longer the customer service leaders they once were, according to the most recent American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) report released today.
For the first time in the index’s history, quick-serve brands tied—at an average score of 80—casual-dining brands for customer service.
“It’s a combination of improving quality over the past few years and good prices,” says David VanAmburg, managing director of ACSI, about quick serves’ climb up the customer service ladder. “Customers are shopping around much more on price, looking to stretch their dollars as much as possible.”
The ASCI compiles data from more than 70,000 customer surveys to measure customer service in 10 economic sectors, including full service and fast food. Customers are asked to score quick-serve brands for quality of experience, quality of food, quality of service, and value. Based on these surveys, brands are ranked on a scale of 0–100.
VanAmburg says that in the past, diners ranked quick-serve chains lower on the customer service scale because of the lower quality of food and lack of healthy options.
“Now we’re seeing that there are a lot more healthy options … and the quality of food in general has been improving,” he notes.
Papa John’s led the way for quick serves, surging 5 percent to a score of 83; Little Caesar’s took the second spot, climbing 2 percent for a score of 82.
Wendy’s, the highest-ranking burger chain, improved by 1 percent to 78, while Burger King stayed flat at 75 and McDonald’s brought up the rear with a score of 73—an all-time high for the company that scored 59 in 2000.
Taco Bell improved 1 percent to reach a score of 77, and KFC remained flat at 75.
Despite the performance of Domino’s and Pizza Hut (unchanged at 77 and down 4 percent to 78, respectively), VanAmburg says it’s no surprise that pizza remains a customer service leader in the quick-serve industry. He says pizza’s convenience, coupled with its value factor, gives the segment a leg up.
“The emphasis right now is so much on value and convenience. The quick-serve restaurants are appealing to both, and pizza in particular is appealing to both,” VanAmburg says. “These [pizza] chains have really nailed down an efficient set of logistics to do their business and do it well.”
This year’s index also included two newcomers in the quick-service segment: Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts. Subway came out of the gate with an impressive score of 82, while Dunkin’ Donuts scored a notable 79. Although Dunkin’s score was lower than some, it ranks high above its head-to-head rival Starbucks, which fell 5 percent to 76.
VanAmburg says that while Starbucks has loyal customers, it’s a premium brand that can’t compete on the level of customer service in terms of value.
“It’s not that Dunkin’ is weak on quality, they’re just so much better on price,” he explains.
While the index often strongly correlates with a company’s bottom line, VanAmburg says there are always exceptions. For example, McDonald’s, the largest quick serve in the world, has consistently ranked near the bottom of the quick-service segment. But because of its ubiquity, VanAmburg says, “it’s probably insulated to some extent because of its size.”
He says, however, that the smaller the chain, the more important customer satisfaction will be to the brand’s bottom line.
By Mary Avant