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Fast Food Wars: The Battle of Social Service

Before I begin, I want to tell you a love story. A story about how a man from Northern California fell in love with a chicken sandwich and those funny cows. Or at least, provide a little proof that it is not my intent to publicly shame the home of the best chicken sandwich in the nation.


I love Chick-fil-A. I don't mean a little love, I mean I really love it. It has been an obsession of mine for more than 15 years, ever since I had my first Chick-fil-A sandwich in Arlington, Texas. On a work trip to Texas, my coworkers took me to Chick-fil-A, and I was hooked from the first bite. The chicken was amazing, as was the bun and the pickle, and those fantastic waffle fries! When Chick-fil-A began opening restaurants in California, I could hardly contain myself. I went to the Elk Grove store (just outside of Sacramento) shortly after they opened. I really wanted to be there on the first day to win free chicken sandwiches for a year, but I wasn't willing to camp out all night for that honor. On another visit, I met the operator (Chick-fil-A refers to their franchise owners as operators), and since then, I have always tried to meet the operator of each new store that has opened near where I live. I still love Chick-fil-A but let me tell you about the time I tried to contact them with a simple question.

One of the reasons I love Chick-fil-A is that their iced tea is consistently amazing! I also love that they serve nugget ice, my favorite type of ice. It is what many people refer to as crushed ice and is also called pearl, pellet, or cubelet ice by different ice machine manufacturers. I'm a geek about a few things, what I can say? Well, I have noticed that at every Chick-fil-A, the menu boards always show the drinks with nugget ice but one restaurant I regularly visit doesn't have it. Instead, they serve crescent ice (the type that is curved on one side and flat on the other). Crescent ice isn't bad; it's just not nugget ice. So, I decided to call Chick-fil-A's customer service line to ask about this. Side note: when I tell people that I call a contact center every day I am often asked how I come up with companies to call. Well, I am a curious person, and it doesn't take long to come up with a reason to call a company. Sometimes I even call about ice.

I called Chick-fil-A assuming I would reach a person, ask a simple question, and would get an interesting answer. Actually, I expected I would get a response like, "our operators make the ice decision." I never thought this one phone call would lead me down a rabbit hole about customer service via social media.

I was in the queue for seven minutes waiting for a person to answer while "Hard to Say I'm Sorry" by Chicago played on repeat. Yes, seven minutes listening to Peter Cetera repeat lines like "After all that we've been through, I will make it up to you, I promise to" over and over and over. Just before the eight-minute mark, it switched from the song to a ring, and I got excited (and relieved to no longer be hearing that song). My excitement quickly faded as I listened to a recording say something like, "Please enter the voicemail extension you wish to reach" before disconnecting the call.

I called back right away. This time, I was serenaded by the voice of Freddie Mercury from Queen singing "Another One Bites the Dust." Some songs shouldn't be played while on hold, and I think I just found two of them. After a few more minutes on hold, I hung up. I had no more time to dedicate to this crazy icecapade (see what I did there?).

Later that day, I was telling a co-worker about what happened and decided to check out Chick-fil-A's social channels. Lo and behold they had a Facebook Messenger account that proudly proclaimed, "Typically responds in a day." Great! The subject of social service has come up in a lot of conversations lately, and I wanted to see how my favorite fast food restaurant handled social service. At this point, I was no longer interested in the ice question, but I did want to let them know about the phone issue I had experienced earlier.

I sent them a message around 9 AM on that Tuesday. I was sure I would get a response that same day, or at least within 24 hours. After all, they typically respond "within a day."

Well, that day went by, as did a couple of more until I eventually forgot about it. But some time later, when the subject of social service came up in a Twitter chat, I decided to try again. I replied to the first message and was sure they'd respond quickly this time! Nope. A day went by. A week went by. Nada. It's now been more than a few months. Crickets. I never received a response from Chick-fil-A.

Chick-fil-A's lack of response to my direct messages got me thinking about how other restaurants and retail businesses are handling service via social. So, I tested a few. My tests focused on Facebook Messenger because it seems that if a company has a presence on Messenger that they must have someone on the other end, right?

Not always. Even though their Messenger accounts often proclaimed how fast they typically responded, many never did respond. Here's what I found:

The winners:

  • Wienerschnitzel - response within minutes
  • Kohl's - immediate response from bot, simple transition to live person, near immediate response
  • Fire Wings - quick response from human
  • Panera Bread - immediate response from a human
  • Subway - response within hours (typically responds in a few hours)
  • Whataburger - immediate response from bot, but was contextual and answered my question

The losers:

  • Chick-fil-A - no response ("typically responds in a few hours")
  • Starbucks - no response ("typically responds in a day")
  • Burger King - no response ("typically responds in a few hours")
  • Barnes & Noble - no response ("typically responds in a few hours")

Of course, not all companies are reachable via social media. As an example, In-N-Out Burger, a California favorite that has started to pop up in other parts of the country, has a simple approach to contacting customer service: they drive everyone to a single toll-free number. It's on their receipts, website, social accounts and I've even seen their number on their bags. Need to contact In-N-Out? There's only one number. Their restaurants are open late and so is there customer service department. Getting a live person on the phone when you call is effortless. By some accounts, they may not be "winning at social" but they know exactly who they are, and for now, they are not a company that is going to help you via social media. But when you call their customer service department, you get an associate that cares about your experience, and it's clear they care about their brand. My point is, I think that In-N-Out wins, or at least beats Chick-fil-A when it comes to problem resolution or contacting customer service. Sure, In-N-Out drives you to a phone number, but it's quickly answered by people that can help you.

What are you doing in social?

You may find it hard to be everywhere and on the latest new social channels, but for the ones you have turned on, are you actually working them? Do you have customers trying to reach you there? Do you have customer inquiries going unanswered?

Social service can mean different things. Are you responding to mentions of your company when people tag your accounts? Have you deployed social listening to spot untagged mentions of your company, your brand, or your products and services, and are you responding to those? If you've enabled direct messaging from customers, are you responding to those?

How long should it take?

In his recent article, "How Fast Should a Business Respond to an Email?", Jeff Toister, customer service guru and author of The Service Culture Handbook suggests "businesses should target a (Facebook Message) response time standard of 1 hour, with 15 minutes representing world-class service." Although the percentage of millennials that expect a response within an hour is higher than that of other generational cohorts, the evidence is clear that nearly everyone expects a response in less than a day. I'm going to go out on a limb and say there would be a significant improvement for some businesses if they simply responded at all.

Turn it off

Most businesses wouldn't purposefully publish a phone number that was disconnected, right? That seems to be just what some companies have done with Facebook Messenger. I'm not suggesting (yet) that you must have a presence on any particular platform to deliver excellent service, but you should apply resources to the ones you do have turned on. If you're not going to do that, you should turn them off.

Here's the rest of my advice: if you discover old messages that were never responded to, respond. Respond and apologize for missing the message. And don't think about the risk that you'll remind the customer that you forgot about them, I'm willing to bet that although you forgot about them, they've not forgotten that you ignored them.