The Chick-fil-A Secret Sauce that Keeps Customers Coming Back for Mor Chikin

“We should be about more than just selling chicken. We should be a part of our customers’ lives and the communities in which we serve.”

S. Truett Cathy, Founder of Chick-fil-A

by Elizabeth King

Today is Sunday, March something, 2019, and I am craving waffle fries, Chick-fil-A sauce, and a large Coke Zero with easy ice….but as I sit in my car in a vacant Chick-fil-A parking lot, I remember…

Closed on Sundays.

I am still surprised at the shock to my system with these almost weekly realizations. It’s nothing new. Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays. Everyone knows that. Everyone hates it. Everyone gets over it.

I am mindful of the fact that in 24 hours from now there will be no empty parking spaces in the lot, and lines of cars like marching ants will flood the drive thru, pausing only for a brief moment to speak to a member of the Chick-fil-A customer care team, walking alongside the cars, greeting everyone with a smile and taking their orders.

I begin to wonder. "What's their secret? What's the Chick-fil-A magic formula that makes customers keep coming back for more? AND how can those same concepts be applied to education?"

I think about it. I reflect on it. I ponder it. I meditate on it, but all I can come up with are more questions (20 to be exact.).....

But just like a customer in a Chick-fil-A drive-thru on Sunday, I quickly realize that I am getting nowhere fast, so I decide to phone a friend.

Chick-fil-A Team Member: Thank you for calling Chick-fil-A, Kingwood. This is Stephanie. How may I serve you?

Meet Stephanie Stanley.

Chick-fil-A supervisor, team member for 6 years, AND my Chick-fil-A muse!

When I tell you I had a lot of questions for her, I wasn't exaggerating! But, Stephanie, with some assistance from her colleague, Sarah Sheridan, did not hesitate to answer every one of them without complaining, and at one point even quipped, "My pleasure."

(If you are ever at the Chick-fil-A at Kingwood Drive and Kings Crossing, be sure to thank them!)

...and now without further adieu, WE present to you...

5 Reasons Why Chick-fil-A Owns the Market in Customer Service and How Their Magic Formula Translates to Education

1) My Pleasure: 2️ Words That Pack a Powerful Punch

Elizabeth: What is the story behind, “My pleasure”?

Stephanie: Truett Cathy actually picked up “my pleasure” from the Ritz Carlton Hotel. He felt it made guests feel like they are in a luxury environment. Truitt wanted to bring that feeling into his own restaurant, so he adopted the phrase and began the tradition at Chick-fil-A.

Elizabeth: Ahhh... so that's why they have fresh flowers on the tables and the customer care team waits on like you a concierge!

"[Ritz Carlton] entrust[s] every single ... staff member, without approval from their general manager, to spend up to $2,000 on a guest. And that's not per year. It's per incident. When you say up to $2,000, suddenly somebody says, wow, this isn't just about rebating a movie because your room was late, this is a really meaningful amount. It doesn't get used much, but it displays a deep trust in our staff's judgment."

Translation to Education:

Do your words make your "customers" want to come back, or look for the nearest EXIT?

Never underestimate the power of words. They can make or break the human spirit, and what a responsibility we have as educators to choose our words carefully.

Young lives have been entrusted to us each and every day... lives that are fragile, lives that are filled with curiosity and wonder...lives that practice a sport or extracurricular activity for hours after school because they are that passionate about it...lives that go home to empty refrigerators and pantries, and the very idea of ever seeing a Ritz Carlton Hotel, much less staying in one, is only a dream or at best, a virtual experience.

Every life, Every dream, Every day matters.

What two words will you choose to make your "guests," your students, your team feel special?

2) Eat Mor Chikin: A 3️-Word Call to Action

Elizabeth: Why did you use as cow for marketing? That is what you use it for, right?

Sarah: People love mascots. And the cows are extra special. The cows’ renegade and humorous self preservation message just make people love them more.

