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What S. Truett Cathy Can Teach Us About Excellent Client Service


As you’ve all seen by now, Chick-fil-A’s legendary founder S. Truett Cathy passed away early Monday morning at the age of 93. The magnitude of the quick-service empire he created is undeniable, but what fueled decades of continued success – other than extremely tasty food? Cathy was a man of morals, values and principles – and he ensured his company ran according to those same tenets. From emphasizing customer experience, to valuing the people and the product behind the success, Cathy knew what was really important.

Cathy’s business model was brilliantly simple, easily allowing lessons learned to be applied to other segments within the service industries – including marketing and advertising agencies. Here are a few interconnected tenants that struck a chord with me, and are highly applicable to anyone in a client services role:

“My Pleasure” and Second-Mile Service

Everyone who’s visited a Chick-fil-A before knows the deal: If you say “thank you,” the courteous employee will always respond with “my pleasure.” In his book “How Did You Do It, Truett?” Cathy explains that he got the idea while staying at the Ritz-Carlton. He thanked a hotel employee, who replied “my pleasure” with a genuine smile. The encounter stuck with him, to the point that Truett asked all Chick-fil-A operators, team members and corporate headquarters employees to say “my pleasure” whenever someone thanked them.

Cathy wasn’t just trying to come up with a new way of showing respect. Rather, he felt that the statement “my pleasure” embodies the Chick-fil-A promise to genuinely value that customer (or relationship/company in our case) with an implied pledge to always go that extra mile to exceed expectations. It’s all part of taking the servant spirit to a higher level, known within Chick-fil-A as “Second-Mile Service.”

Excellence in client service can be achieved by embodying the same approach. In our client services roles, we must continually take on that “my pleasure” attitude, striving to go above and beyond for clients. After all, they’re the ones who keep the doors of the agency open, and they play a huge role in all that award-winning work that’s created.

Put Principles and People First

Cathy often referenced his “Five-Step Recipe for Business Success.” One of the most important steps is to put “Principles and People Ahead of Profits.” Now was Cathy saying that profitability was unimportant? No. Rather, I believe his point was that if you do the right thing by your customers (or clients), the result will be mutually profitable for both parties.

As client services professionals, it can be easy to fall into a rut when the projects and deadlines start piling up: Pushing through average work to make sure that project is finished on time and under estimate. But, it’s important to take a step back and assess if we’re being good stewards of our clients’ resources and trust. Are we doing our best work here – work that’s going to have a significant impact for our clients? Or is it work that’s merely “good enough?” Doing right by clients will virtually always pay dividends for your agency (in both firming up long-term profitable relationships and resulting in work you can be proud of), even if it means a little of that “second-mile” effort up front.

Perhaps Cathy summed it up most succinctly when he said “The key to succeeding […] is to take care of the customer.” Success in client service can also be boiled down that simply: A little effort can go a long way, for both your clients and your agency.

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