Over lunch the other day, I learned a thing or two about brand loyalty in a rather unexpected way.
I was in Nashville, Tennessee, sitting with several people—some from the UK, some from Australia, some from the US—when the topic of conversation turned to discussing our favorite fast food chains. One of the Americans remarked at how much they love Chick-fil-A, to which some of the others asked, “What is Chick-fil-A?”
It was an innocuous question, but the reaction it received was that of a basketball player if you had asked them, “Who is LeBron James?”
For those unfamiliar, Chick-fil-A is considered “the most beloved fast food chain in America,” according to a 2019 brand-intimacy survey. It’s a bold claim, but it wasn’t hard to believe as I watched the Americans at our table nearly clamor over each other to be the first to explain how wonderful Chick-fil-a is. Not only did their descriptions seem almost reverent, but their faces beamed as they gushed about the food and customer service. Even the fact that it’s closed on Sundays—an unexpected practice for a fast food chain—was promoted in a positive light.
After the barrage of compliments and animated enthusiasm, one of the men from England joked that he should find out how to open a Chick-fil-a franchise across the pond.
Later that evening, my international friends and I visited a bar. One of them recalled the conversation from lunch and decided to test their newfound knowledge by asking the bartender if she liked Chick-fil-A.
Immediately, her demeanor changed from that of a busy professional to that of a teenager, as if she was expressing her love for the latest boy band. When they told her they’d never eaten there, she volunteered to pick them up from their hotel the next morning and take them there for breakfast herself, so they wouldn’t miss out on the experience before leaving the country.
To my knowledge, they didn’t take her up on it—but all this fanfare came from someone with zero vested interest in the company. The same was true of those sitting at our lunch table; none of them had anything to gain by singing its praises, but they each took the time to vouch for the simple fast food chain as if it was their own family business.
The answer is pretty simple, really. Aside from the quality and freshness of their food (no chicken is ever frozen), the chain is famous for its top-notch hospitality and incredible service, and has held the title of “the most polite chain in fast food” for four years in a row.
In an interview with Business Insider, Chick-fil-A’s director of service and hospitality noted,
“We have this really…generous approach to our guests and we want them to feel restored and cared for—not necessarily that it’s like home for them, but it feels warm and inviting and that they want to come back and spend time there.”
Small quirks—such as placing fresh flowers on every table or saying “my pleasure” instead of “you’re welcome”—help cement its reputation as providing the most friendly service you can receive in the fast food industry. All staff members are trained to be “aggressively courteous”—almost Disney-like in their approach, as they stop by your table to ask if they may “clear your tray” or “refresh your beverage.”
It’s simple, but effective.
People love to feel valued through great customer service, and receive a quality product to boot. And if it’s really over the top, they’ll be inclined to talk about the experience with others. The same applies to negative experiences, if not more so. There’s a popular statistic-turned-saying which claims that for every negative experience someone encounters, 15 or more people will hear about it.
We connect good or bad feelings to each experience—with a person, place, or thing—and file that association away in our brain for safekeeping. This can help us survive and be more efficient in decision our making, but it can also result in snap judgements, bias, or stereotyping. For the people you serve, what kind of experience do they recall when the name of your company is mentioned? What kind of feelings and thoughts do they instantly associate with your brand?
Several years ago I attended an industry conference while working at a previous company.
During the cocktail hour I was making small talk with a new acquaintance when they asked where I worked. When I said the name of the company, I saw a veiled but unmistakable wince flash across their face before they said, “Oh yes, we use your product. It took us a while to get going, but we’re managing okay now.”
Unfortunately I knew they really meant, “Your product resulted in a lot of headache and took forever to implement, but we’ve invested so much time and money at this point that we’re using it now—whether we like it or not.”
They had an instant negative reaction to the name of our company, because they associated it with the turmoil and difficulty they encountered. Now, compare that to the bartender who essentially volunteered as a brand-ambassador for Chick-fil-A.
What simple steps can your company take to make the people you serve feel appreciated, seen, and valued? If that’s your end goal, the effects will be felt.
About the Author: Steve Mackenzie is President at EventBooking, an innovative cloud-based venue management solution with over 1,000 clients around the globe, and with regular polling of its clients has an unprecedented 99% customer satisfaction level.