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).

4 Responses to “A Lesson from Chick-fil-A”

  1. Mark Henson said:

    Nov 25, 08 at 9:37 pm

    What’s surprising is that this is a common problem and it is SO easily fixed! It’s the same reason that contracts get longer and longer. One person somewhere violates the spirit of a coupon and “rips the company off.” So then the company decides to enforce it’s coupon fine print to the nth degree.

    Unfortunately, the damage this legalism does is severe. Maybe with blogs, twitter, and all other social media, managers everywhere will start to think twice before getting picky on something as silly as a peppermint vs. chocolate milk shake!

  2. Service Untitled said:

    Nov 26, 08 at 1:27 pm


    Exactly. Word spreads fast and customers can be fickle. It’s important to give the customer the benefit of the doubt if you want to succeed in the long run (i. e. look at Nordstrom).

  3. Jeremy Hodges said:

    Dec 01, 08 at 12:08 am

    I would continue to follow-up on this issue. Chick-fil-A does not ever put restrictions on coupons. I have even used coupons that expired months before and they have taken them with a smile and a “Thank you”.

  4. Service Untitled said:

    Dec 03, 08 at 8:33 pm

    Jeremy, that is why I was so surprised.