A surprising fact has come to light since last month’s article regarding the effects of social media on McDonald’s and the Banks. Although, as predicted, the Christmas blues gave way to a rise in happiness among McDonald’s’ consumers, there was distinct slide in ratings for the banks, as more damaging news emerged, including further mis-selling scandals and poor results from nationalised banks.

When comparing actual service, arguably the most important area under examintaion, and where McDonald’s usually excel, they have surprisingly fared very poorly since Christmas.

So does this mean service is not as consistently good across McDonald’s’ restaurants as we might believe? And if so, why the high result for McDonald’s from mid-December to mid-January?

Mark Westaby, Director of SpectrumInsight suggests the likely reasons behind these trends, believing the fall in service could have much more to do with a change in consumer attitude than any lowering of brand performance:

“Seasonal effects are obviously known about and supposedly taken into account, but these findings suggest they might be considerably greater than realised… this could be explained by the severity of the financial pressures on consumers, i.e. at Christmas people were determined to enjoy themselves no matter what, while things have now returned back to ‘normal’.

“I can’t say we were expecting this, although one thing we have come to realise is that surprises are never far away”.

Just as we have been surprised by happiness levels falling for McDonald’s’ service over the past quarter, so have we been taken aback by the fall in happiness levels against the food giant’s staff recently. Impact from Nedgate has been checked, scrutinised and dismissed, which raises the fascinating and potentially critical question: In a service based business just how much is ‘poor customer satisfaction’ driven by the changing attitude of the consumer rather than actual performance of the brand?

Unlike McDonald’s, there are concrete reasons why the banking sector is facing an uphill struggle with customer satisfaction levels. To determine why happiness levels have fallen so significantly, SpectrumInsight compared comments for the fast-food chain with those for NatWest, the worst performing bank in our study over the same period, and used a tool called ‘Qualimetrics’ to quantify the qualitative themes emerging from consumers, as opposed to the pre-set up themes used in conventional customer satisfaction surveys.

In order to test whether the fall in happiness associated with McDonald’s staff and service since Christmas is caused as much by consumers’ changing moods and emotion as by any drop in performance of the brand’s service and its staff, a version of the ‘Likert ‘ test was applied. Used by psychologists, this model has been adapted for Twitter, and takes advantage of strong words such as ‘love’ and ‘hate’, verbal emotions commonly used by consumers on Twitter to express a polarised opinion. Milder emotions, such as ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ were used to balance the middle of the scale.

Whilst this showed there is absolutely no difference between the relative volume of references to ‘staff’ between the Christmas period and that for mid-Feb to mid-March, the Likert scale results (below) reveal a very clear and significant change in consumer attitude.

 

Westaby believes these findings have potentially major implications for customer experience tracking, and rightly points out that it is more important than ever for consumers to ‘set the agenda’ against the prescribed view of conventional market research, which might easily miss such effects.

Last month we touched upon the effects of the vastly-growing social communication trend as technology evolves at a rate faster than our own comprehension of its value and impact on business, but little did we realise the impact this would have on our attempts to satiate the global consumer monster we have created, and the colossal effect this is starting to have on our business-customer relationships.

When we formally ask for an opinion, we generally get a watered-down version of what the consumer is actually thinking, which is subject to bias. When we become a fly on the wall in the consumer sitting room, listening to the free-flow of verbal energy, feet up, tea or beer in hand, we reveal a powerful insight into what is really going on in the minds of consumers.

It would be interesting to see how these trends change as the financial crisis eases, and how other major global influences affect people’s attitudes and feelings towards the services sector in general. In time these dramatic new findings could pave the way for a more honest and genuine exchange between consumer and business, and open the gates to a better understanding of the new social media influences which are beginning to shape our landscape. Perhaps the growing belief in a holistic approach to business and its consumer community, and the growing awareness of the interconnection between business and its responsibility towards that community will be the next stone to uncover. As Westaby astutely conveys, consumers are now ‘setting the agenda’, and we, for one, would be wise to start listening.

 

Author: Neil Skehel is a business leader and innovator who has achieved significant results in roles of up to £100M direct P&L responsibility in both multi-nationals and small businesses. With over 25 years’ spent delivering business operations, change, growth and improvement he has significant experience in identifying and managing the expectations of senior managers, operations teams, corporate functions, suppliers and customers.

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