I don’t know whether you can remember all the way back to August of 2019 or not, since that would require you to be able to navigate through the chaotic fog of your 2020 memories. But if you can make it back that far, you may recall that one of the biggest brand wars in America at the time was between Popeyes and Chick-fil-A, and it revolved around a chicken sandwich. Popeyes came out with their rendition of the fried chicken breast sandwich, in hopes of going toe-to-toe with Chick-fil-A, the self-described inventor of the chicken sandwich. The Chicken Sandwich Wars (as it came to be known) really started to heat up, and the associated social media meme production was steady and free-flowing. The customer allegiance war between these competing brands reached a new height, sandwiches quickly sold out, and business was booming for both franchises.
Now that it’s been more than a year since the start of The Chicken Sandwich Wars, are we able to conclude a clear winner? Not exactly. Popeyes was already ahead of Chick-fil-A in terms of the total number of service locations before The Wars began in 2019. But Chick-fil-A owned a decided advantage in terms of sales-per-restaurant numbers, beating Popeyes by a nearly 3-to-1 advantage in that all-important category. Popeyes business certainly saw a rise as a result of The Wars, but they weren’t really able to cut into Chick-fil-A’s lead. As S.A. Whitehead points out in an article for QSR magazine, all boats were lifted in this particular “game.” Chick-fil-A maintained continued sales growth as well, and at no point has Popeyes been able to come within 2 million visits of Chick-fil-A, despite the fact that Popeyes boasts around 800 more locations.
So, does Popeyes really have a shot at taking down Chick-fil-A? Probably not. Chick-fil-A commands some tremendous brand loyalty among its millions of devoted customers, and for a good reason. Dee Ann Turner, retired VP of Talent for Chick-fil-A, described the difference this way in a social media post she published back in 2019: “It’s fairly easy to figure out how to copy most any recipe. What is far more difficult to copy is a remarkable culture and extraordinary talent that is well-equipped to create amazing customer experiences … where legendary customer service becomes the norm.” She goes on to say that “The secret sauce is not in a particular product. It’s in the combination of a superior, well-prepared product served by caring and friendly people who are committed to winning not just the market share, but the hearts of the customers they serve.”
She’s right, you know. The quality of the products and services that your business provides certainly matters, but the manner in which you deliver them – along with the way you actually treat your customers and clients with every interaction – matters just as much, if not more. Popeyes can invent products and try to copy recipes all they want, but they’re still not known for personalized, caring customer service like Chick-fil-A is, and that’s where the real gap lies between those two enterprises.
Here’s a local example of what I’m talking about. In Greensboro, NC there are Chick-fil-A and Popeyes locations which are literally next door to one another. With the two restaurants being in such close proximity, you might think that the competition could get pretty cutthroat and downright personal. But that’s not the Chick-fil-A way. As it turns out, this Chick-fil-A location operator (named Nick) has chosen to befriend the Popeyes employees, and many of them like to come over to Chick-fil-A for breakfast. During the heat of The Wars, Nick saw how crowded the Popeyes had been, and he knew his friends were pretty stressed out. So what did Nick do? He walked over to the Popeyes with a bag full of Chick-fil-A sandwiches and gave out free breakfast to the stressed-out Popeyes workers!
Who does that for a direct competitor? Chick-fil-A people like Nick do. A woman named Jené Walker who had stopped by in hopes of trying the new Popeyes chicken sandwich witnessed Nick’s sincere gesture, and she was simply blown away by it. She quickly snapped some pictures on her phone and shared them in a social media post, which instantly went viral. Walker asked Nick what he was doing over at Popeyes, and he told her he just wanted to help his friends out. Nick then invited Walker and her coworker over to the Chick-fil-A to have their own free meal, as well! Walker had this to say about her experience: “Chick-fil-A… I promise to NEVER cheat on you!! You’ve shown loyalty to me, even when I was about to be disloyal to y’all. I love y’all forever!”
It’s little gestures like that which turn mere customers into raving fans and brand evangelists.
Here’s one more example of what this looks like at the local business level. In a former career life, I was a corporate trainer for a regional grocery chain headquartered in North Carolina. During my time in that role, I learned this story of amazing customer service provided by one local store manager.
An older couple had come by to pick up a rotisserie chicken from the store’s deli to have for dinner. They got home with it, cut into the chicken, and blood came gushing out. Gross! Naturally, the couple called the store to complain. The manager quickly researched the issue, and was able to learn that the problem wasn’t with the store’s rotisserie cooker, but rather was a result of an issue with that particular batch of chicken being improperly processed by the poultry vendor. So now the manager was faced with a unique customer service opportunity for which he really had no script. The easy thing to do would’ve been to simply offer the couple a refund or a store gift card, but this store manager didn’t want to just settle for that – he wanted to make things right for this couple.
He called the couple back, apologized for their inconvenience, and asked for their address.
“Our address? Why do you want that?”
“Because I know you were planning to have that rotisserie chicken this evening, and now you have nothing to eat for dinner. We’ve just had a fresh chicken come out of the rotisserie, and I’m going to bring it over to you for dinner, with whatever sides you’d like to go with it.”
This couple was taken aback, and didn’t know what to say. They even started apologizing to the manager, and assured him he really didn’t have to do that. But he was insistent, so the couple gave him their address. He followed through on his offer, delivered the meal while it was still piping hot, and in the process he turned two unhappy customers into raving fans for life. After his display of personal kindness, this couple returned to his store every single week thereafter, and they told all their friends and family to shop at his store, too!
What’s the point of me telling you these stories? No doubt you’d like for your own business to be able to gain more brand evangelists and start building some real brand loyalty. How can you achieve that? I wrote another blog about developing passionate fans for your brand, which offers several helpful tips in that regard. But the stories I’ve shared with you today point to one important truth you really shouldn’t miss. Does your marketing strategy matter? Absolutely! But all that marketing is really designed to do is to get your customers inside the door in the first place. How you choose to interact with your customers from that point forward will decide whether or not they’ll stay with you.
The Real Battle for Brand Loyalty is Fought on the Dual Battlegrounds of Customer Experience and Customer Service. How can you drive brand loyalty for your local business? It’s simple, but it isn’t necessarily easy – you must choose to go above and beyond for your customers. Take the time to listen. Be patient. Be empathetic. Be human. And be willing to show them that you really care about them as people first, and as customers second. If you’ll take the initiative to take good care of your customers, you’ll find that they’ll also take good care of you in return.
At Cibirix, we wish you all the best as you seek to drive more brand loyalty for your business. And if you need some help with your digital marketing, branding, or web development, our team can come alongside to help you achieve your business goals in those areas, too. Ready to connect? Let’s get the conversation started! Simply reach out to us through this simple form, or just give us a call at (336) 415-3534!
Scott Kyles serves as Senior Content Specialist & Trainer for the Cibirix digital marketing team. Scott brings over 25 years of experience in teaching, training, coaching, and leadership in the business, academic, and nonprofit sectors. Scott has earned CCXP and APTD certifications, and holds both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Wake Forest University. In his role at Cibirix, Scott partners with businesses to help them clarify their message in order to better connect with both current and future customers & clients. Scott’s areas of passion include branding, marketing, customer experience, employee engagement, and organizational culture. He’s also a fan of hot sauces, an admitted weather nerd, and is better-than-average at ping pong.