A lesson in customer service from Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy

Does Chick-fil-A’s commitment to be kind to employees and provide heartfelt hospitality to customers make the food taste better?

President and COO Dan Cathy says it does -- and the numbers back him up:

  • The 66-year old family-owned business is now the second-largest quick-service chain in the country.
  • Chick-fil-A does more business in its six day week (they’re closed on Sundays) than McDonald’s does in seven.
  • Turnover among Chick-fil-A’s 61,000 employees is a third of the industry average.

What’s the secret behind the Cathy family’s success? Speaking to a packed auditorium at SAS Headquarters in Cary, NC, Cathy shared the company’s approach summed up in their corporate purpose statement: To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.

In keeping with this statement, employees at Chick-fil-A are taught a lesson we should all sit up and pay attention to: “Every life has a story, and often our customers and our employees, need a little grace and a little space when you deal with them because they are either experiencing a problem, just finished having a problem, or are about to have one,” said Cathy.

“The word ‘restaurant’ means place of restoration, and we think of Chick-fil-A as an oasis where people can be restored. We strive to treat people better than the place down the street. One way we do that is by remembering that we’re all people with a lot of emotional things going on that don’t necessarily show on the surface, so we try to offer amenities and kindness that minister to the heart,” he said.

Free ebook: Customer experience - now and into the future

Chick-fil-A’s extreme service makeover

In that same spirit, Cathy shared a verse from the Bible -- Matthew 5:41: “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” At Chick-fil-A, they’ve put that verse into action with an “extreme service makeover,” going the extra mile to provide amenities not common in a quick-service restaurant, like offering fresh ground pepper to patrons dining in, or staff offering to carry heavy trays for moms with small children, helping them get settled and coming back to check on them often.

And they give free rein to their operators to get creative in surprising customers with a little something extra. For example, in Virginia, one franchise offers expired chicken nuggets to pet owners (don’t worry – the nuggets are still good; just past the few hour freshness hold time). 

“If you want to make a difference, step over the line and into that second mile, because magical things happen there,” said Cathy. “There’s joy and fun and reward in that second mile.”

Intrigued?  Then you probably want to know what’s in Dan Cathy’s Leadership Toolkit:

  1. A baton: “Success is about succession,” said Cathy. “Everyone needs to think about who’s going to carry the baton after us.  The relay race is won not by the four fastest runners, but by the team that gets the baton around the track first. The most dreadful noise to a runner is that of the dropped baton. The same holds true in business.”
  2. Oxygen mask: “Put your oxygen mask on first in case of an emergency,” said Cathy. “Remember to take care of yourself. Leaders have to take care of ourselves if they’re going to help others be at their best.”
  3. Jar of Jif peanut butter: “When you break the freshness seal in a can of Jif peanut butter, you get a wonderful aroma, like you’re standing in a peanut factory. That fresh aroma emphasizes how we need to focus on staying fresh in our thinking.  And in order to stay fresh, we’re going to have to do some unconventional things,” said Cathy. “The best way to think outside of the box is to get outside of the box – get out and travel and have a look around.”
  4. Roll of toilet paper.  “Little things can make a big difference,” said Cathy. “Think about the toilet paper in a fancy hotel, and how it’s always folded up for you there on the roll. It’s always such a pleasant surprise when you see that. Build your own repertoire of little surprises.” 

One of the many benefits of creating surprising, fun and rewarding experiences for Chick-fil-A customers is that their customers tweet about them, talk about them on Facebook or blog about them to followers. “That’s important today because of social media – people have big, big microphones,” said Cathy.

Other nuggets of wisdom from Dan Cathy:

  • “Fall in love with your work and you’ll never have to work a day of your life.”
  • “Enrich your life and in turn, you’ll enrich the lives of others.”
  • “At Chick-fil-A, CEO stands for Chief Encouragement Officer.”
Chick-fil-A President and COO Dan Cathy
Chick-fil-A President and COO Dan Cathy pulls a baton from his leadership toolkit.

More Insights