I’ve recently made an earth-shattering discovery: Chick-fil-A employees are actually robots. Yes, it’s true! The perky, attractive and conscientious poultry peddlers — although appearing human — are, in fact, cyborgs created in a lab.
This is why Chick-fil-A is closed on Sunday. Their android employees’ lithium-ion batteries need charging. And don’t get me started on their chocolate chunk cookies, which are clearly genetically-engineered to be unnaturally addictive.
Skeptical? Visit a Chick-fil-A in my neighborhood sometime. They are stocked with bright, charismatic, catalog-model-looking people who seem to genuinely care about guest experience. They work hard and always go the extra mile — smiling and engaging with customers, while taking responsibility for the entire restaurant. At a fast food joint.
By comparison, visit your local mall store and chat up the pouty, distracted, mildly annoyed mini-diva whom you’ve inconvenienced by your presence. Worse yet, visit a motorcycle dealership.
Enthusiast industries tend to hire the hard-core aficionados of the sport: techy (often snobby) experts that customers can depend on. Having enthusiasts on staff allows guests to discuss their passion with like-minded individuals. This shared experience helps make the store a destination, so it’s common in the ski industry, golf industry, firearms industry and (of course) the comic book industry.
Unfortunately, hiring enthusiasts presents three challenges:
- They tend to cost more
The Expert is vital to your business, which grants them a premium in the job market. This restricts placement to mid-level jobs or higher; you’ll rarely see them as cashiers, receptionists, or porters.
- They often have zero customer service and/or sales skills
The Expert works where they do because of enthusiasm for the sport – not enthusiasm for the customer. Often times, they couldn’t care less about the business itself, it simply aligns with their hobby.
- If they were any good, they’d have been promoted
Let’s be honest: An Expert in your sport who possesses other valuable talents - such as charm, analytical aptitude or sales skill — would have already been promoted to Manager. If they’re still behind your counter or on your floor, there might be a reason.
This is why, when visiting the mountain bike shop or gun store, you’ll often encounter a surly “Pro” who knows everything about the sport; but is irritated that you’ve interrupted his day. This is a major problem in powersports too many of us ignore.
Pretend you’re a customer walking up to your parts counter. Would you really feel welcomed by the counterperson? Does he/she really possess great customer service skills? How about telephone skills? Is he/she as proficient with selling as with a wrench? Same goes for your sales and service staff. Are they there only because they love bikes? Or are they really good at managing sales process, customer needs and creating an incredible experience? We all hire Experts in the sport, but rarely do we hire Experts in the skills that really matter to our bottom line.
Now let’s go back to the challenge #1 above: Experts cost more. Due to this reality, we’re forced to hire an inexpensive, entry-level non-expert as receptionist, cashier, salesperson, porter, delivery person, etc.
This creates an even bigger problem: The first and last point of contact for your customer is your lowest-paid employee.
Our youngest, shyest, least-experienced, least-trained, least-skilled, lowest-paid employee – the person with the least to lose – is the first and usually last person your customer engages with. They literally hold the customer’s opinion of your store in their unskilled hands.
So let’s recap:
- Mid-level positions are filled by Experts in the sport, who often lack other vital skills such as customer service, sales process, etc. These are the folks responsible for driving revenue to your store, although they are often least qualified to do so.
We must decide which Experts are teachable in traits that truly drive results. If your Experts aren’t able to adapt to modern customer service and business needs, they’re costing you money.
- Entry-level positions are filled by the least-skilled, least-trained, lowest-paid employee. These are the people who represent your store and drive guest experience.
Although Chick-fil-A is not an enthusiast business, they’ve mastered this hurdle by placing smart, charming, enthusiastic staffers in these customer engagement positions. This creates Chick-fil-A employees who aren’t simply enthusiasts of chicken, but enthusiasts of the guest experience. This might explain why they are growing ten times faster than their competition*.
As for me, I’m working on a patent for a ‘Powersports Industry Cyborg.’ But in the meantime, don’t just hire those passionate about our sport, hire people with passion for customers — then train them to become Experts that guests can count on. We may never learn the secret recipe for Chick-fil-A’s cookies, but we can crack their code for success.
Chris Clovis has had the honor and pleasure of 25 years in the powersports industry, currently serving as vice president of EagleRider Motorcycles [www.eaglerider.com]. Chris’ opinions are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of his employer, publisher, clients, or Chick-fil-A Inc., who deny any allegation of robotic employees or genetically-modified cookies.