Elizabeth: What's the impact of your marketing campaign on the success of Chick-fil-A and the customers that keep coming back?

Sarah (pictured left)

Sarah:’s not just about the cow. They get people’s attention, but it’s our quality food and exceptional service that keep our guests coming back.

Translation to Education:

If you don't believe a 3-Word Call to Action and a cow using the most basic parts of speech can start an empire, you haven't been to Chick-fil-A!

It is a brilliant use of pathos, a rhetorical appeal meant to persuade an audience by appealing to their emotions... Pathos is used as an advertising strategy by many, but I would venture to say that none do it quite so well as a fictitious cow holding up a sign with these 3 misspelled words on it: Eat Mor Chikin...

...three words that are highly effective as a marketing strategy because they evoke a response. ... an action is EXPECTED to occur...a learning outcome, if you will.

What outcome does Chick-fil-A hope to receive from this call to action? Returning customers of course. It's simple, but it works, and that drive-thru two lanes deep with cars wrapping around the restaurant every day (except Sunday) between 11 AM and 2 PM is proof!

"There are two main purposes of a call to action, after all: to tell someone what they should do, and give them the motivation to do so. A lot of people remember to tell people what they should do, but they forget the why part of that equation."

My classroom at Highlands Junior School Circa 2013

When I was a classroom teacher, I taught advanced English classes for a number of years. Naturally, my students were, for the most part, high achievers, so getting them to show any kind of academic growth was almost impossible. It's one thing to help a student move from failing to passing, and even from making D's to making C's. BUT when you have classes of students who always make A's on everything, what's their goal supposed to be, and how do you help them get there?

So on a whim and a bit out of desperation, I decided to try out Chick-fil-A's strategy and make my own 3-Word Call to Action: "Git Mor 100s." A little cheesy, I know. But it worked. It gave my students another goal to strive for, and a feeling of accomplishment when they reached it.

A 3-Word Call to Action or an Invitation to Do Something could even be a great goal-setting activity for your students to complete.

What's your 3-Word Call to Action?

Come on! It's Just 3 words - Even a COW can come up with 3 words!

3) May I take your order? MOOving OUTSIDE Your Comfort Zone

Elizabeth: Why are your employees OUTSIDE taking orders?

Stephanie: Our outside ordering system makes our drive thru significantly faster and more efficient. We enjoy the face to face connection it provides for our guests and the ability to have the one on one connection to build our guest relationships.

Translation to Education:

So, what does "outside" look like in education? How far will you go to meet the needs of your students/parents/campus? To move out of your comfort zone... to take risks... It could be sharing videos and pictures of your students with their parents on a regular basis, so they can see there truly is joy in learning...

Or providing opportunities for your students to experience learning outside the walls of the classroom through virtual reality, connecting with other classrooms across the district, the state, the country, the world... Or being intentional about following up and following through.

"The box is not outside our minds. It is a boundary within our minds. The boundary between what we know and what we still, or haven't yet, thought about.

We need to value long thinking....a thought that takes us far...apply principals to things we have never thought to apply before. "

It's time to lose the "one and done" mentality. Go the distance - the extra mile - get outside the four walls - break out of the box and the norms - shift the paradigm.

There is a whole lot of "outside" to explore. What are you waiting for?

4) Closed on Sundays Because Self-Care and Family Care Are Important

Elizabeth: Why is Chick-fil-A closed on Sundays?

Stephanie: Truett Cathy put this in effect at his first restaurant, The Dwarf Grill. The original diner was actually open 24 hours a day and he wanted to make sure the team had a chance to go home and rest, spend time with family, or go to church if they chose to do so. We still have Sunday off to follow tradition of his original wishes.

Translation to Education:

Know when to unplug! In a world where we are connected wirelessly to something or someone almost every second of the day, it can be difficult to disconnect from all the distractions and just with your family, be on vacation, be present.

