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A CSP Staff Report from 2014 Convenience Retailing University

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Never on a Sunday

Values, character, hospitality differentiate Chick-fi l-A, executive says

One of the toughest eggs to crack for Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy was to convince management at the first shopping mall in which he was about to rent space that his concept would still make money even if it were closed on Sundays.

Steve Hester, senior director of strategic initiatives for the $5 billion quick-service restaurant chain, cited that as one of the more obvious ways the Atlanta-based company stays true to its values, a divining rod that has kept the company focused on customer service and continuous change.

Known as much for its humorous 3-D cow billboards as for its chicken nuggets and waffle fries, the chain is unabashedly devout, with its Christian-centric mission statement “to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who we come in contact with.”

The statement emphasizes hospitality and a caring nature that has become a central differentiator going forward, Hester said. “We hire for character and competency,” he said. “These are people who represent the brand. We want the captain of the football team, the homecoming queen. We want the best.”

In third-party surveys, Chick-fil-A outpaces the competition in hospitality cues such as eye contact, sharing a smile and speaking with enthusiasm, he said. Not everyone on the team is best suited for the front register, so it’s important to assess people’s strengths and place them where their best qualities will shine.

The company spends time emphasizing its values, Hester said. He showed a video of Cathy over the years, each year asking the same question: “Someone says, ‘Thank you,’ you say what?”

The answer is always, “My pleasure.”

Cathy demands that it be said with sincerity and a genuine desire to please the more than 2 million customers the chain sees on a daily basis.

While the company has grown via its distinctive offerings—including its signature chicken sandwich, milkshakes and freshly prepared lemonade—the competition has entered the field with equally compelling offers.

“Forty years ago, we were the only chicken sandwich, and of course now there’s KFC and McDonald’s,” he said. “So for us, it’s about the basics, the blocking and tackling. Do people feel welcomed?”

When Hester told attendees they would each get a book on the chain’s management culture, as well as a card good for a free chicken sandwich, someone in the audience yelled out, “Thank you.” Hester replied, “My pleasure.” --Angel Abcede

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