So get up and get away to…. Wait!  Hold everything.  McDonald’s is now dead last in customer satisfaction ratings?   Click here for NBC News article based on the latest info from the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

What happened?  The “You Deserve A Break Today” campaign which ran from 1971-75 was one of most successful campaigns of its time.  It took the chain from 5 billion burgers sold in 1969 to a whopping 20 billion burgers sold at the end of the campaign in 1976.

Did McDonald’s lose its secret sauce and become ordinary or are other forces at work?  Herb Weisbaum, author of the NBC News article referenced above, blames the economy for the satisfaction downturn (among other things), but I see something different.

McDonald’s used to be a special place to go.  We didn’t eat there every day in the 1970’s.  We went there as a treat.  We visited the golden arches as a reward on Saturday after Little League, or after raking the yard, or cleaning out the garage.  We went when we deserved a break and the marketing campaign took full advantage of that truth. But there was something more to it as well.  McDonald’s had food we craved and enjoyed: their golden french fries, cold milkshakes, and the Big Mac.  From time to time they added new items to their menu permanently like Filet-o-Fish, Quarter Pounder, Egg McMuffin and Chicken McNuggets.  Other chains copied them with their own versions and McDonald’s was the clear leader year after year. What happened?

McDonald’s is as American as Apple Pie.  I even feel a little guilty writing about them on this Independence Day.   As I see it, in the 80’s and 90’s McDonald’s lost its appeal as being special place to go as a treat or reward and it became a daily necessity for millions of people.  It became a daily stop in the morning for breakfast.  Or a place we went at least twice a week for lunch.  It became Chicken McNuggets for the kids several nights a week.  When both parents entered the workforce, McDonald’s was the easy answer for many households and it replaced home cooked food at the dinner table.  And the price was right!

When Americans became health conscious, fast food was under attack.  McDonald’s was slow to respond in some areas, removed transfats from the fryer, and even made an Egg McMuffin from egg whites, but even today we still are not exactly sure of the ingredients in a Chicken McNugget. From a workforce perspective,

McDonald’s used to be a rite of passage for many teens in high school, but now their frontline is the minimum wage workforce.  Customer service is scripted by the cash register.  At the counter we are asked over and over again if we are “dining in’ or “take out” because the order taker wasn’t listening when we said it the first time.  The frontline is not empowered or incentivized to make a difference for the customers.

Here’s an idea:  don’t give me a watered down, healthy version of a Big Mac – give me something new, fresh, delicious and healthy…something that I will crave and come back for many times.  If you are going to give me scripted robot order-takers, then just give me a kiosk to order from and eliminate the person and the personality from the equation.  Or give me friendly, personable, caring, empowered order takers who listen to me and understand me and want to make a difference to their customers and their business by meeting my needs.   Of course, these ideas are not just for McDonald’s.  Focusing product enhancements and service improvements to meet customer needs will make any business successful.

Consumers are much savvier today than in years gone by and we demand higher quality from all aspects of our dining experience.  We want healthy, delicious choices and superlative service.  We want to be heard and appreciated for doing business with you.  We actually want to be loyal, so give us a reason to be loyal.   Companies who want to improve their satisfaction ratings, should set their sights on being a leader (again) by being innovative with their product, their people and their target market.  The C-suite, business owners and business leaders must want it so bad they can taste it.  It all starts at the top – a supreme Customer Experience must be in their vision, mission and strategy.