Brand Loyalty And Chick Fil-A User Experience

Customer service is dead. Right? Well, that’s what everyone says about blogging, and MySpace and Instagram and everything else that’s been taken over or gobbled up.

This post is a mash up of customer service, brand loyalty, personal perspective and a mom’s conundrum

Guess where customer service isn’t dead? At Chick fil-A. I should know because kidlet and I eat there once weekly during the school  year because select soccer and taekwando do not allow a sit-down dinner at home.

 

On Chick fil-A

Here’s what happens at the Chick fil-A restaurant we frequent in Centerville the most:

  • They greet you with a smile every time.
  • They come to your table to ask if you need a refill and if everything is OK.
  • They come to your table to clear refuse even though patrons do it themselves.
  • They say bye when you leave and thanks for coming (when it’s not too busy).
  • There’s a coupon for a free this or that twice monthly, and they text me with deals, too.

All age groups frequent the establishment, and it caters to sports teams, school clubs, senior citizens, fund-raisers, and more. The bathroom is always clean, and so too is the facility.

Differences of Opinion

This is why I’ve had a hard time. By now, everyone and their brother knows the President and COO Dan Cathy has views that may or may not mesh with mainstream America. While I don’t agree with Mr. Cathy on a number of perspectives, his philosophy on a variety of core societal issues is alive and present in today’s divisiveness. But, that’s  his and my business, and I refuse to debate that on my blog or anyone else’s.

Because my user experience is so positive at Chick fil-A, and oh yes, the food is excellent for fast food (how could I fail to mention that minor detail?), I will continue to go there in spite of my disagreement over Chick fil-A leadership. (You know they’re closed on Sunday even in food courts, right?)

Those who have never been to a Chick fil-A more than a few times are hard pressed to form the opinion I have. When my choice as a mom is McDonalds, Taco Bell or Chick fil-A in a pinch, you can guess what I’m choosing.

 Blog Comments

Every blogger has been enraptured with the PR debacle of Chick fil-A. As is my wont, I am not the first mover when it comes to new apps, channels, or breaking news (well, I do sometimes break a story). I let the other guys pave my way, and oh boy, did Gini Dietrich’s blog do a yeoman’s job. 

(I’ll write about the highjacking, not good old blog jack, Kaarina, of Spin Sucks in comments another time.)

And, so, I’m a tad disappointed with myself for not supporting my own standards; does this make me a  hypocrite? I don’t know; I’ve not come out and  forcefully stated my opinions publicly like the founder of Chick fil-A. Was that a PR stunt? Lesser things have happened.

Visionary CEOs

Tomorrow, I’ll write about another CEO who does have vision and is trying to support Earth with his eco green actions.

So, my brand loyalty to Chick Fil-A has been tarnished. But, my brand loyalty will soon begin for Patagonia (until tomorrow, dear readers!).

 

Meanwhile, what say you on this issue? When customer service and food excellence outshine the shenanigans of the C-suite, what do you do?

71 comments
EricaAllison
EricaAllison

I adore you for this post. It's right where I sit: "stuck in the middle with you" (queue the music). I love CFA because it has quality food (and yes, when you have kids, the fast food demons creep into your life and it's very hard to shake them), outstanding customer service (Neiman Marcus level), and their bathrooms are ALWAYS clean.  The other places? Not so much. So, do I stop eating there because of Cathy's statements to a Baptist magazine - with which I disagree? Or, do I support his right to express his views, swallow a bitter pill and purchase my chicken sandwich? I don't agree with the all out warfare on either side, but again, respect the rights of each to express their views.

 

I have trouble with this whole thing, but agree with @barrettrossie that CFA has a strong brand and that this situation has done nothing but strengthen it with its core group. The fact that individual stores brought out beverages to the protesters in most locations was impressive to me. They remained civil, from what I read and I applaud any entity who can do that in the face of adversity, even if that adversity was somewhat self inflicted.  As a friend of mine and I were discussing this issue via private message on FB the other night (as I tend to do on political matters), my friend asked quite innocently "why couldn't Cathy just keep his views to himself? Now I have to really think about where I buy my chicken."  If you're really thoughtful, do you also wonder what you're doing to your gay friends when you continue to buy the chicken, or as is the case with me, stay silent about it on FB?  Silence is just as much of a statement as shouting from the rooftops, but sometimes, that is the only tactic that I can live with at the end of the day.

