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Any organization that strives to rise above the mediocre must have at least one key differentiator from its competition.  Great organizations will have several differentiators, and truly elite organizations will make sure every employee understands those differentiators and frequently articulates them.

I’ve recently had the pleasure of spending time with a Chick-Fil-A franchise owner (Andy) here in Omaha, and after visiting with Andy and building a nice friendship, I’ve come to realize Chick-Fil-A is one of those truly elite organizations.

A few years ago, we wrote a blog that highlighted Chick-Fil-A’s remarkably consistent and high-quality customer service, and we contrasted it with the completely unpredictable (ranging from lousy to great) customer service that we find at other fast food restaurants.  After meeting and visiting with Andy, I now understand why Chick-Fil-A is able to offer superior customer service.  Their secret sauce is sound leadership (the signature Chick-Fil-A sauce is delicious, too).

I want to share a few of Chick-Fil-A’s powerful differentiators that Andy explained to me.  I found it fascinating, and I think you will too.

  1. Chick-Fil-A franchises are not for sale in a traditional way.  Anyone who aspires to become a franchise owner must complete an application and then go through a several month gauntlet of interviews, followed by an evaluation of performance while working at an existing Chick-Fil-A restaurant.  The select few individuals who earn the right to own a Chick-Fil-A franchise ultimately pay a modest $10,000 franchise fee, and Chick-Fil-A pays for all start-up costs including real estate, construction, and equipment.
  2. Once a Chick-Fil-A franchise owner is selected, the franchisee goes through a multi-week training program before they can open and operate their restaurant.  Perhaps key to their success, Chick-Fil-A franchise owners are also required to work at their restaurant.  Andy says that is a huge differentiator as most fast food chains that have franchise owners who own multiple locations and often hire under qualified managers to operate the restaurant.
  3. A line item in the financials that receives attention from Chick-Fil-A leadership is the amount of food that is given away to customers.  Andy is encouraged to give food away.  He shared that their belief is the food is so good that if you can get customers in the door to try it, it’s worth giving it away initially, because they will be back for more.
  4. Chick-Fil-A is fanatical about fresh food.  They thaw and bread their chicken at the local franchise restaurants every day.  Any chicken that is not sold within 20 minutes of when it is cooked will be thrown out.  They source their lettuce locally to offer fresh salads, and their biscuits are also made from scratch each day.  Andy gave me a tour of the kitchen and the freshly prepared food was clearly a source of pride for him – and another clear differentiator for Chick-Fil-A.
  5. Chick-Fil-A has a focus on creating raving fans.  Every customer who filled out a survey and had a poor experience receives a phone call from Andy.  Those calls start with an apology, followed by a request that the customer give Andy and his team a second chance.  Any customer willing to give Andy a second chance receives a complimentary meal.
  6. Continuing on the raving fan theme, Chick-Fil-A trains their employees on a simple four-part model when serving customers.  First, make eye contact.  Second, smile and strive to see the customer return a smile.  Third, engage personally – ask how their day is going.  Fourth, everyChick-Fil-A staff member has the unilateral power and they are encouraged to offer complimentary food in an attempt to make a customer’s day better.  For instance, if a customer shared that their day is going poorly due to a flat tire in the morning, the Chick-Fil-A employee is authorized to say something like, “Wow, sorry to hear about that.  Sounds like you need some good luck to get your day going in the right direction.  Your food is on Chick-Fil-A today.”

At the end of our last conversation, Andy shared that he enjoys visiting with me because he can tell how passionate I am about MindSet.  He then shared something I found to be profound: retiring after 20 years in the Army, Andy thought he would never be able to be as passionate or proud to be part of any other organization as he was the Army.  He is thrilled to have found that in Chick-Fil-A.

Chick-Fil-A was wise to have selected Andy as a franchise owner.  He’s a terrific leader and person.  If you haven’t tried Chick-Fil-A, we strongly recommend it!  The food is awesome, and the customer service is exceptional.  And if you happen to eat at the Chick-Fil-A across the street from QLI in Omaha, do yourself a favor and ask for Andy, introduce yourself, and let him know you read this blog post.  You’ll enjoy meeting him.

Thanks for your service to our nation, Andy.  Thanks for the lesson in leadership, too, my friend!