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Happy Employees, Happy Customers: A Page From a Fast-Food Giant’s Playbook

Have you ever had to explain a word or phrase to someone and, in doing so, went through your own learning (or re-learning) process? That happened to me the other night at Chick-fil-A when my four-year-old daughter asked, “What does ‘It’s my pleasure’ mean?” My knee-jerk reaction was to tell her that it’s just a fancy way of saying, “You’re welcome.” The more I think about it though, I can’t shake the idea that it’s something more. Maybe it’s the smile or the twinkle in the employee’s eye, or maybe it’s just the sincerity baked into the phrase itself, but I find myself actually believing it any time I visit a Chick fil A. The employees seem happy and pleased to serve me. And that makes me happy.

Could the mortgage industry take a page from our fast-food friends’ customer experience playbook? Our question this month: How can lenders build up their employee experience to ultimately elevate their customer experience?

The Connection Between the Employee Experience and the Customer Experience

Back in the late 1990s, Chick-fil-A was in a heated competition with Boston Market (then “Boston Chicken”) for market share. Instead of pushing aggressively for expansion, their owner, Truett Cathy, famously said, “Stop obsessing over getting bigger. Let’s get better, then our audience will demand that we get bigger.” Many look at that story as a testament to the importance of producing a high-quality product, but that’s not exactly what was going on. The Chick fil A recipe and menu haven’t materially changed since the 1990s. Where Chick-fil-A really began to differentiate from that point on was in quality of service. And that started with the people they hired.

They began looking for individuals with outstanding customer service skills and overall positive attitudes. The rest, they figured, could be taught. I once heard one of our Customer Experience Workshop attendees, representing a top-five independent mortgage banker, describe an almost identical hiring criteria for their originators and processors. It’s no wonder that this company consistently ranks near the top in national customer experience studies.

Back to Chick-fil-A. They didn’t stop at changing their hiring criteria but reinforced positive culture by reminding those already happy people they had hired to be happy on the job. The result was a workforce that made their catch phrase, “It’s my pleasure,” more than just lip service. Today, Chick fil A has continued to build exceptional employee engagement, giving more than $35 million in college scholarships to its employees and frequently being listed as one of the best places to work in the fast-food industry.

As much as we may like the idea of a clean slate with a staff full of positive people, we are beholden to the fact that 80 percent of loans are done by the top 40 percent of originators. So, unless we want the already waning production numbers to slip further, we need to keep those top producers around. The good news is that most of them are already pretty happy, having built sustainable business models with deep referral networks and loyal repeat borrowers. A market like the current one, marked by right-sizing and self-removal by low-producing originators, might be the perfect time to reevaluate your hiring criteria with an eye toward building a long-term, employee-prized culture. That may mean hiring based on character and attitude more so than the size of whatever book of business an originator may have. And maybe paying them differently, as my colleague Garth Graham wrote about last month.


Hiring, as we learned from Chick-fil-A, is only the first step. What else can lenders do to build a vibrant, positive employee culture that begets a world-class customer experience? Here are three ways STRATMOR recommends to support employees so they’ll never want to leave your company and can’t help making it “their pleasure” to serve your borrowers:

  1. Give each employee visibility into their role in the customer experience.
    At STRATMOR’s recent Operations Workshop, one attendee shared how they show each fulfillment team member their personal cost-per-loan in an effort to encourage creative ways to produce efficiencies. STRATMOR’s MortgageCX program does the same thing with customer experience metrics, showing each loan officer and processor (in great detail) their own contributions to the overall delight of the borrowers under their care each month. Visibility creates ownership and produces pride in a job well done. Tying personal performance into the bigger picture gives employees a feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment. The same can be done for underwriters and closers.
  2. Eliminate process mistakes to drive more referrals, repeat business and retention. 
    A loan with no major miscues (MortgageCX specifically tracks the most egregious seven, called the Seven Commandments of Optimizing the Customer Experience) has an average Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 97, a sure-fire marker of referrals to come. Get just one of the commandments wrong and you lose 75 NPS points, along with any chance at a referral or repeat customer. Originators who can trust in a great back office – not just a competent one, but one that elevates the borrower experience with great communication and responsiveness – will take serious pause before looking over the fence for greener pastures when things start to get tough.
  3. Celebrate when your employees delight their borrowers. 
    One of our MortgageCX clients puts out a weekly internal newsletter that highlights a few of the top testimonials of the week. Employees anxiously await the email to see if they’ve been highlighted. Reading the positive customer sentiments makes them feel good about the work they’re doing and how it’s directly tied to borrower delight. Creating a great employee culture is all about inviting each employee into a story that is bigger than themselves, one that has impact and meaning for the consumer. For another of our MCX lenders, that means the CEO calling employees with stellar survey comments and congratulating them personally. If you want more of a good behavior, simply reinforce it!


Here are three ways you can start building up your employee engagement to ultimately elevate your customer experience:

  1. Attend the virtual STRATMOR CX Workshop September 25-27. This is perhaps the best bang for the buck that STRATMOR offers in terms of customer experience data, knowledge sharing, and consulting expertise. It’s a three-day virtual event (two hours per day) where you can share and learn from peer lenders about many issues, including employee engagement strategies.
  2. Measure, Benchmark, Personalize. To provide visibility at all levels – and therefore create ownership and pride – you’ll need to go deep with the customer when asking about their experience. But just collecting the data isn’t enough. To really engage employees, reporting needs to be personalized, comparative to peers and show a clear path to improvement.
  3. Recognize. Use award badges to reward great customer care. I know of loan officers in our MortgageCX program who rank 10th at their company or 150th nationally who don’t want to leave lest they surrender their badges and accolades that they display in their email signatures.
    If you’d like to discuss the STRATMOR program in more detail, call me at the number below or find time on my calendar to set up a free MortgageCX consultation.

Chick fil A images source: PEXEL, Jace Miller, photographer.


How can you learn more about creating a better customer experience and about how the customer experience impacts your company?

Find out more about STRATMOR Group’s MortgageCX program and how it is revolutionizing the CX space. Contact Mike Seminari at or schedule time on his calendar.

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