The temptation as an educator to take work home with you is great. Report cards and progress reports don't just magically happen, papers don't magically get graded, and lessons don't magically get planned. To be honest, there are just not enough hours in the day to get it all done. But the one area you should never sacrifice is your personal life.

"The average smartphone user picks up their phone 150 times a day. Like Pavlov’s dogs, we have become so accustomed to reaching for our devices that we can’t stop. However, our minds, just like our phones, need to be reset and recharged from time to time."

If time management, organization, or just plain perfectionism are real struggles in your life and you find it difficult to break away, look for new methods and strategies for managing it all without taking it home with you. Your family needs you. Your pets need you. Your community needs you.

Make an intentional effort to unplug and be present, and if you can't do it every day, at least follow Chick-fil-A's lead, and take just one day.

A little R and R is good for the soul, and doctors, mothers, and Chick-fil-A agree!

5) Relationships and Customer Service: The ❤ of It All

Elizabeth: In what ways are building relationships and customer service at the heart of what Chick-Fil-A is all about?

Stephanie: Customer service and relationships go hand in hand. At Chick-fil-A, we strive to make every guest feel at home eating with good friends. We talk to our guests, get to know them, their orders, and what small details they enjoy to make their visit Remarkable. We try to go the second mile for our guests and do something unexpected for them with each visit. If our guests don't leave happy and ready to tell their friends about their visit, we do not feel we have done our best job at serving them.

Elizabeth: Why should someone aspire to work at Chick-fil-A?

Stephanie: It’s fun!! We believe in mixing work with fun and we love being silly while still maintaining a professional work environment and making sure our jobs are done correctly and to the best of our ability. We are all truly like one big family here at Chick-fil-A! I can honestly say i love my job and that in itself is one of the great privileges of life.

Elizabeth: How do you build relationships within your team?

Stephanie: I try and make it a point to get to know my team personally. Be there for them, listen to them when they need someone to talk to, and support them not only as growing team members in the company but also in their personal lives. My team is very much like my kids. I love them each individually and love watching them achieve their goals. It gives me great satisfaction to see them set and reach their goals.

Translation to Education:

What do businesses, schools, and families all have in common? Relationships, and without them, none of these entities would exist, and without nurturing them, all of these entities will fail.

Starting relationships is easy. Building and sustaining them takes intentionality and tenacity. How well do you know the students and parents you serve - what about the people you work with?

"Relationships are nurtured by frequent displays of appreciation. Whether these are simply kind words of thanks to an important colleague, a gift to an important friend, affection with your partner or a reassuring hug for a child, everyone needs to be appreciated and nurtured in close relationships."

Time is not on our side when there is state testing to get ready for and papers to grade and dishes to wash and laundry to fold. All of these things have to get done, and as my mother would say, "If I don't do it, who will?" Good point. But the more important thing to consider is if you don't spend time with your kids and your spouse and your students and your friends, who will?

Don't forget, Truett Cathy's words,

“We should be about more than just selling chicken. We should be a part of our customers’ lives and the communities in which we serve.”

And take Stephanie's advice, "Be there for them, listen to them when they need someone to talk to, and support them not only as growing team members in the company but also in their personal lives."

Be intentional. Be tenacious. Be present.

Concluding Thoughts

"[Chick-fil-A] awarded $15.34 million in scholarships to more than 6,000 remarkable Team Members across the country."

Elizabeth: What else would be important for the readers to know?

Stephanie and Sarah: We have a passion for developing people. We understand that most team members will not stay with us long term, but we want to teach them what they need to know to achieve their dream job. We also have a passion for our guests. It is truly OUR PLEASURE to serve the Kingwood community.

Who needs a value menu when you have the SECRET SAUCE!

THANK YOU, CHICK-FIL-A for serving up quality food AND quality life lessons for your guests every day!


Interview with Stephanie Stanley - Chick-fil-A Supervisor in Kingwood, Texas

Photos courtesy of Stephanie Stanley and Chick-fil-A in Kingwood, Texas

@elizabethking88 @flippingoodtech