Fast food giant McDonald’s recently announced the promotion of Manu Steijaert to the new role of executive vice president and global chief customer officer, leading a brand-new customer experience team.
As a former employee who did not have a good experience there, I say: better late than never.
The Chief Experience Officer (CXO) or Chief Customer Officer role is critical to ensuring a seamless customer experience at all touchpoints in the customer journey. It’s necessary because most large companies have siloed organization structures and those silos make themselves apparent to the customer.
To be blunt, customers don’t care about organizational structure. They look at McDonald’s as a single company, not as marketing, public relations, mobile, loyalty programs, menu development, etc. And yet often the customer is subjected to disparate experiences from each of those teams.
A Chief Customer Officer’s job is to make sure that doesn’t happen.
There is a chapter in my new book, The Experience Maker: How To Create Remarkable Experiences That Your Customers Can’t Wait To Share, entitled “Solidifying Executive Leadership with a Chief Experience Officer.” In it I explain what the role is about and why every company should have one. I also interview CXO’s from several companies.
According to CEO Review, “The scope of the CXO extends beyond a Customer Service Manager: as the spokesperson for the customer experience they are tasked with ensuring each aspect of the business contributes towards a positive engagement between the brand and the consumer.”
The publication further spells out five main objectives of the role, including one that McDonald’s desperately needs: “Promote the culture of customer orientation internally.”
The Szechwan Sauce Debacle
A few years ago, after an online petition spurred on by the Rick & Morty Show gained momentum, McDonald’s decided to bring back the McNuggets Szechwan Dipping Sauce that it had previously discontinued. The limited-time promotion was meant to gain the company some positive PR while it was fighting against animal rights activists and the Morgan Spurlock sequel, Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!
You may remember what happened: Hundreds of people lined up at McDonald’s restaurants, many of whom literally slept overnight in the parking lot. Fights broke out. There were riots. And restaurant franchise owners were left literally picking up the pieces.
Why did this happen? Well, in the rush to get the sauce back into the market, only a small amount was produced. Not every restaurant got the precious sauce packets, and the ones that did only got a few dozen.
Admittedly, no one expected to find lines of people hundreds deep the morning of the sauce’s re-release. But the situation could have been avoided with a little communication and management of customer expectations.
You see, while McDonald’s knew that each restaurant would only get a few sauce packets, customers didn’t.
Imagine waiting out overnight in a parking lot, number 75 in line, just to find out in the morning that there were only 50 sauce packets available. Yeah, I’d be angry too.
The Social Media Response
I was the Head of Global Social Media at McDonald’s during the Szechwan Sauce “incident.” The morning of the launch, we woke up to tens of thousands of social media posts blasting the company for mishandling the sauce campaign, complaining that McDonald’s didn’t care about its customers, and vowing never to return to the restaurant.
This was what social media leaders and managers literally have nightmares about.
And I couldn’t help thinking: These are our best customers. These are people that love McDonald’s and Szechwan Sauce so much, they waited out overnight in a parking lot just to get their hands on a packet.
Crazy? Maybe. But doesn’t every company wish for customers who are that loyal?
What’s worse is that thousands of them were now saying they hated McDonald’s and would never come back.
Immediately we started responding to as many of them as possible, apologizing and directing them to other restaurants that might still have packets available. Unfortunately some of those restaurants were a very long drive away.
McDonald’s and Customer Experience
The buzz within McDonald’s headquarters that day was surprisingly upbeat. The sales numbers came in a day or so later and everyone was ecstatic: the company was up several percentage points in year over year sales, and it was all because of the massively successful Szechwan Sauce campaign.
I presented a report of the social media activity of that day, and it wasn’t pretty.
It also wasn’t included in a campaign summary sent to upper management.
But, I argued, even if only a small percentage of the customers who claimed to be writing off McDonald’s forever were serious, we had to take that into consideration when calculating the ROI (return on investment) of the campaign, right?
But people were more interested in taking credit for the increased sales.
So that brings us back to Mr. Steijaert, the new Chief Customer Officer.
His number-one goal should be to “Promote the culture of customer orientation internally.” That’s not sales orientation or profit orientation; it’s customer orientation.
Because when you focus on the customer, the financial metrics will follow. If McDonald’s is now focused on customer experience, their customers will be more likely to stay.
And if not, well, there’s always Wendy’s or Burger King.