We're not just in the chicken business, we're in the people business. –– Truett Cathy, Founder
By John Millen
Quick quiz: Which of these three fast food restaurants has the highest per-store sales in the United States? McDonald’s, Starbucks or Subway?
By my headline, you might have sensed this was a trick question. The answer is Chick-fil-A. In fact, this fried chicken franchise has higher per-store sales than McDonald’s, Starbucks and Subway combined!
The statistics for annual sales in 2017 are incredible:
McDonald’s –– 14,036 units with $2.7 million in sales per store.
Starbucks –– 13,930 units with $945,000 in sales per store.
Subway –– 25,908 units with $417,000 in sales per store.
Chick-fil-A ––2,225 units with $4.1 million in sales per store!
Most astounding is that Chick-fil-A achieves these sales in six days of the week, since its stores are closed on Sundays.
It’s fair to ask, what’s the secret to Chick-fil-A’s success?
Its chicken is very good but that can’t be the only draw. While any business has many factors contributing to success, this privately held company has built a culture of employees who are emotionally committed to its mission: To have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A.
Much of the fast-food industry, and retail in general, delivers in a robotic way:
Customer receiving food: thank you.
Fast food employee: no problem.
Chick-fil-A has a different approach:
Customer receiving food: thank you.
Employee: my pleasure!
That’s right. In a world filled with hate-spewing politics, vile internet trolls and coarse language entertainment, Chick-fil-A is winning with kindness.
Politeness as brand differentiator
The company’s focus on showing acknowledgement, respect and even love to customers has become a category-killing brand differentiator.
The industry tests and reports on every aspect of fast food interaction and Chick-fil-A is the reigning champion of “politeness” in the drive thru. This 2016 study rated the company’s drive-thru number one based on courtesy to customers.
Chick-fil-A continues to win with employees who are trained specifically on the factors tracked in the study: having a pleasant demeanor, smiling and making eye contact, and saying “please” and “thank you.” In the drive-thru, employees go outside to speed the line and make face-to-face contact while taking orders on electronic pads.
This treatment extends to the interior of the store where there are flowers on the table and a well-honed welcoming attitude. Employees learn to use specific language and behavior, such as avoiding terms like “combo” or “super-size,” and opting for “entrée.”
“An entrée is different than a combo or a six-piece. It's a different language. ... That language is part of my experience in helping change the expectation,” according to Quincy L.A. Springs IV, who runs a Chick-fil-A location in the Vine City neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia, in an interview with Business Insider.
Employees also circulate frequently to visit with guests. Instead of asking, “Can I get your trash?” they ask, “May I clear your tray?” A tweak of phrase that makes a difference.
Happy employees, happy customers
One of the reasons employees treat customers well is their positive work environment. Glassdoor listed the company as one of the 100 best places to work in 2017.
The decision to be closed on Sunday was made by Truett Cathy when he started the company in 1946. He believed that employees should have “one day to rest and worship if they choose.”
It’s estimated that the family-owned business loses up to $1.2 billion per year by being closed on Sundays. But that hasn’t hurt sales. In fact, Chick-fil-A also leads the industry with 51 years of consecutive revenue growth, even through several recessions.
Chick-fil-A has managed to create a positive culture of employees on a mission to give its customers a positive experience with fast food. It’s made kindness a differentiator.
There’s a lesson here for leaders: It always comes back to people. How can you and your team highlight your most valuable resource, your people, and your relationships?
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Photo Credit: Chick-fil-A