How Chick-Fil-A Creates A Memorable Experience (And Grows Revenue By 13% Annually)

For the last 10 years, Chick-fil-A has been growing at roughly 13% annually, meaning the business is essentially doubling in size every five to seven years. Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer, attributes part of their success to building a “raving fan” base full of Chick-fil-A ambassadors.

But how does Chick-fil-A create these ambassadors that help to drive this incredible growth?

They take customer experience very seriously. Kristin Hunter, marketing consultant with Chick-fil-A, says the chain’s distinctive “second mile service” is what drives its customer experience. “The first mile is the foundation—good customer service, hot food hot, cold food cold. The second mile is what we do that’s remarkable, like carrying people’s trays to their tables.”

I love this take on customer service and I want to let you in on a little secret. The Client Heartbeat team loves Chick-fil-A. First, it was just about the food, but now – after a couple of visits – we appreciate the second mile service Kristin mentioned.

It’s the little things that Chick-fil-A does really well that create a memorable experience. These little things exceed expectations and create repeat customers who turn into ambassadors. In fact, 10-15% of Chick-fil-A’s customers are “raving fans.” These are the people who do over-the-top things to show their love for the brand like dress up as cows on “Cow Appreciation Day” to win a free sandwich.

It comes as no surprise that Chick-fil-A has taken the top spot in the Temkin customer experience ratings for the fast food category for the third year in a row.

Let’s take a look at seven of these little things that Chick-fil-A does that puts it in the top spot for an outstanding customer experience.


1. “My pleasure” instead of “you’re welcome”

Chick-fil-A employees don’t say “you’re welcome,” they say “my pleasure.” This subtle change in vocabulary sends an entirely different message to their customers, adding an element of class to their service. It almost feels like you’re ordering food from a Ritz-Carlton hotel.

In fact, Dan Cathy, president and chief operating officer at Chick-fil-A and son of Chick-fil-A founder, Samuel Cathy, says his father got the idea from Ritz-Carlton and wanted to offer the sort of service that you might expect at a fancier and more expensive establishment.


2. Greet customers with an umbrella when it’s raining

Did you know that a Chick-fil-A employee will walk you in and out of the restaurant with an umbrella when it’s raining? Are we at The Ritz again?

This is another little thing that exceeds customer expectations. I can guarantee that anyone who receives this type of service would say something to their friends.

Are you starting to see how these experiences create so many raving fans?


3. Fresh flowers

Every day, Chick-fil-A has fresh flowers set out on each table inside every restaurant.

Why? This customer, Ms. Irschel, wrote a letter to Chick-fil-A expressing what the flowers meant to her by saying, “I have been in countless high end expensive restaurants that did not have flowers on the table. It was such a nice touch and to be honest made me feel wanted and appreciated. It is such a simple thing but I feel a very important one that sets you apart from the competition.”

Just another way Chick-fil-A is exceeding expectations by doing the little things really well.


4. ‘Table touches’ to check in mid-meal

Everyone expects a waiter to touch base with them mid-meal to make sure the food is good and they have everything they need. But you wouldn’t see that at a fast food restaurant, would you?

Generally, no, but at Chick-fil-A, yes!

These are commonly called table touches (correct me if I’m wrong) and the purpose of these is to make sure the guests are happy with their meal and have all the condiments, drink refills and napkins they need. In a recent visit, I was table-touched by a lovely lady who told me that they do this to “make sure you don’t need to get up from your seat.” So if you forgot your ketchup or you need a drink refill, they want to be able to do this for you.

There’s a lesson here for all businesses. Think about some things your customers have to do on a regular basis when dealing with your company that you could possibly be doing for them at no additional cost.

Little things go a long way. I challenge you to table touch your customers mid-engagement or mid-transaction.


5. Carrying customer’s trays to their table

This may go unnoticed to the average Joe, but when it happens, you will certainly be impressed. The Chick-fil-A team is great at remembering your order and if you sit down at a table while you’re waiting, they won’t just call your name when your order is ready. Instead, they will proactively bring your meal to you at your table.

When this first happened to me, I was genuinely wowed. I had ordered a lunch menu item during breakfast, so there was a slight delay. But I was happily reading the paper at a table and before I knew it, my order was being couriered out straight to me. There were no calls for “who had the chicken sandwich,” there were no guessing-games or confusion – the lady walked straight over to me and gave me my food.

It wasn’t until this happened again that I realized it wasn’t a singularly great experience; this is something that is engrained into employees and another little thing that creates a great customer experience at Chick-fil-A.


6. Calling customers by first name, not by number

McDonald’s uses numbers to handle orders. Chick-fil-A uses names. Although, with my Aussie accent, my name is sometimes mistaken as Russ, I am far happier responding to that than to a randomly generated number like 348.

Personalization is always thrown around when we talk about how to improve the customer experience. Chick-fil-A shows us all exactly how personalization can really create a better experience and build a point of difference. When you are treated like a person, you remember it. You feel special and valued – just like Irschel did with the fresh flowers.

What little things can you do to add personalization to your customer experience? It might be as simple as using caller ID to address inbound calls by first name or it might be more complicated like personalizing offers based off browsing and shopping habits.

The point here is that the minute you stop treating customers like an order number, you’ll start building better relationships that will increase loyalty and advocacy.


7. Genuine empathy when expectations are not met

The fast food business is a tough game; you are going to miss delivery goals from time to time.  Chick-fil-A employees strive to complete orders within 90 seconds in the drive-through window and 60 seconds at the counter. But there will always be unforeseen circumstances that can make these goals simply not possible.

For example, when you’re ordering a burger at 10am, like I mentioned I had done previously, they are still serving breakfast and might not have the lunch menu items ready yet. Instead of completely denying or neglecting the order or blaming the customer, Chick-fil-A employees explain the reason for the delay and show a sense of empathy while apologizing for the delay.

The lesson here is that when you do fail to meet expectations, show some empathy and genuinely do the best you can in the situation.


Create a great customer experience by doing lots of little things really well

Take a page out of the Chick-fil-A handbook and start improving the experience for your customers one little thing at a time. There’s no secret to Chick-fil-A’s phenomenal growth inside an industry that’s in decline. Thirteen percent year-on-year growth is nothing to sneeze at. Chick-fil-A’s chief marketing officer attributes part of their success to their ability to create customer advocates.

The way Chick-fil-A creates these raving fans is not through delivering just good food. It’s through delivering a good experience. They do a lot of little things that continue to exceed expectations and are talked about between friends and shared on social media, helping to drive revenue.

What little things can you implement inside your business that can exceed expectations and create memorable experiences – and profitable balance sheets?

Gordon Tan

Gordon Tan is an entrepreneur based in Australia who has started and sold multiple technology companies with a combined value of $150m. This included a client satisfaction benchmarking platform which gave him first hand insight into the best practices of over 6,000 businesses. After retiring at 35 he is now a recognised thought leader on winning and retaining clients - His two passions: making clients the heartbeat of a business no matter what the product or service and this blog.

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