Yes, I took a couple of those cows home.

A few weeks ago I was invited to attend Chick-Fil-A’s Customer Appreciation Night here in Raleigh-Durham. Dan Cathy, President and COO of my favorite chicken chain, was in town and we were going to party till the cows came home (did you see what I did there?).

It’s no secret that I’m a raving fan of Christian chicken. I’d eat it every day if I could. And on the seventh day – when I can’t eat it – I’ve been known to adapt the manna principle and buy extra on Saturdays. I have one kid in the business and another one that’s just biding his time until he can start working there. Our entire family dressed up as cows last week to get free food. I’m an admirer and student of the principles that Chick-Fil-A is built upon, and how those principles keep customers coming back time and again for the food and for the service.

The night was one “wow” after another, exactly what you’d expect from the company that constantly delivers great experiences at their restaurants. But there were four key principles that I took away from the evening:

Merriem & Austin, our current cow-in-training.

1. Culture starts with leadership. That seems simple enough, but it’s obvious that Truett Cathy instilled the “customer first” mindset into his children first, and then down the line to the Chick-Fil-A family. Dan said that he’s not so much a President as he is a customer service specialist. He models the principles that he expects every employee to follow.

2. Small tweaks make a huge difference. Dan said they’re constantly looking at new ways to improve the customer’s experience. Tiny things like having an employee carry a tray to the table for a mom with kids, but carrying that tray in their left hand so they can pull out her chair with their right hand. Tiny things like having a manager carry out all catering orders to the customer’s car. Tiny things like  honoring all CFA coupons, no matter the expiration date (I just used one from 2004 last week. No kidding.).

While no one of those tiny things will make or break a company, the accumulation of them is what sets Chick-Fil-A apart from their competitors.

That’s Dan Cathy. You’re gonna have to trust me on this one.

3. Focus on building people rather than employees. I’ve seen this borne out in my own son’s time behind the counter: CFA leadership focuses on character. In Jacob’s first day on the job, his orientation revolved around keeping a focus on his school work, being a reader, developing leadership skills, etc. His manager didn’t say a word about how to run a register or how to perfect an Icedream cone.

4. Repeat your vision. Repeat your vision. Repeat your vision. By far, my favorite takeaway from the evening was a montage of clips featuring founder Truett Cathy. The video featured him in interviews, employee meetings, training sessions, and CFA conventions. And in every single clip, this is what he said:

“If, during the course of our work, a customer should thank us for some small act of service that we should perform, what should be our response?”

The answer, of course, is “My pleasure.” But it was the tenacity, the consistency, and the simplicity of Mr. Cathy’s question that helps me understand why those two words are so ingrained in Chick-Fil-A culture. He drills this truth over and over and over again. For years, he’s asked this question. For years, he’s sought this answer. Our pastor often says, “When you’re sick and tired of repeating your vision, your people are just beginning to hear it.”

Don’t discount the power of shared vision. Don’t shortchange your people by telling them something once and expecting it to impact them the way it has impacted you. That montage of clips – almost humorous in their presentation – spoke volumes about why Chick-Fil-A culture is the way it is.

How about you? What have you learned about the leadership principles or customer service that is uniquely Chick-Fil-A? Comment below.

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