 

Muah!

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

I like this post because you hit the core of business that marketers and ad agencies and pr agencies will.never tell their clients. Great product great service right price and your business will thrive. That is why 5guys burgers has taken over the US. It is why brands do crappy advertising and pr yet boom no matter what dumb stuff they do. I myself never found chi k fila speci.beyond the waffle.fries. and while they have locations in los angeles i never ate at them because they never hooked me back 89-91 when i ate there in college in north carolina.

barrettrossie
barrettrossie

Jayme, I'm right there with you on feeling caught in the middle. 

 

What troubled me was that some of the loudest reaction came from people who knew next to nothing about the business. As you showed, CFA is a case study in how to provide an outstanding customer experience.

Their devotion to their values is a huge plus to a most of their customers and their business. 

 

I'm a contrarian here. Most of your readers probably think Chick-fil-A has hurt its brand. I think the opposite is more likely. Chick-fil-A is more than just food or service. It gives people with a traditional point of view a place where they feel welcome in a way very few businesses do. When Dan Cathy had a chance to walk back his statements from the radio interview... he didn't. I don't think you'd have seen such an outpouring of support had he equivocated. 

 

But I think people who support gay marriage should consider: Was the best way to change hearts and minds to go out and validate their caricatures of liberals and gays? Or was there a better strategy, a missed opportunity to actually do something constructive? 

 

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

In the queue just now...the visionary CEO of Patagonia for tomorrow. Stop back in! Thanks for today, y'all!

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

I was just putting some finishing touches on my own Chick-fil-A post; glad I read this as you do a nice outline of why they have such strong loyalty: they do a lot right. I'm also not going to go into the politics - not here, not on my blog, not anywhere. Except to say it gives me pause - and I'll think of this whenever my $$ goes to CFA as I'm sure to give into my cravings for Chicken Minis once in a while. I'll question if it'll eventually trickle down to what some would consider a hate group. 

 

Right now - I'm more curious about where they go. I think this brand is strong enough - b/c of the quality, value, service they provide - can survive. I think they're making some mistakes - and not. It's impossible to win this one honestly; I think at this point the best they can do is step back, try to let the furor die down, scale back on the politics and donations. Just keep selling a product people like, serving their communities (no matter who they are) well - and getting those stories out there. FWIW. 

ElissaFreeman
ElissaFreeman

You know, I think this is a very brave post.  You could have jumped on the proverbial bandwagon like every other PR pro, but instead, you chose a different tact.  And that's what makes you so fabulous! (And I can hardly wait for the post on Patagonia...LOVE that stuff...)

Brad_Lovett
Brad_Lovett

Here is my totally profession-related question: How does Chick-fil-A get control of the conversation about their brand again? Two weeks plus of flame wars on their social media (they seem to have abandoned their Twitter account...I can't imagine the person who has to wade through everything directed toward them). When is enough enough and you HAVE to start deleting and banning? I have that on a much smaller scale with travel and tourism. We had a bad storm roll through and power was out in cabins-even when our companies gave refunds for time unused we had folks trashing every post.

SteelToad
SteelToad

I agree with you about their food, and their customer service, both excellent and I've talked with people who have worked there, they do a lot to keep their staff trained.

 

I disagree (oh boy do I) with the CEO's views and opinions, but I absolutely think he has the right to have those views and to express them publicly if he so desires.

 

The problem that arises is that the company is privately held, so when the bulk of the donations to anti-gay causes is made, it is being made by the company, and not from Mr Cathy's funds. If he paid himself that money and then donated it, I'd have no problem supporting the company. But the way it's handled now, the customers all indirectly support the anti-gay causes Mr. Cathy chooses to support.

Brad_Lovett
Brad_Lovett

I went there Saturday; thought I could grab a breakfast biscuit between protests and counterprotests. I've always had positive experiences at Chick-fil-A. Dan Cathy was asked by a conservative Christian radio station and a conservative publication about his company; I'm not sure what people were expecting his answer to be. Maybe he should have realized that with social media, those comments wouldn't be confined to that audience. By the time the headline writers got through, it took on a life of it's own, and the first chicken sandwich of a full-fledged culture war was fired.. You are aware the VP of Public Relations unexpectedly passed away after this issue started. Every thread on Chick-fil-A's Facebook page is now hijacked into a gay marriage discussion, a teenage employee was bullied and berated on a YouTube video by the CFO of a company (who was fired); other employees have reported having been  harassment by protesters. Meanwhile, Chick-fil-A managers gave out water and food to protesters who want to take away their livelihood. 2 locations were vandalized (note: behavior like this makes me less likely to support your cause, not more).  Customers showed their support for the company on Aug, 1 in droves. 

