But two decades ago, Chick-fil-A borrowed from The Ritz-Carlton a tactic that would become a centerpiece of its brand culture: employees responding to customers who thank them with “please” rather than “please.” or “no problem”.
Chick-fil-A founder Cathy Truett told the group a story about visiting the Ritz-Carlton. Whenever Kathy thanked the hotel employee, he smiled and replied: “With pleasure.”
At the time, Chick-fil-A, which Cathy founded in 1946 in Hapeville, Georgia, was trying to expand beyond the South and differentiate the brand nationally from fast food chains with a reputation for poor customer service.
So he asked Chick-fil-A’s managers and employees to start saying “with pleasure” when customers thanked them, but Robinson says many were hesitant at first.
This was until 2003, when Katie’s son, Dan, who later became CEO, he began to say “with pleasure” himself and push others to follow his example – this became an unwritten rule in the company, which remains to this day.
“It dawned on me that this could be a service card for us, almost like two pickles on a sandwich,” Dan said to Cathy. Chick-fil-A executives hired a head of marketing to overhaul their entire service strategy, which has expanded to include training employees to greet customers with a smile, make eye contact and speak with enthusiasm.
“My pleasure and Chick-fil-A go hand in hand”
“My Pleasure” is printed on Chick-fil-A souvenir T-shirts and is the title of a fan-made podcast. It’s often rumored on social media that you’ll get free food if you say “with pleasure” to an employee. (You will not.)
“The chain’s business cards of being closed on Sunday and saying ‘pleasantly’ are almost as important to brand identity as food,” said Adam Chandler.
Of course, employees simply saying “with pleasure” are not the reason a company tops the customer service rankings. But “my pleasure and Chick-fil-A go hand in hand,” said Emily Gilmour, manager of Chick-fil-A in Concord, North Carolina.
It sometimes takes a while for new hires to get used to the phrase, she says, but it eventually becomes second nature, even when they’re not at work.
“I say this at home too. It drives my husband crazy,” Gilmour said. “He says, ‘Can’t you just say please?’ And I’m like, “No, I can’t.” Now it just comes naturally to me.”