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Chick-fil-A recipe for excellent customer service

Free FryDayToday in the Jonesboro, Arkansas Regional Chamber of Commerce presentation, franchised restaurant operator and owner of Chick-fil-A, Mike Fullington explained to his audience how customer service can have an impact on a person’s day and even his life. He explained those who really do it well have a certain “spirit,” and that is not something that is trained; rather it comes from the heart with the desire to serve and help others.

In the world of fast food, there has to be a special talent to prepare fast food and still be able to pass out a survey asking a customer to rate taste, speed, attentiveness, courteousness, and cleanliness. That sounds more like the upscale restaurant we visit once in a while, but the Atlanta-based franchise is well-known for its passion and service. Instead of a “thank you” at the end of a customer’s purchase, the more genteel “my pleasure” is used. Truett Cathy, founder, chairman and CEO stresses “servant leadership,” meaning managers treat employees how they want employees to treat customers.

It’s not the extra mile of service franchises bring to Chick-fil-A; it’s been described as the second extra mile. It’s where new franchise owners can take up to a year to come aboard. They have worked in the restaurant, gone through countless interviews, involved their families in the business, and identify with corporate values. All Chick-fil-A’s for instance, are closed on Sundays as a day of rest and prayer. While it’s not mandatory to be Christian, all owners must have demonstrated a special passion, humility, and genuineness Cathy finds mandatory. He places families first, and is a firm believer in strong family units.

Innovative ideas to promote the Chick-fil-A culture for outstanding customer service is rewarded. Contests for competitiveness are rewarded as teams show exemplary work ethics and ideas. Technology and training assist employees in attaining goals of efficiency and speed; 90 seconds for service at a drive through and 60 seconds for counter service.

As an incentive to heighten customer loyalty, coupons, restaurant openings, and special community occasions bring forth new opportunities for “ambassadors” to spread the word to someone not familiar with Chick-fil-A.

And to constantly keep a check on the best ingredients for Chick-fil-A, Cathy spends $1 million dollars on quarterly evaluations which questions customers about their experiences. Respondents receive a free sandwich for answering twenty questions about their experiences. Each location is then forwarded a two-page report.

Excellent customer service is adding that special recipe people just don’t expect to receive. With over 1200 restaurants and $1.5 billion in sales, there’s a lot to be said about integrity taking first place as has been shown via Truett Cathy’s philosophy.

photo credit: Carl Black

Chick-fil-A Gets Proactive

chick-fil-a-pep-choc-shakeI’ve written about Chick-fil-A before (twice positive and once negative) and how they do things differently than a lot of fast food restaurants. The other day I was Christmas shopping at the mall and got Chick-fil-A for lunch. Given the fact it was a few days before Christmas, the mall was absolutely packed and Chick-fil-A was no exception. Chick-fil-A was good at handling the influx of people, but that wasn’t what was notable about the experience.

What was interesting is that Chick-fil-A sent one of their employees around asking people with Chick-fil-A cups if they wanted refills or needed more sauces or anything like that. If someone said they wanted a refill, he took their cup and came back with their refill a few minutes later. If a person didn’t need anything, he wished them a happy holiday and thanked them for their business.

This isn’t something I have ever seen at a mall before. I’ve seen people walk around Chick-fil-A’s standalone restaurants and ask people how their meal is and if they need anything, but I’ve never noticed that in a mall setting, especially when it is as busy as it was when I was there.

My guess is that the particular location had an extra person who came in (and/or not enough room to get the people who were there to be productive) and the manager said to go around and see if people needed anything. Sending someone around accomplishes a few things:

  • People get their refills without having to wait in line (customer satisfaction bonus as well as less congestion at the actual store).
  • The store gets to use an employee who otherwise might not contribute very much during his or her shift.
  • Customers have the opportunity to be impressed, wowed, etc. by the fact a fast food restaurant is sending people around a mall’s food court and asking if they want refills.

All and all, this was a win-win for Chick-fil-A and a good idea.

A Lesson from Chick-fil-A

I’ve said plenty of good things about Chick-fil-A in the past, which was why I was surprised when I had a negative experience with one of the fast food company’s franchises last week.

The experience actually started as a positive experience. I had been mailed a page of coupons from Chick-fil-A. A few them appealed to me and I knew I went to the Chick-fil-A near me every so often, so I kept one for a free milkshake in my wallet. When I went to the Chick-fil-A near me the following week, I used the coupon and got my free chocolate milkshake. The woman who helped me then handed me a very similar coupon that also said “free handspun milkshake with any lunch or dinner meal.” Simple enough – I put the new (identical) coupon in my wallet.

