Full-service operators, beware: The quick-service competition is nipping at your heels on the customer satisfaction front.
According to just-released annual scores from the American Custom Satisfaction Index, fast food operators are improving at a quicker pace than their table-service counterparts. Both segments score relatively high (82 for full-service, 79 for quick-service, versus a 65 average for airlines), but the satisfaction gap between the two is narrowing—scores for quick-service brands climbed 5.3 percent, which full-service brands crept up 1.2 percent.
Overall, the top scorers were Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Outback Steakhouse; on the quick-service side, Pizza Hut, Little Ceasar and Starbucks won the highest ratings.
Why are the scores converging? One theory is price. Consumers say they are happier with the quick-service experience because it comes at a more appealing price point. Within the quick-service segment, pizza chains rated higher than burger concepts. ACSI suggests that expanded choices are behind the difference: choice in ordering (takeout, delivery, online) and choice in menu (besides pizza, many pizza restaurants serve pasta, chicken, salads and other items).
“In order to justify higher prices, full-service restaurants need to beat fast food in customer satisfaction,” ACSI notes. “This they do, but not by much, and their satisfaction lead is shrinking. Not only should this be a warning signal to the full-service outlets, but they also have a problem with a lack of satisfaction differentiation within their own category. In this industry, nearly every company carries virtually the same ACSI score.” In other words, none of the big brands included in the study stands out.
ACSI (www.theacsi.org) doesn’t just provide a benchmark of the consumer experience. It’s also a leading indicator of consumer spending and has been linked to stock price performance in numerous academic studies. It is the only cross-industry, national measure of customer satisfaction, rating more than 225 companies and federal or local government agencies, across 47 industries and 11 economic sectors (including e-commerce and e-business).