 

When people tell me they want Chick-fil-A to go out of business (no danger of that), the people who would be hurt are independent franchise owners and employees. Do you know what the personal beliefs of the franchise owner in your town are? How about the McDonald's franchisee? Government officials have no business trying to keep a business out of their community because they don't like to CEO's religious beliefs. 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

I don't think it makes you a hypocrite to eat there and not agree with their leader's opinions. I'm pretty sure we have many clients who don't agree with my opinions. It doesn't mean we don't do good work or that we can't help them grow their businesses. That's why politics and religion should stay out of professional conversations.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

 @EricaAllison  @barrettrossie What a great comment; kinda like your blog post for the week...ahem! Oops, I just said that! LOL

 

Thanks for coming out of hibernation to contribute here, dear Friend Lady! 

 

Agree re the silence; when Beth Harte decided to hijack Spin Sucks with her strong views, I hightailed it outta 215 comments. Woah. That's not cool. Gonna write about that; it's about respect. 

 

Respect for EVERYONE"s views that make them Americans living in a free country. XO

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

 @HowieG Good Morning, Howie!  I suspect when your kidlet gets of an age when you're choosing a quick meal in between sports events, you'll head to this establishment and give it a whirl. Nothing beats those nuggets for birthday parties, too. Just sayin! 

 

Great seeing you here! Thanks!

SteelToad
SteelToad

 @barrettrossie Oh it's been a wonderful intellectual discussion about the matter, please can we not venture towards judging personalities

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

 @barrettrossie Hi, Barrett! Wonderful you found this blog; saw your tweet. Thanks for all the comments on this post, too!

 

I'm fascinated with your last few questions...care to write a guest post on that to further share thoughts? I'm thinking "was there a better strategy or missed opportunity to actually do something constructive" could be a great post. I'm going to assume you may have thoughts on that?

 

Seems, too, you're quite familiar with CFA and can provide insights on companies that beat to a drum different than others or support a niche target audience and don't care about others (until social media throws a punch).

 

Again, thanks...I'm going to think further on that question you posed. Perhaps others might weigh in, too.

SteelToad
SteelToad

 @3HatsComm I don't agree with the companies practices myself, but from a business standpoint I agree that they should just keep doing things the way they have been (Not every business out there has to make me happy).  But the likelihood of them scaling back on the politics or religious viewpoint is next to nil.  Mr. Cathy is 90 years old, and still runs the place the way he wants to see it run. The company's official statement of corporate purpose says that the business exists "To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.".   I think that if they were to try and change that much it would probably damage the business.  My brother, who I typically see at Thanksgiving and Christmas, is an obnoxious loudmouth, but if he were to show up well dressed and polite, something would be ruined.  Some things should be left alone for their own good.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

 @3HatsComm I have to agree with this basic, solid strategy. The world has changed, yet, many companies haven't a clue until they see this type of debacle sideswipe them. It's actually worse, I think than Kenneth Cole, a global brand, wouldn't you agree, D?

New England Multimedia
New England Multimedia

 @ElissaFreeman I so agree with you, Elissa! Jayme is my idol in this area. I watch and learn, watch and learn, watch and learn. Gutsy woman, for sure.

 

I think it's because Jayme's not afraid of conflict or disagreement. She's also the person you want in your corner when people get nasty online -- I've witnessed her showing up on blogs when someone she cares about is being attacked. If I ever need a PR professional (and I will at some point, I'm sure) she's the only person I'll call. 

SteelToad
SteelToad

 @Brad_Lovett The companies religious leanings have never really been a secret, but now they are definitely out there. They could incorporate, separating the company from the leadership and 'try' to bring back some of the LGBT community support at the risk of loosing some of the more religious customers for 'selling out'.  IMO they're probably better off just adopting and accepting the religious views openly, it wouldn't mean a change for the company, they'd probably attract some more of the pro-religious market, and the risk of loosing any more pro LGBT customers is negligible.  Over time there's going to be a large portion of the market that's just willing to forget.  How many people are still boycotting McDonalds because of the rigged Monopoly game that one year.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

 @Brad_Lovett Oh, man. This is indeed fodder for a full-fledged exploration. Maybe a round up from the PR peeps on what they might do? As for me? I'm gonna think on that and get back to you! (classic evasive maneuver!)

