What Can We Learn from Chick-fil-A?

The list is long.

From product quality to adherence to core values, Chick-fil-A is replete with best practices. But the thing that most recently impressed me is this: When the going gets tough, the smart get strategic.

I don’t think there is much disagreement about the fact that the going is pretty tough right now. Having said that, we may have gotten used to it, but we haven’t gotten over it. We stare it down every day.

I was with a group of industry executives not long ago and someone asked me about the impact of labor cost pressures on service execution. While some operators are, admittedly, cutting labor at the expense of the guest experience, my observation is quite the opposite. The best operators are using these tough times to bear down on the things that will allow them to compete better in the short term and come out on top on the other side of this downturn.

The first chain that came to mind for me in this conversation was Cheesecake Factory. And although my observation was only anecdotal, I have to say that my recent visits to Cheesecake Factory have really impressed me in terms of not only efficient but surprisingly personable service, not only here in Columbus, Ohio, but also in Chicago and Newport Beach, California. Another executive validated the fact that Cheesecake is indeed focusing on enhanced service.
Then, Tom Morder from Chick-fil-A revealed that his company had also begun to focus on enhanced service. In fact, their leadership had recently determined that service needed the same focus and commitment as menu development and kicked off a program of “Service Innovation” to match their “Menu Innovation” program. I love that idea. It not only elevates the importance of service, but it also acknowledges service as a potentially game changingcomponent of the marketing mix.

It’s encouraging that great operators are finding ways to support the initiatives that support the brand even in these tough times.

I’m reminded of research done during earlier downturns in the economy that indicated that companies that continued to market through the “down” times came out after the slump substantially ahead of the companies that discontinued marketing efforts. I believed it then and I believe it now. Companies like Chick-fil-A stand a better chance “on the other side” because they’ve focused on the brand promise and kept their eye on the ultimate ball…the guest experience.

Until next time, I’d love to hear your thoughts.