The following week, I was back at Chick-fil-A and tried to order the milkshake and was told I had to get a peppermint milkshake because “that was what the coupon was promoting.” I asked the person to show me where it said I had to order a peppermint milkshake (the only criteria I could see was “handspun,” which they all are) and was again told that the picture of the peppermint milkshake on the front negated what the text said. The “fine print” only covered copyright issues, not issues relating to the promotion. I told the person that I had used successfully a similar coupon with the same picture on the front the week before and received no response.

In no mood to argue at length over a free milkshake, I took my peppermint milkshake and a comment card and left. I called the number on the comment card and got the local store’s answering machine. I left a message explaining the situation and my contact information. A week later, I still haven’t heard a word from Chick-fil-A, which is almost as annoying as having an advertisement that misrepresents what you can actually get.

What surprised me most, though, was Chick-fil-A unwillingness to give me the benefit of the doubt, even after I explained I had used the same coupon a week earlier. The cost of the milkshakes is probably the same and would have avoided the issue all together.

Good customer service companies give customers that “misunderstand” a policy the benefit of the doubt. I had a similar experience with Amazon.com over a year ago in the past, but unlike Chick-fil-a, they decided to give me the benefit of the doubt (even though the policy was clearly spelled out on Amazon’s web site).

Customer Service Profile of Chick-fil-A

I saw a post about Chick-fil-A at CustomersAreAlways. There is a Chick-fil-A near me and I have to agree with Maria – their customer service is far better than their competitors’. In fact, I’d even classify it as pretty good when it comes to inexpensive restaurant customer service, much less fast food customer service. McDonald’s and Burger King almost always have terrible customer service, but Chick-fil-A is not like that.

Even more interesting is that the average transaction I’ve had at Chick-fil-A takes far less time than at McDonald’s, even though I’m ordering essentially the same things. I never hear managers yelling at employees at Chick-fila-A (they yell quite often at the McDonald’s I go to), the prices are roughly the same (from what I can tell), and best of all – the food and service is always consistent at the Chick-fil-A near me, as well as the other ones I have been to. This is very tough to achieve for any franchise.

Here is what Chick-fil-A seems to do right:

  • They hire right. Chick-fil-A’s employees are normally very friendly and seem intelligent. They seem to actually mean it when they say “Thank you” or “You’re welcome.” I have no idea if Chick-fil-A pays more than the average fast food employee or what, but they seem to find the right people. The managers seem equally dedicated and conscientious and are always quick to respond to and resolve problems.
  • They allow franchise owners to do individual improvements. The second article I linked to below talks about how one franchise owner creates some competition and encourages employees to try and make the process as fast as possible (while still preserving a pleasant customer service experience).
  • They aren’t lazy. A huge problem in the fast food industry seems to be that employees (regular employees, managers, franchise owners) are lazy. There can be 3 people standing behind the counter at McDonald’s and only 1 working the register (when there are a lot of people standing in line). This doesn’t seem to happen at Chick-fil-A.
  • They are involved with the community. When Chick-fil-A is about to open a new location, they try and find people who like the restaurant to promote it. Chick-fil-A also partners with local schools and they will donate a portion of sales where customers used the school’s special coupon to buy things. It’s a win-win-win (customer gets a discount, school gets money, Chick-fil-A gets customers and money).
  • Their management cares about customer service. See the article linked to below.

This is an interesting article about how Chick-fil-A’s management influences their customer service. This article talks about what Chick-fil-A does that makes a difference. On a somewhat related note, I also found this article today that contains 21 tips for retail customer service. The page has a great set of guidelines.

Note: The experiences I’ve mentioned at McDonald’s (and Chick-fil-A) are based off of my own personal experiences as well as what I have heard/read. They don’t necessarily represent service at all of the company’s locations (which is true for pretty much everything I write about – some people may be better than others, some people may be worse).

A New Way of Doing Fast Food

Earlier this afternoon I was in the mood to indulge myself with something I knew isn’t good for me. To cure my craving, I visited a Chick-fil-A not too far from where I happened to be at the time. It isn’t the one that is very close to my house (that one is in a mall), but a standalone Chick-fil-A, much like a traditional McDonald’s or Burger King.

After navigating my way to the appropriate line at the drive through (I went in the wrong entrance, not Chick-fil-A’s fault), I saw a new way of handling the drive through process for fast food restaurants.

