Outback, Panera Lead 'Customer-Centric' Rankings

Outback Steakhouse and Panera Bread are tops among U.S. restaurant/food service brands when it comes to responding to the needs of their customers, according to a new Customer Centricity Index (CCI) from Dunnhumby, which analyzes and distills insights from more than 400 million customers worldwide for retailer clients.

Dunnhumby's new CCI weighs U.S. customers’ perceptions of retailers against seven "pillars" or primary business areas most critical to achieving long-term customer-centricity (experience, loyalty, communications, assortment, promotions, price and feedback), to help retailers understand where and how they can improve. 

The results of Dunnhumby's first CCI report, focused on the restaurant/food service sector, confirm that companies with higher CCI scores also tend to have higher long-term comparable sales growth over a two-year period. 



Restaurants face more operational challenges in becoming customer-centric organizations than other categories of retail because franchise models "often make it difficult to consistently deliver the same customer experience across outlets and, ultimately, to build long-term loyalty with customers,” says Euan White, SVP, consumer markets for DunnhumbyUSA. “Our research shows that customer-centricity is a key indicator of business health and potential for growth. It also shows that food retailers that understand what drives customers to their brands are leveraging that insight to differentiate themselves from the competition and drive sales.”

The overall top-10 U.S. CCI ranking -- across all restaurant formats -- shows Outback and Panera to be #1 and #2 respectively, followed by (in order) Texas Roadhouse, Olive Garden, Chili's, Red Lobster, Chick-fil-A, In-N-Out Burger, Cracker Barrel and Applebee's.

Other restaurant brands making the top 25 overall ranking (in order), are #11 Cheesecake Factory, followed by Subway, Chipotle, IHOP, Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches, Arby's, Panda Express, Wendy's, Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, KFC, Dairy Queen, McDonald's and Burger King. 

Dunnhumby also analyzed customer-centricity within the three primary restaurant categories/formats: casual dining, fast casual and fast food. 

The results show that in addition to heading the overall restaurant/food service ranking, Outback and Panera score at the top of their respective categories, casual dining and fast casual. 

The CCI leaders in the casual dining sector, after Outback, are Texas Roadhouse, Olive Garden, Chili's, Red Lobster, Cracker Barrel, Applebee's, Cheesecake Factory and IHOP.

The leaders in the fast casual category, after Panera, are Chipotle, Panda Express and Five Guys.

Chick-fil-A leads the fast food sector ranking, followed by In-N-Out Burger, Subway, Jimmy John's, Arby's, Wendy's, Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, KFC, Dairy Queen, McDonald's and Burger King.

Other key findings:

*A strong customer experience, personalized communications and a tailored assortment mix that meet customer needs had the largest impacts on customer-centricity/CCI scores and rankings.

*Across all restaurant/food service categories, price was important to customers, but it was more heavily tied to perceived value than actual lowest price. For example, Outback's CCI score for price was slightly higher than competitors', even though it had a similar or not-much-lower price point -- indicating that Outback customers perceive a stronger value for their purchases than at competitive restaurants.

*Customers rated casual dining and fast casual restaurant brands higher than fast food brands in terms of experience and opportunities for them to give feedback and interact with the companies -- which tended to result in higher overall CCI scores for these types of restaurant formats, versus fast food formats.

*Outback scored high in assortment and feedback, but excelled within both the overall restaurant/food service and casual dining rankings based on the "experience" factor. Insights from customer responses reflect the quality of the brand experience and how it translates seamlessly across the way the brand is marketed and the products it serves. Customers said that Outback does an excellent job of making them feel that they are immersed in the casual, Australian-themed brand experience/atmosphere -- and "experience" attributes are most influenced by the interaction customers have with restaurant employees, reports Dunnhumby.

*Panera scored higher than its fast-casual competitors in each of the "seven pillars," and scored significantly higher in loyalty. Customers indicated an appreciation for Panera’s personalized MyPanera loyalty/rewards program, including its "surprise/delight" features.

*The fast food category leader, Chick-fil-A, outscored competitors on the experience, communication, feedback and assortment factors. Customer responses indicated that they are passionate about the brand, the quality of its food, and the menu assortment/variety that it offers.

To create the CCI restaurant/food service rankings, Dunnhumby asked customers of more than 100 restaurant brands, over a nine-month period, to rate these brands on 40-plus customer-centric attributes based on Dunnhumby's “seven pillars" of customer-centricity. Brand scores are based on a weighted average of those results that link the various factors of customer-centricity to loyalty and likelihood-to-recommend. Respondents were classified as customers of a restaurant brand based on trips occurring at the restaurant during the previous three months. 

The full CCI Food Service Report can be downloaded, with registration, on Dunnhumby's site.

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