Second Mile Service

Back in 2017 when hurricane Harvey hit Houston, an elderly couple was trapped in their home by rising waters.  They called 911, but couldn’t get any response.  So they did the next best thing.  They called their favorite Chick-fil-A restaurant.

“I ordered two grilled chicken burritos with extra egg and a boat,” J.C. Spencer told Good Morning America.  Mr. Spencer and his wife were regular customers of this Chick-fil-A restaurant, and the general manager recognized their number when they called.  The general manager responded by contacting a co-worker, who called her husband, who in turn hopped in his boat and rescued the Spencers (I’m guessing he brought the burritos also!). 

Steve Robinson, long time chief marketing officer of Chick-fil-A, tells this story in his book Covert Cows and Chick-fil-A: How Faith, Cows, and Chicken Built an Iconic Brand.  Robinson uses this story as an example of how to turn your customers into  Raving Fans through serving them in extraordinary ways.  There’s no doubt this service was extraordinary, and my guess is Mr. & Mrs. Spencer were customers for life!

Chick-fil-A was founded with one location back in 1946 and has grown into a national chain of over 2700 stores.  Atlanta based, Chick-fil-A started and for a long time was best known in the Southeast, but more recently has become a nationwide fast food chain.  They get huge exposure as a major sponsor for the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) for college football.

In the book, Steve Robinson identifies three broad categories of activities that have created Raving Fans for Chick-fil-A.  They are Executing Operational Excellence, Delivering Second Mile Service, and Activating Emotional Connections.  I’ll focus for the next few minutes on Second Mile Service.  “Second Mile Service” is an allusion to the Biblical passage where Jesus tells his followers that if someone compels you to carry their pack for a mile (Roman soldiers could require you to do that in those days), offer to carry it for two miles.  In other words, serve a lot more than expected! 

Robinson and team wanted to develop a vision for Second Mile Service at Chick-fil-A.  Ritz Carlton Hotels, long renowned for outstanding service, was headquartered in Atlanta, so Robinson decided to reach out to their CEO Horst Schulze.  Schulze’s advice was challenging.  He pressed the Chick-fil-A team not to strive to merely have better service than other fast food restaurants, but rather to benchmark their service against restaurants whose price points were at least double that of Chick-fil-A.  So, inspired by Schulze,  Chick-fil-A set out to create a new service model based on restaurants that were three times their price point.  After all, why not aim high!

Here’s a few of the ideas they came up with.  When asked in surveys what would most make them feel cared for and want to come back, 90% of Chick-fil-A customers said they wanted the people serving them to create eye contact, share a smile, speak with an enthusiastic tone, and stay connected to make it personal.  So Chick-fil-A developed a plan to train its employees to do these things on a consistent basis.  It didn’t happen easily and it didn’t happen overnight.  It involved months of training and reinforcement, but Chick-fil-A eventually made this vision a reality.

Then, through benchmarking against other companies known for great service, they came up with the following additional “above and beyond” (at least for the fast food industry) behaviors:

  • Carry eat-in meals to the table.
  • Check in with guests for any needs.
  • Carry large orders to the car.

No one else in the fast food world was doing this.  So this became Second Mile Service for Chick-fil-A, a level of service way beyond what anyone else in the fast food business was doing!

Obviously, the particular practices that Chick-fil-A adopted do not apply directly to all businesses.  However, the principle of developing a vision for service that goes way beyond what’s expected in your industry is both inspiring and challenging.  A vision that provides service that’s not just a little better, but that’s truly remarkable, that makes people stand up and notice.

Reading Robinson’s book made me think about what a fresh vision for Second Mile Service might look like at Baillie Lumber.  I encourage you to do the same for your organization.

Jeff Meyer
Baillie Lumber