Chick-fil-A still had the same line that stretches around the restaurant 16 times with 1000 cars in it, but they made more productive use of that line. There were essentially “stations” with various people about every 20 or 30 feet. They were as follows:

  • When I first pulled up, a man welcomed me and gave me a printed menu that was very thorough (I knew what I wanted, but it definitely explained everything).
  • You pulled up about 20 feet and another person, this time with a small clipboard, showed you another menu (this one had pictures) and asked you what you wanted. You gave him your order, he wrote it down, and then he handed you a small white piece of paper with your order on it.
  • The next station was where I gave a lady with a two-way radio my white sheet of paper. She called in the order and told me how much it’d cost. I was then instructed to pull up to the window.
  • At the window, you pay and you get your food. It’s all ready for you (none of the scrambling they do at McDonalds) and based on your space in line, they obviously know how much you owe and what you’re getting.

The result is a much faster process than the typical method utilized by fast food companies (you know, the one with the speaker and illuminated menu). It’s also a better experience – there’s no yelling, you’re kept fairly busy the entire time, and there’s little wait time. Chick-fil-A got me through the line in about 5 or 6 minutes, probably a third of the time it would have taken McDonalds. As a result of that, they’re not only making their customers happier, but serving more customers.

The most important aspect of this example is that it is yet another illustration of how there is always room for improvement – even in processes that seem to be perfected, and at the very least, have been around for a long time.

For more reading on Chick-fil-A, see this post.

Some quick posts.

Today is a series of quick posts that will make up one average post.

All About No: When and How to Say it
In looking at stats, I notice a lot of people are curious about when and how to say no. Luckily, I wrote about that back in February of this year. Here is the link about when and how to say no. The main point is to come up with alternative solutions instead of flat out saying no.

On etiquette.
While we are on the subject of etiquette, check out the entire category devoted to here at Service Untitled. For a more narrow focus of what not to say, check out the “Big List of Things Not to Say.” I’d consider it a must read.

Spa customer service and outsourcing?
Another reader asked if spa customer service can be outsourced. Sure it can! Almost any process can be outsourced. Some things that spas could do:

  • Outsource incoming telephone calls and appointments
  • Have another company remind customers about appointments
  • Outsourced sales
  • Have a “concierge” service made up out of outsourced employees

Keep in mind that the term outsourced does not necessarily mean people in a place like India. It just means a particular task or process is sent to a third party company. An outsourced firm could be in India or Iowa. When a task or process is sent overseas, that’s called offshoring.

The drone script.
I was shopping at Gap today. Overall, it was a decent customer service experience. I was helped quickly and was pleasantly surprised to see that I was not treated like a shoplifter when I went to try something on (no numbers or person guarding the doors). When I went to checkout, the guy had his script:

  • Were you able to find everything today?
  • Would you like a Gap blah [No!] blah save 1000% card? (I said no as he said Gap card and he finished his little speech anyways.)
  • Would you like your receipt or would you like it in the bag?

Pretty boring when representatives use the drone script as I call it. Be original (and genuine)! This is why operating procedures are better than scripts.

My pleasure!
I asked for a straw as I was walking my the Chick-fil-A in my local mall. I said thanks and the lady came out with a genuine “My pleasure!” I’ve been pretty impressed with that Chick-fil-A’s customer service (have never been to any others). They seem to do things right and it definitely shows.

Needless to say, the Chick-fil-A is always really busy. The other places – not nearly as much. I’d like to think it’s the service, but I’m sure the food being good (maybe not for you) helps.

How was that? I got to cover 5 things in one post. Maybe I should start a new category and call it Customer Service ADHD?

(Lack of) Total Management Cooperation

It’s been a long week. I’m going to end the week (and start the weekend) with an above average post (if you are thinking that all of my posts are above average, then this post is above that).

I constantly babble about how important it is for the commitment to customer service to start at the top (also known as management dedication). However, a question I am asked a lot is “How do I convince my company’s management team that customer service is important?” This post will hopefully help you convince them and is dedicated to people in charge of a company’s customer service department.

Very few companies want to look at customer service as anything besides a gigantic cost center (which it is – good customer service departments are extremely expensive to staff and run). Successful customer service companies don’t look at as a cost center, but instead a potential customer winner over center (that isn’t the official term, but it does work).

Remember the stool!
Remember the three legged stool? I vowed to talk more about it, but it is hard to work it into posts as often as I’d like without overusing it. However, the three legged stool is so important. Explain it to your company’s management team. Employees have to be happy or they won’t be nice to customers. If customers aren’t happy, they won’t be nice to employees. If the business results are bad, everything will likely fail. However, if all three legs (items) are good, everything will work out.

