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McChanges: The Customer-Centric Transformation of a Fast Food Icon

Listening. Transparency. Lovin’. It’s a new, customer-centric era for the Golden Arches.

As has been widely reported, sales at McDonald’s have been slipping. With more customers, especially Millennials, mindful of healthy eating — something McDonald’s has not been known for historically — the restaurant chain is undergoing a brand transformation. “We must keep the customer at the center of all decisions,” says newly appointed McDonald’s U.S.A. CMO Deborah Wahl. “We’ve made some changes about how we engage, knowing that engagement leads to customer experience.”

Improving the customer experience starts with one simple task: listening. “We love serving burgers,” explains Wahl, “but at our core, McDonald’s has always been about serving people. And when you serve people, it means you must listen to them.”

One of the first changes McDonald’s made on its brand transformation journey was embracing transparency, publicly and however uncomfortable. With the help of the guy from Mythbusters, McDonald’s launched a social media campaign called “Our food. Your questions.” that explores real questions asked by real customers, like What’s in your McRib patty? and Do you use so-called ‘pink slime’ or ‘pink goop’ in your Chicken McNuggets? The campaign is an open dialogue about the healthfulness of McDonald’s food; a head-on, unapologetic McMythbusting attempt to offer skeptics and loyal customers alike peace of mind and quality assurance. More than 20,000 questions have been answered so far, and the company is taking concrete action in direct response, like introducing fresh fruit in Happy Meals.

And the “Create Your Taste” sandwich customization platform, available (for now at least) in select restaurants in Australia and the U.S. The customization trend is something other restaurant chains, like Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, have embraced as a result of growing customer demand for greater control over their food — where it comes from, how it’s prepared, when they get it, all on their terms. The fact that McDonald’s now offers menu customization somehow gives the trend more gravitas; more implications for the fates of fast food menus everywhere. Perhaps one day soon traditional fast food menus and counters will become obsolete?

Customers have dictated that McDonald’s can no longer ignore them. They want their voices heard, and the fast food icon is ready and willing to listen. As Wahl sums up: “McDonald’s is moving from a philosophy of ‘billions served’ to ‘billions heard.’ Today, we are working harder than ever to evolve with our customers. We’re on a journey to change the relationship and conversation. We are listening more and assuming less. Asking questions and getting answers.”

Here, then, is the new customer-centric McDonald’s; where the special sauce remains the same, except now you know what’s in it. And you get to control whether or not it goes on your Big Mac.

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