7 Customer Care Secrets of Dunkin’ Donuts & Chick-fil-A

Mark HolmesCustomer Care, Customer Service

“When it comes to creating great customer experiences, virtually any business, start-up or nonprofit will profit from the best-insights of Dunkin’ Donuts and Chick-fil-A.”

As two of the kingpins in the quick-serve restaurant business, they both have exceptional brand recognition and exceptional financial performance.

It didn’t happen by accident. It is as intentional as it is strategic to build and sustain a customer-centric business today.

DISCLOSURE: I have spoken at both brands’ international conferences, conducted Webinars, sold my books, licensed my training materials and when engaged consulted on service excellence, employee motivation, retention and creating healthy culture…

Without divulging any trade secrets or confidentiality agreements, I will reveal the tactical approaches they’ve mastered to keep customers coming back. I won’t be telling you anything you couldn’t find out eventually on your own – if you spent the time digging through various articles and books written about their operations. This is my insider’s view..

Backstory: Preparing A Speech For a Big Brand Convention

 Both brands handle millions of customer interactions, delivered by hundreds of thousands of frontline employees who serve up food and beverage items with lightning-speed service. Performance metrics are obsessively implanted into the daily regime.

They do this to ensure consistency of quality, both in food and the guest’s experience. That’s not all to their equation for success, however. Crewmembers are the key!

It can feel like a pressure cooker when you work as a frontline associate (crewmember) for a quick-serve restaurant like Dunkin’ Donuts or Chick-fil-A. I know this first-hand!

To prepare for a Dunkin’ Donuts speech I worked as a crewmember in Oklahoma City for a day. I told the franchisee, “Put me through the paces. I want to do the real work.” I was shown how to make awesome breakfast sandwiches. How to run the register and greet guests, how to run the beverage station, and how to work on the drive-thru. While I couldn’t qualify to perform these jobs (they have hours of training and testing to complete) I did get a feel for the job—and the pressure to perform when long lines form with anxious customers wanting their food and or beverage.

And something totally unexpected happened.

While I was working on the drive-thru with a team leader I got to see how some customers treat frontline employees – in the morning! Whoa! Some customers aren’t very easy to deal with until they get properly caffeinated! Sure made me think twice about how I treat employees when I’m the customer…

When you consider the systems and processes needed to handle millions of guest experiences and do it with excellence, consistently, it’s amazing they can pull it off. Even more remarkable are the people, culture and values that enable the systems to work.

7 Secrets to Dunkin’ Donuts and Chick-fil-A’s Customer Care:

  1. Make the guest’s experience the absolute most important activity. Achieving this requires setting aside other important duties at times, to take care of the guest.
  2. Create a positive, fun and rewarding work culture for associates. Invest in creating a people-first culture and build employee experience around meaningful values. This increases employee recruitment, retention and better guest experience.
  3. Set clear, consistent values and reinforce them regularly. For great food and great service to be achieved, values must be woven into the fabric of each phase of the operation. How a team or individual performs, ultimately results from consistent, clear values reinforced daily across the enterprise, and no one does that better than Chick-fil-A. 
  4. Train, coach, correct, model and reward for excellent guest experience behavior. “What gets rewarded gets done,” is truer today than ever before. Each manager is responsible for the care of each employee. Making employees feel connected and important to the mission is essential. The best managers are relational and good listeners–and rewarding not only correcting behavior is viewed as crucial.
  5. Equip managers for employee care, not just guest care. I’ve remarked in speeches to both Dunkin’ Donuts and Chick-fil-A, “Customers will not be treated as #1 as long as employees feel like they are being treated like #2.”
  6. Manage for results AND relationships. This is not an either/or but a both/and. The best franchisees or operators recognize that maximizing results requires creating positive relationships with people – associates and guests. People over profits… is a popular phrase today, but let’s face it, you better achieve both results and relationships if you want to last in today’s competitive landscape.
  7. Measure the guest’s experience and use it to improve. One main emphasis of my best-selling service book, and an emphasis on my talks for both organizations was, The key to your bottom-line is the frontline giving top-of-the-line service!” Measuring the guest’s experience regularly is as important as measuring financial results.

Consider how your company or firm can improve customer care:

  • Of the seven performance areas above, which ones represent your organization’s greatest strengths?
  • Which areas need the most improvement in your company?
  • Do the improvements fall mainly in customer experiences or employee workplace experiences? Why?

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