Chick-fil-A: Cooking Up a Lesson for Your Practice

By Jennifer Jabaley, OD

Sept. 9, 2015

When you live in a small town, the opening of a new business is top news. But I have yet to see the excitement and eager customers line up with anticipation like the most recent display at the grand opening of a local Chick-fil-A. Why? I asked several of my friends who were battling crowds – crowds that required two cop cars to monitor the traffic – to visit the new restaurant on the first day of business. What makes Chick-fil-A so special?

What surprised me most was the answers I received:

“I just love Chick-fil-A!”

“It’s a great atmosphere.”

“Everyone who works there is always so friendly.”

“It’s always clean.”

“I love the little mints they give you after your meal.”

“I love the place mats they have for the kids.”

There was an occasional mention of the food, but mostly it was other factors that contributed to the overall satisfaction of Chick-fil-A by their customers.

Chick-fil-A ranked number-one in the 2015 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) Annual Restaurant Report of “limited service restaurants.”And customer satisfaction is not the only way Chick-fil-A outranks its competitors. Its financial record is exemplary, as well. Chick-fil-A does more business in its six-day work week than McDonald’s does in seven.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In 2010, the Atlanta Constitution reported that Chick-fil-A generated revenues of $2.7 million per restaurant vs. $2.4 million per restaurant for McDonalds. Chick-fil-A maintains a policy of being closed Sundays.

Additionally, Chick-fil-A’s employee satisfaction is top tier, as noted by the statistic that its turnover rate of employees is one-third of the industry average.

Customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction and great profits. Maybe it’s time to investigate the secret sauce to Chick-fil-A’s success. Surely, there are a lot of lessons for optometric practices to glean about customer service and satisfaction.

Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy shared the company’s approach to customer service at a seminar he gave: “We strive to treat people better than the place down the street. One way we do that is by remembering that we’re all people with a lot of emotional things going on that don’t necessarily show on the surface…Every life has a story, and often our customers are either experiencing a problem, just finished having a problem or are about to have one…So we try to offer amenities and kindness that minister to the heart.”

We’ve all been there:the patient who wants to spend 20 minutes talking about their garden, their grandkids, their divorce. Sure, we all know that those topics are not exactly relevant to an eye exam, but they aren’t appropriate for ordering food at Chick-fil-A, either. That’s Dan Cathy’s point. Sometimes people just want to feel heard, to know they matter. If someone comes in for an eye exam, but leaves with a new pair of spectacles and a positive experience of validation, they will become life-long patients and be much more likely to recommend your practice to others.

Another component of Chick-fil-A’s excellent customer service is to “go the extra mile.” Dan Cathy cites some examples, such as providing fresh ground pepper, or even offering expired nuggets to pet owners for their dogs (the nuggets are still edible, just past their freshness policy). These small acts of premium service exceed customer expectations.

When I let siblings look over my shoulder into the slit lamp at their brother’s or sister’s eye, I often see amazement, and receive a sincere thank you from parents. When I give out my cell phone number after an emergency visit, or call to check on a patient who had a recent injury, they always seem surprised and very grateful. Sometimes it’s the little things that leave the biggest imprint.

Can you think of some fun and unique ways to put a stamp on your patients’ overall experience?

Chick-fil-A does something that most other fast food restaurants fail to do. They take customer service outside the boundaries of their physical location and become involved in their community. Chick-fil-A does many promotions for youth athletic teams, local causes, and sponsors events within the community. The business gives back to the people they serve.

Not only is community involvement a great marketing opportunity, but it shows your patients that you care about their lives outside of your exam room.

When asked how Chick-fil-A kept its employee turnover rate so low, Cathy said they encourage each store to think of their workforce as a team. Each person from the manager to the janitor plays an important role. “A relay race is won, not by the four fastest runners, but by the team that gets the baton around the track first. The most dreadful noise to a runner is that of the dropped baton,” he said. Clearly Cathy creates a healthy and positive work environment by invoking a sense of unity among employees. He wants everyone to feel that their job, no matter how big or small, is important to the overall operation of the business.

Instilling a strong team spirit can be a challenge because it requires acceptance and tolerance of different personalities and working styles. However, going back to Dan Cathy’s original philosophy – remembering and respecting that each person has their own story – will lead your employees to respect one another.

Incorporate appreciation into your practice by encouraging acknowledgment of a job well done among co-workers. Again, people thrive when validated, and a simple verbal recognition is often appreciated even more than monetary bonuses. Along those lines, cultivate gratitude by thanking your employees, and encourage them to recognize their co-workers, too.

Acknowledgment and gratitude build positivity, and employees thrive in a positive work environment. And happy employees don’t leave.

According to Cathy, if you build a strong team, nurture a positive office culture and stress extreme customer service, financial gains and business success will follow. A joyful workplace creates contented employees, and in turn, they become more dedicated and efficient, thereby helping your business reach all of its financial goals.

Chick-fil-A outsells its competitors despite having a fraction of locations and operating on only a six-day work week versus the more common seven days for fast food restaurants. Clearly, Chick-fil-A has devised a business model that has launched one of the most successfully run companies in the country. Fortunately, the qualities that Chick-fil-A incorporates – extreme customer service, community involvement and employee satisfaction – are principles that can be applied to any business.

So, if you are looking for some inspiration for your optometry practice, it might be time to grab a Chick-fil-A sandwich, waffle fries and a milk shake and just observe.

What do you think you could learn from Chick-fil-A’s success? What other businesses have inspired you to make changes in your practice?

Jennifer Jabaley, OD, is a partner with Jabaley Eye Care in Blue Ridge, Ga. To contact her:

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