Brad_Lovett
Brad_Lovett

 @SteelToad if I'm not mistaken contributions go through their Winshape foundation, which donates to a lot of charities.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

 @SteelToad Good Morning, Ray! Excellent point, and so glad you've come by, as well, to share your opinions and thoughts on this. It's not a PR situation I'd relish; this company has gotten itself squarely in the spotlight and it's glaring. 

 

At the franchise we frequent, I've not seen any backlash...yet. 

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

 @Brad_Lovett Brad, that's a blog post. Did you publish it somewhere? Thanks for doing that here! Well, well said with all the issues front and center. Thanks for bringing them here.

 

Yes, I followed the issue and as mentioned above, I rarely write in the moment. I have to have that unique twist that's mine and then incorporate the situation into a varied angle on the same.

 

Wonderful seeing you here; thank you so much.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

 @ginidietrich You're spot on (where's @Erica McArthur Allison ?)

 

Thanks for saying that; I get messed in the head over Walmart and this when it comes to business owner philosophy. But, good work should shine and breed brand loyalty as Chick fil-A does. 

 

Politics and religion; absolutely keep out. But, sadly, people want to know more about the presidential candidates' faith prior to voting for them.

 

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

 @ginidietrich What's your take on boycotting businesses who exploit their workers, the planet, etc.? That, through their very business practices, they are doing harm? For example, okay, the head guy at Chick-Fil-A is against gay marriage. Okay. But there is a restaurant chain (no names) that won't HIRE gay people. Is there a difference there?

 

More of a curiosity question than anything else. I'm not looking to derail things into a space where Jayme's community isn't comfortable. Jayme feel free to delete the comment if you think it will cause problems.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

 @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing luckily I guess for me there is no fast food nearby. I think the closest subway is 19 miles and the closest McD's or type like that is 28 miles from me. LOL and not sure there is a Chick-fila in Vermont would have to check. Most towns don't like anything 'chain' style here and everyone buys vermont which is actually more expensive but definitely high quality. Not a cheap place to live. But having no traffic lights for miles is nice 8)

barrettrossie
barrettrossie

 @SteelToad I sure hope I'm not judging anyone's heart or even personality. Just whether their reaction was the best. 

barrettrossie
barrettrossie

 @SteelToad fyi, one of the Cathy sons runs the place now, but the organization stays true to the founder's corporate business purpose you quote. 

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

 @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing I'm still writing and just don't know of an 'easy' PR fix; but I also think - unlike Kenneth Cole - CFA plays at a different level, has a much stronger brand position that can/will help them. 

Brad_Lovett
Brad_Lovett

 @SteelToad My 2 cents-just keep doing what they're doing at the store level. It was Chick-fil-A in Aurora, CO that fed police officers at 4:30am on the day. Give people a positive experience at the store, and keep their community involvement.  They will never placate activists. Eventually on the social media side they are going to have to take back their message. Much as I believe that brands shouldn't squelch customer concerns, there just doesn't have to be a knock down, drag out over SSM everytime they post about a peach milkshake. There have been thousands of threads, comments and Facebook placards about the controversy. People who hold a different opinion than they did two weeks ago? More than likely zero.

Brad_Lovett
Brad_Lovett

 @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing I haven't written a post yet; just wasn't wanting to referree a screaming match that would no doubt ensue. It is worth exploring, and maybe I'll ask for some PR pro opinions and write that post

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

 @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing  @ginidietrich  @Erica McArthur Allison I think religion is an indicator (to some) of the nature of a person's moral compass. Which, a label like that (I'm a Christian, etc) is just shorthand, and does not allow for all the nuances within. The differences between those of the same religion is as wide as the differences between people. What I'd like to see increase is the understanding that one can have a sound moral compass without believing in your God, or any God at all.

