I love fried chicken sandwiches. Evidently, I’m not alone as almost every fast food restaurant out there has worked overtime to come up with their own version, hoping to take a bite out of the burgeoning market for this national craving. There is even a National Fried Chicken Sandwich Day, occurring on Nov. 9.
The increasing offerings have sparked numerous comparisons and even a chicken sandwich war. As a result, in most cities, you do not have to drive far to get a crunchy piece of chicken inserted between two buns with a few pickles thrown in. While it seems everyone has their personal favorite, one company has become a national brand, not by selling chicken sandwiches, but by providing the best experience.
Although they claim to have been the first to offer a fried chicken sandwich, they realized from the beginning that anyone else could (and eventually would) offer a competing product. Therefore, they focused on developing something that would become almost impossible to duplicate: an unbeatable customer experience.
While their original chicken sandwich may not rank No. 1 in some national taste tests, no one even comes close to duplicating the experience their customers receive. From their well-dressed, courteous team members, their trademark “My pleasure” delivered with a smile (taken from Ritz Carlton), drive-through experience, dine-in service, phone app, 3D cows proclaiming, “EAT MOR CHIKIN” and more, they have no rivals in the fast-food industry.
While Chick-fil-A understands that the food has to be good, and consequently uses only the best ingredients, they know it is the experience that keeps consumers coming back for more. So how do they accomplish this?
1. Awesome leadership
While it is possible to buy just about any fast-food franchise, you cannot buy a Chick-fil-A location. Instead, once the company identifies a target location, they search for potential operators and put candidates through an extensive vetting process. The goal is to find exceptional individuals who, once chosen, have a profitable stake in the business based on their performance and ability to build an amazing team.
The founder of Chick-fil-A, Truett Cathy, believed that the restaurant business was a vehicle for building the next generation of community leaders. Rather than looking for workers to fill slots in a sandwich assembly line, Cathy looked for individuals who were teachable and wanted to grow.
David Salyers, a retired Chick-fil-A vice president, frequently asked his operators what business they were in. Of the operators he questioned, he states that none responded by saying “fast food business” or “chicken sandwich business.” He is quoted as saying that his favorite answer came from an operator in Virginia who declared, “I feel like I am a leadership development academy masquerading as a fast food restaurant.”
This approach means that they seek out the best possible candidates for team positions and provide extensive nurture, which in turn results in long-term employees who see their jobs as so much more than just dishing out sandwiches through the drive-through window. They also take the unprecedented move of being closed on Sundays so operators and their team members can have a day of rest.
Having visited hundreds of fast-food restaurants, I can personally state that no one delivers the same customer experience I’ve encountered at Chick-fil-A. From the friendly smiles to the positive, upbeat attitude, no other brand even comes close.
Takeaway No. 1: Gary Keller of Keller Williams has often stated that you are three key hires away from a remarkable business. He also emphasizes that while the correct hires can transform your business by utilizing the principle of leverage, one bad hire can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars and potentially ruin your business and reputation. Those first few hires are critical: Take the time to do it right.
2. Extensive training
Many companies have successful training programs. While some focus on restaurant management and product consistency, Chick-fil-A goes further by training for an exceptional customer experience.
One example is the “my pleasure” response given by team members. Realizing they wanted to exemplify the best in customer service, they chose to model their business after what they believed was the best customer experience available, the Ritz Carlton. That is quite a lofty goal for a sandwich company.
They also realized that the best way for their team members to succeed was to train them so completely that they could react instinctively no matter the situation. While they train team members on the fundamentals of preparing food, a considerable amount of training is directed toward the goal of providing their exemplary customer experience.
Takeaway No. 2: Take the time and effort to effectively train your new hires. While many real estate companies provide great training programs, some are better than others. Effective training not only includes the technical aspects of the real estate business, it should include the development of people skills, CRM management and ongoing coaching. Training should also be driven by your MVV (Mission, Vision and Values).
3. Exceptional systems
During the pandemic, I often heard the quip, “If the government had hired Chick-fil-A to oversee the vaccination process, it would have been a huge success rather than the fiasco it actually was.” One thing is certain — when it comes to managing the drive-through process, no one does it better.
