Quality customer service matters

By JACK RYAN,

There is a valuable lesson for every business operator — along with every employee and every customer — in a listing of 2018 restaurant sales in America.

Chick-fil-A, whose advertising features cows with bad penmanship and worse spelling skills urging viewers to eat more chicken, moved from the No. 7 restaurant in 2017 sales to No. 3 in 2018.

“The chicken sandwich giant blew past Wendy’s, Burger King, Taco Bell and Subway on its ascent, with $10.46 billion in American store sales, according to Nation’s Restaurant News’ latest countdown,” The Washington Post reported. “Up 17 percent for the year, Chick-fil-A stands behind only McDonald’s ($38.52 billion in American sales) and Starbucks ($20.49 billion).”

Given the intense competition of the fast-food restaurant business, Chick-fil-A’s growth is an impressive achievement — especially when you consider that the industry as a whole is flat, with little to no growth in sales.

People will be inclined to think that Chick-fil-A’s gains are due to its decision to keep its stores closed on Sundays or to its chief executive’s criticism of gay marriage a few years ago. Or it could be the company’s distinctive waffle fries.

Maybe all of that helped, although staying closed on Sundays gives the company one less day per week of operations than its competitors. That is a huge disadvantage, and by itself it is not going to boost sales by 17 percent.

The more accurate reason Chick-fil-A is doing so well is the company’s laser-beam focus on customer service. As the Post story observed, “There are reasons the American Customer Satisfaction Index has rated it the No. 1 company for the past four years.”

Among these reasons: employees are trained to treat customers with common courtesy, saying “please” and “thank you.” The Chick-fil-A drive-through service gets food to motorists quickly. And during busy times when cars back up, employees will walk along the drive-through line entering orders into a tablet, which makes it more likely that the food will be ready when the vehicle gets to the cashier.

All of this is really basic stuff. Lots of fast-food restaurants have pretty quick drive-through times, for example. The key element, most likely, is not the speed of service, whether inside or outside the restaurant — but the way the customer feels treated. And don’t overlook the fact that the sandwiches are pretty good.

Other business decisions explain Chick-fil-A’s success. A restaurant consultant said in the Post story that the company has chosen to grow in “concentric circles,” meaning that when it opens in a new territory, it adds new stores within a certain range to limit expenses and allow its supply chains to grow as well.

The large lesson in this story is the value and importance of customer service. People will come back to any business if they like it. Chick-fil-A gets this, and the company’s investment in this simple philosophy is paying off big-time.