Show them examples.
I have talked about quite a few companies that have seen above-average levels of success largely due to customer service. Companies like Nordstrom, Ritz Carlton, Headsets.com, Rackspace, Chick-fil-A, Printing For Less, and Starbucks are all companies I have talked about that have seen success partly (if not more than that) due to a strong commitment to customer service. Explain to your management team what these companies have done and what they have seen.

Concrete figures.
It’s more like soft concrete figures across the street, but they are figures nonetheless. Business people like facts and figures. Fact: Great customer service increases customer loyalty. Fact: Happy employees are more productive. Fact: Great customer service helps create customer evangelists, who definitely help businesses. None of these are solid facts (not in the 2 + 2 = 4 sense), but with research and logic, you should be able to find plenty of articles, white papers, research studies, and academic papers stating the same or very similar points.

Management teams don’t like to (but need to) hear about how their competition is doing something better. Say something like:

“We at Company X have 25% customer retention. At Company Y, where they have great customer service, has 65% customer retention. I spoke to Bob in our business department and he ran some figures and said that if we could increase our customer retention by 40%, we’d make another $5 million. That’s one tenth of what I’m asking for to help improve our customer service and that’s just one figure.”

That should get them almost every time. Management teams hate to hear how much better their competition is doing, especially when they can be doing just as well.

Get support.
Before going to your management team, talk to both customers and employees. Do they want to shift to a more customer service focused company? Customers probably will, but will they spend more? Ask! Explain what you want to do and ask for support. The reactions can’t hurt (worst that can happen is you stay like you are), but certainly can help.

Be sure to.
Explain to your management team that giving you a bigger budget for customer service, hiring a few consultants, or giving you a bigger salary won’t necessarily make their company the next Nordstrom or Ritz Carlton. Tell them that for this to work, it requires constant work and a constant dedication to customer service by everyone – including them.

Take an answer.
If the management team says yes, you are free to jump up and down because you are so happy. However, if they say no, take an answer. Work on your data, talk to more people, and get more examples and try again in a few months. It may be a slow (and painful) process, but if your data is good enough, you should be able to convince your management team.

Customer Service Difference #1: Nordstrom

You can’t write a series about customer service making companies that would otherwise be ordinary extraordinary with mentioning Nordstrom.

Nordstrom was founded in Seattle more than 100 years ago and has embraced customer service pretty much since day 1. Price wise, the company is on par with Bloomingdales, but below Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. Service wise, it is far above all three.

Customer service excellence is a major part of the company’s culture and a lot of leading customer service professionals are former Nordstrom employees (Maria at CustomersAreAlways worked at Nordmstrom for quite a while, I believe). Some of these people write books, blogs, newspaper articles, and everything else you can imagine and share their knowledge and insight about what good customer service is with others.

I don’t think I have read a book on customer service that hasn’t cited Nordstrom at least a few times and I’ve read a lot of books on the subject. In fact, I have one book that specifically talks about Nordstrom’s customer service and another one that is also exclusively about Nordstrom on my list of books to read.

Nordstrom is both directly responsible for great customer service (the service it provides in its retail stores) as well as indirectly responsible for a lot of great customer service found at other companies (from its former employees teaching, writing and talking about, etc. the subject).

So what does Nordstrom do to ensure great customer service? From what I can tell:

  • It is a major part of the company’s culture. Nordstrom revolves around customer service and they teach their employees to focus on it. Customer satisfaction is Nordstrom’s ultimate goal and they have subsequent been very successful.
  • They are humble. I called Nordstrom’s PR department for an interview. The lady politely declined saying that Nordstrom still had plenty of room to improve and doesn’t like to tell others what they do well when they aren’t done improving yet.
  • They empower employees. Nordstrom’s only rule to employees is to use good judgment. I can’t think of many companies that empower their employees to that extent.
  • They compete to be the best. Nordstrom promotes competition among employees. Employees are encouraged to try to be best and provide exceptional service to customers.
  • Their management cares. The management team at Nordstrom is as focused on customer service as the rest of the employees. This is extremely important to a company’s customer service efforts. If the management doesn’t care, the employees won’t have the resources to do anything and/or not care themselves.

These are things that you really have to invest time (not so much money in). Nordstrom has some more specific policies such as having operators answer the phones during business hours at their stores, a no-questions-asked return policy, wider aisles in stores, and countless other little things that collectively truly do make a big difference.

Nordstrom is an impressive customer service organization and one that company’s have a lot to learn from.

Upcoming posts on the same subject (in no particular order):
Ritz Carlton
Chick-fil-A (inspired by Maria’s post)

Upcoming mini-posts on the same subject (again, in no particular order):
Printing for Less

Do you have any companies you’d like featured? Suggest them in the comments.