Recently, I sat down for coffee and conversation with my brother-in-law Gary.   “So, tell me what makes a Chick-fil-A so different from a Wendy’s, McDonalds, Burger King, or Arby’s, or Kentucky Fried Chicken,” I asked.

Gary replied, “Our first priority is to make you feel welcome when you walk in the door.  We train to a ‘mood meter’ to properly connect to the individual.  This means that if your kids are crying, we may bring them a complimentary toy.  If you walk in with kids in your arms, we’ll escort you to a table and take your order.  We open the doors for super seniors.  If you’ve lost a loved one, we may buy your meal.”

I immediately grabbed a pen and paper to take notes.  “There are some universal principles here,” I thought.

Secondly, Gary described speed – how fast can we turn people through at noon hour and the drive through?  We average 30 seconds per order and 125 cars at lunch hour.  We’re constantly trying to beat those numbers.  Can we drive them down to 25 seconds?

Third, Gary described their catering business which is unique to fast food restaurants.  We’ll go to them.  We’ll go to you.

Fourth, Gary described the priority that they put on accuracy and details, “We have to get it right at the drive through.  There’s nothing anyone hates more than driving away with an error in their order.  That’s why we’ll add a person and check process to the drive through delivery.”

Last, Gary wrapped up by saying, “Although we are a food factory, we’re in the relationship business.  What business are we in?  We’re in the relationship building business – not just transactional business.  I’ve been in the food business for 40 years – and I’ve been in the service business for 40 years.”

Chick-fil-A is so committed to this principle that franchise owners can only own one location.  Build relationships in order to build the business.

Gary’s model follows that which is laid out in Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. They tell the tale of the Area Manager and his fairy godmother, Charlie. Throughout the pages of this tale, Charlie reveals the three pillars of excellent customer service. The first pillar is: Decide what you want. This involves “creating a vision of perfection centered on your customer” (p. 41). Customers are essential to the survival of any business. Start with what you want your business to be to your customer. How do you imagine the perfect customer experience? What does it look like? You are the source.

Discover what the customer wants is the next pillar. You may be disappointed just like the area manager was. It’s pretty obvious. Does the customer’s vision harmonize with your vision? Sometimes the customer wants X but you only provide Y & Z. If you truly want to deliver quality customer service, this does not allow you to serve EVERYONE. You cannot be everything to everyone (p. 53). This is why it is so important to define your vision. From that vision, you will clearly know what you are best at and can offer better quality service.

Lastly, Deliver plus One. Once you have defined your vision, discovered what the customer wants, now you must deliver plus one percent – consistently. First, you must meet the customers’ expectations, then you must exceed those expectations 1 percent. What is your 1 percent? What different service can you consistently offer to customers that will make them Raving Fans?

Satisfied Customers are not enough, according to Blanchard and Bowles, raving fans needs to be the goal. If you are in a customer service business, which I think is each and every business, I recommend the book Raving Fans.  It is a short read and a great organizational training or educational tool.  Although the book is a bit trite and hokey, Blanchard and Bowles fill the pages with the story of the Area Manager as he goes on a journey to discover the secrets to create Raving Fans. The pages are packed full of examples and practical ways to apply the principles to your own business.


Mike Ritsema 

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