Services Before Sales Sells More Chicken! (Disney Agrees)

Last week’s post predicted that customers won’t stand for technology that constantly sells to them. It predicted 2016 as the year predictive analytics and other ‘sensing’ technologies will be used to serve customers first.

Chick-fil-A [private], now America’s favorite chain restaurant, is proof. The Cathy family have been building their brand based on service (they say hospitality) since 1946. Chick-fil-A’s operating approach is crystal clear: American restaurateurs who double down on service first also get the sales. (We’re talking 3X what a typical KFC store gets.)

chickfila mom


This one looks easy. A Chick-fil-A team member helps keep a mom dry and makes it easy for her to take home a meal. In the picture, it looks quite helpful and pleasant. It’s a nice promise. One that Chick-fil-A keeps. Back-of-house (as they say in the restaurant business), there are challenges to making this kind of service consistent and affordable. To get it right, Chick-fil-A has to answer some tough questions:

  • How do we know who gets the special service and who doesn’t?
  • Who takes over this person’s minute-by-minute duties while he’s out of the store?
  • How do we train customers to ask for the service? (Hint: they don’t. The team members have been trained to notice the need, arrange for back-up, make the offer to the guest, and provide the service.)
  • Is there a measure for how much this helps the bottom line?

In this example, analytics can support operations by providing detailed information to make sure that staffing levels are optimized, to understand the effect of local weather patterns (including rain), and to make sure there’s enough hot soup on cold days.

chickfila log

Walt Disney Company [DIS] is also proof that service before sales sells better. Disney, like Chick-fil-A has taken customer experience to heart. In fact, the company’s operations are based on this simple maxim (paraphrased) from Walt Disney, one of the Disney brothers/founders:

“If you give your guests a great experience, they’ll want to come back and bring their friends.”

Walt Disney

As Disney expanded from animated films into other endeavors, this operating philosophy expanded too. Here’s an early map Disney drew of his expansive vision. Look how much he got right!

Disney Drawing

Disney made his progress on purpose and by design (which is much harder—and more impressive—than today’s minimum-viable-product methods).

This method of using the guest experience as the focal point for strategy has positive side-effects:

  • It naturally instills service values into the culture
  • It naturally aligns the many clues (experience details) in the experience to be on brand
  • It creates moments that guests notice, remember, and share—which drives repeat business and brings in new business
  • Using consistency of emotions, it lets customers use different products and services (theme parks, music, books, movies, plays) and still get the same Disney experience*

* The use of emotions in experience design will be covered in upcoming blogs.

Both Chick-fil-A and Disney have embedded hospitality and innovation into their cultures. Both pay more than average for employee training, on-going training, and management oversight. Both have consciously invested in their ‘what’s new’ (Imagineering is Disney’s division. HATCH is Chick-fil-A’s place).

Their focus on hospitality differentiates them from their competitors.

Their focus on innovation distances them.

Disney logo

About the Author

Mike Wittenstein is the founder and managing principal at Storyminers, an experience, service, and business design consultancy known for its game-changing work with leading service brands. Mike is also a world-class expert on experience, service, and business design