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McDonald's executive says 'service is broken'

by Martha C. White /  / Updated 

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When it comes to service, McDonald’s customers just aren’t lovin’ it.

The burger behemoth is fielding an increasing number of gripes about its employees’ friendliness, professionalism and speed of service, so much so that an executive warned, “service is broken” at a recent internal webcast.

The company told franchisees during a webcast last month that 20 percent of complaints were related to workers’ attitudes, “and it’s increasing,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Gripes about “rude or unprofessional employees” topped the list, and complaints that it took too long to get food increased “significantly,” over the last six months.

McDonald’s didn’t provide commentary on the webcast to the Journal but said that the company is “absolutely committed” to delivering a good customer experience.

“We are not in a position to confirm or deny this as we believe the original story was based on leaked information,” a company spokeswoman told NBCNews.com via email. “As such we do not comment on leaked information or information we believe is obtained through unauthorized means.”

This new headache comes just as McDonald’s was regaining its stride after two consecutive quarters of missing analysts’ expectations.

In a survey of the 10 largest fast-food chains it conducted earlier this year, research firm Technomic found that McDonald’s came in last in the “friendly, pleasant service” category. “Although McDonalds has struggled with pleasant friendly service, they are still the largest and most used restaurant in the industry,” Technomic executive vice president Darren Tristano said via email.

Research firm YouGov found McDonald’s in the middle of the pack when it came to overall customer satisfaction in a recent survey.

“If it continues to linger, it can certainly have an impression on the brand equity,” said R.J. Hottovy, senior restaurant analyst at Morningstar. “When you have bad customer service, it gets noticed right away.”

The company already had indicated it planned to focus on service more in 2013. President and CEO Don Thompson told investors on McDonald’s quarterly conference call in January that it was working on “improv[ing] customer satisfaction and our service levels.”

McDonald’s size, combined with its franchise-driven business model, can make implementing attitude adjustments difficult. “The franchise model is a bit more of a challenge,” said Todd Hooper, a restaurant strategist at consulting firm, Kurt Salmon. “It takes constant support and vigilance from the franchisor.”

Analysts say the company is up to the challenge. “McDonald’s takes these things pretty seriously,” Hottovy said.

“The good news is that McDonald’s leadership has recognized the opportunity to improve this area of their business,” Tristano said. “Customers expect to be treated with respect and friendliness.”

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