“Are we really going to wait?”
When my family and I pulled up to the Chick-fil-A drive thru at lunchtime, the line of cars wrapped around the entire restaurant. My wife thought it might be better to go somewhere else, and I thought she might be right.
But my brother assured us the line would move quickly. He knew I really wanted Chick-fil-A, as I hadn’t been in a while–it was the first time I had visited the U.S. in four years, and that meant going to lots of fast food restaurants to get food that’s not available in my current home country of Germany.
My brother also knew that my previous fast-food experiences throughout the week had left me severely disappointed: long wait times, poor customer service, orders missing (multiple) items.
But he swore this would be different.
Before I share the details, let me sum things up by saying this: Chick-fil-A is teaching a masterclass in customer experience and emotional intelligence, namely, through its ability to make emotional connections with consumers. Let’s break down what the company is doing well, and what every business can learn from it.
(If you enjoy this article, you might be interested in signing up for my free 10-day free course, which delivers a free daily rule to your inbox that teaches you how to build an emotionally intelligent culture in your business or organization.)
Why the Chick-fil-A drive-thru is a customer service masterclass
So, there we sat, at the end of one of two drive-thru lines that must have had over 20 cars ahead of us. Suddenly, a young man (he appeared to be 18 or 19 years old) approached our car with his trainer. He asked for my name, along with the make and model of my car.
As we moved swiftly through the line, the two men walked with our car, continuing to take our order. The trainer kept politely reminding me to move forward, as I found it challenging to relay our order because the line kept moving.
After just a few minutes, we finally arrived at the pickup window.
It’s difficult to describe exactly what I saw, but it was fast and furious. There was a woman at the window, but she wasn’t going back and forth picking up orders; that was her colleagues’ job. Instead, her eyes darted back and forth between a monitor that held all the orders on a screen, and another set of workers tasked with delivering food to various cars. She was extremely focused, and in constant communication with her fellow workers, politely confirming customer names with the “delivery” people as she handed out one bag of food after another.
This was organized chaos. It reminded me more of a Nascar pit stop than a fast-food restaurant.
Finally, it was our turn. Another employee approached our car, one I hadn’t spoken to yet. Looking at our car model, he checked his information and confirmed my name.
“Justin, your order’s not quite ready, we just need a couple of minutes to complete it,” he told me. “Can I just move you over to our VIP parking in the meantime? We’ll bring your food out as soon as it’s ready.”
Okay, I’ll admit it: “VIP parking” was a little over-the-top. But it comes off nicer than, “Pull up while we finish your order.”
As we sat waiting for our food, a torrential downpour ensued. It didn’t matter; those Chick-fil-A employees continued their fine-tuned assembly line, seemingly unaware of the heavy rain.
Suddenly, another young man (the fourth or fifth person I interacted with, honestly I lost track at this point) came out with our food. Despite being completely soaked, he delivered our food with a smile.
We double checked the order, and everything was there (minus my wife’s salad dressing, which I promptly received once I let them know it was missing). I sat there for a minute processing what I had just experienced, mouth slightly agape, not quite sure what to think of it all.
Despite that long line of cars, and a huge order for our family of seven (my wife and I, our four kids, and my brother), we had received our food in just a few minutes.
“This is a huge lesson in emotional intelligence,” I thought to myself. By crafting an extremely satisfying customer experience, Chick-fil-A had created an emotional connection with me as a consumer.
Your business can do the same by applying these three primary takeaways.
As mentioned, every other fast-food experience I had over the past week had left me disappointed. In contrast, Chick-fil-A managed to identify the pain points of fast-food drive-thru and eliminate them. The next time I’m hungry and in a rush, where do you think I’ll head?
You can do the same by studying your competitors. Focus on identifying pain points, and solving them.
Build a team of role players.
Think of your favorite sports team: Not everyone is responsible for scoring; not everyone has to play great defense. But everyone has to know their role, and work hard to fill it.
Chick-fil-A does this extremely well. From the young man taking my order, to the trainer who kept reminding me to move my car along, to the woman at the end who conducted the orchestra, everyone knew the scope of their job and focused on execution.
Make sure your people do the same.
Maximize customer experience.
You might think that being forced to deal with several employees during a single drive-thru trip would be a bad thing, and normally I’d agree with you.
But again, here is where Chick-fil-A excelled–because each employee treated me like I was their priority. They spoke kindly and respectfully, always with a smile. They were helpful. And most of all, they delivered on what they said they were going to do.
Whether or not you’re running a service-oriented business, you can apply this principle by delivering on your promises, and doing so on time. Make your customers feel that they matter, and they’ll keep coming back.
So, if you’re looking to optimize your own business and leave a great impression on your customers, take a few lessons out of Chick-fil-A’s playbook and:
2. Build a team of role players.
3. Maximize customer experience.
Do this right, and you’ll do more than get repeat customers–you’ll turn those customers into evangelists, building your reputation along the way.