 

Let's just say that watching Indiana Jones with a child can really make for some interesting conversations about the heavens.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

 @jennwhinnem  @ginidietrich I welcome your questions.  This can easily become a healthy conversation. As I mentioned above, I refuse to debate these issues as the burn feels too painful.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

 @jennwhinnem I think it's totally up to the individual. For instance, I won't buy anything Kenneth Cole because of the disaster he created around the riots in Egypt a couple of years ago. But I likely represent less than one percent of his audience who even knows what happened. It's not up to me to tell you to boycott something because I believe they're doing harm. Would I like that to happen? Sure. But it's not my place to make you do it.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

 @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing It is pretty amazing here. my original plan after leaving los angeles was to stay with family in upstate NY then move to NYC but wound up in vermont lol I am in waitsfield for now which is by Sugarbush and Mad River Glen ski resorts . Would love to connect with your friend.

barrettrossie
barrettrossie

Ah! I can see your point. I honestly didn't mean to cast aspersions on anyone. I was just using that language as a device to make my point.  

 

SteelToad
SteelToad

 @barrettrossie "to go out and validate their caricatures of liberals and gays?"  Sounded just a tad judgemental

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

 @3HatsComm Kenneth Cole is so much bigger and it can bounce back easier, I think. Chick fil-A is not national; this all may pass right on over in three months and become the company's training ground for future corporate PR. 

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

 @Brad_Lovett  @jennwhinnem Ooof. Don't like where that train is headed, Brad. Teamwork, eh? The divisiveness in this land is excruciating, not to mention hate groups killing women, children, men, families in church/places of worship. Is everyone's blood red?

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

 @Brad_Lovett  @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing I will openly admit that I prefer doing business/talking with people I agree with. The world has a nice mechanism that prevents that - although some communities do set it up so exposure to the outside world is limited (another issue in itself). At any rate, I don't get to have my way on that issue and that's probably better for everybody.

Brad_Lovett
Brad_Lovett

 @jennwhinnem  @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing I think you're inviting trouble with about half of your customer base. Everybody's money is still green. On the other hand, do we really want to only do business or talk to people who we agree with? Or decide we aren't going to fully participate in society? I don't have the answer, unfortunately. 

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

 @Brad_Lovett  @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing My hope is that this will be instructive on why church & state (more like church & business) should be separate. I think it's dangerous to discuss personal religious beliefs in a public forum when you're a business person & could alienate people. See also: politics. What's your thought on that, Brad?

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

 @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing @jennwhinnem @ginidietrich Didn't Target come under fire a few years ago for contributing to the campaigns of some anti-gay politicians or am I misremembering? 

 

If any business (particularly those that are privately owned) choose to become vocal about their political or religious affiliations, then they have to be prepared for any potential fallout and tarnished brand reputation. I couldn't disagree more with Cathy's position and contributions to organizations that intend to "pray the gay away" and, as such, simply won't patronize their restaurants. My sister is gay, so this issue hits very close to home. 

 

 

Latest blog post: Surviving Creative Work

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

 @ginidietrich I'm so with you on the Target conversation. I would need someone to tell me where else I can get "stuff."

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

 @jennwhinnem Well, I'm a vegetarian so I'm opposed to some restaurants, just because of what is on their menus. And I'm also opposed to fast food because I work too hard to throw it away on processed foods. So you won't see me stepping foot in those places. But, let's say the leaders at Target did something really bad. I love Target. Would I stop shopping there? I doubt it.

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

 @ginidietrich Oh, of course it's up to the individual! We agree. Was wondering about YOU. I think you answered my question with your point about Kenneth Cole, though. I have similar pet causes, and I feel blessed that my husband puts up with me. I finally found an ethical banana I'm happy to say - that was creating real strain. ha ha!

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  1. […] 6.Brand Loyalty & Chick Fil-A User Experience | soulati.com Aug 7, 2012 … But, that’s his and my business, and I refuse to debate that on my blog or anyone else’s. Because my user experience is so positive at Chick fil-A, and oh yes, the food … PR debacle of Chick fil-A. As is my wont, I am not the first mover when it … I don’t know; I’ve not come out and forcefully stated my opinions … http://soulati.com/brand-loyalty-chick-fil-a-user-experience/ […]

  2. […] 1.Brand Loyalty & Chick Fil-A User Experience | soulati.com Aug 7, 2012 … Because my user experience is so positive at Chick fil-A, and oh yes, … PR debacle of Chick fil-A. As is my wont, I am not the first mover when it … I don’t know; I’ve not come out and forcefully stated my opinions …. Or was there a better strategy, a missed opportunity to actually do something constructive? http://soulati.com/brand-loyalty-chick-fil-a-user-experience/ […]