Understanding that no one wants to spend a long time sitting in a drive-through line, Chick-fil-A developed a system to keep things moving at a rapid pace. This need also translates to what happens inside the restaurant to meet the demands of the high volume of customers. Those systems also ensure that customers get the same remarkable experience no matter which location they visit across the country.
Takeaway No. 3: Systems deliver your services (or product) to the client. You may have the best people in town, but if they do not have the systems to deliver their services and expertise to the client, it is all for naught. Systems must be duplicatable time after time to ensure consistent results and the highest level of customer service.
4. Remarkable practices
At the core of Chick-fil-A is the desire to be remarkable. This is spelled out in David Salyers book, Remarkable!
Speaking at the League of Southeastern Credit Unions’ Convention & Exposition, Salyers explained the differences between a normal business and a remarkable business.
Normal business: Extract value.
Remarkable business: Create value.
Normal business: Create a sale.
Remarkable business: Create a fan: “If you create enough fans, sales will never be a problem.”
Normal business: People are here to grow the business.
Remarkable business: The business is here to grow the people: “People have to have the opportunity to grow for the business to grow,” said Salyers.
Normal Business: We have to do this.
Remarkable Business: “Can you believe we get to do this?”
Normal Business: Want to be the best company in the world.
Remarkable Business: Want to be the best company for the world.
Normal Business: About P&L and making a dollar. Customers are treated as human ATMs meant to spit money over the counter.
Remarkable Business: Seek to be a platform to make a difference.
Takeaway No. 4: Remarkable businesses are focused on people, not the product, beginning with your team and then transferring to the client, building lifelong fans in the process.
5. Giving back
Visit some fast food restaurants and you will see a dollar menu. Chick-fil-A doesn’t have one. Rather than rely on discount marketing to drive their business, they rely on building community relationships.
On their website, they declare, “Everyone’s job at Chick-fil-A is to serve. No matter our title or job description, our reason for coming to work is to generously share our time and talents. Whether it’s treating customers like friends, or serving our communities like neighbors, we believe kindness is a higher calling.”
Continuing on their website, we read:
Leading locally: Chick-fil-A Operators are full-time, hands-on leaders in their restaurants and in their communities. That’s why, around the country, restaurant Operators find creative ways to serve. In some communities, that means supporting the troops through military appreciation events or inviting guests for family events like Daddy Daughter Date Night. Or, through Chick-fil-A, Inc., they can sponsor national programs and partnerships locally, like Junior Achievement or Chick-fil-A Leader Academy. Ultimately, as independent business owners, Operators choose how and when they want to give back – supporting causes that are most meaningful to them, their customers and their communities.
Restaurant Team Member scholarships: Scholarships at Chick-fil-A began when Truett Cathy set a mayonnaise jar on his first restaurant counter to help Team Member Eddie White pursue his dream of a college education. Through contributions from customers and Truett himself, Eddie’s dream came true. Since 1970, Chick-fil-A has helped over 80,000 Team Members achieve their remarkable futures through a total investment of $136 million in scholarships.
Community grants: Through our annual Chick-fil-A True Inspiration Awards, Operators have the opportunity to nominate local nonprofits to receive a grant ranging from $50,000 to $350,000. With Operator help, we’ve been able to award more than $12 million to 171 organizations across the U.S. and in Canada through this program. For 2021, True Inspiration Awards grants will support nonprofit organizations who are Black-led or serve communities of color and who are working in the areas of education, hunger or homelessness.
I personally saw this in action during the wildfires in Northern California. As hundreds had their homes destroyed and countless firefighters and emergency service personnel responded to the crisis, a local Chick-fil-A, located in the center of the fire zones, stopped business as usual and transformed the restaurant into a first responder outpost, provided internet support for those who had lost their homes and gave away thousands of meals.
Additionally, the operator set up GoFundMe accounts for team members who had lost their homes and provided support on as many levels as possible.
Takeaway No. 5: Make giving back at every level an intrinsic part of your business culture: not because it is a good business practice but because you genuinely care about people and their needs.
What can we learn from a chicken sandwich? Quite a lot, it turns out, if that sandwich was made by Chick-fil-A.