There are certain companies that tend to outperform their competition year over year. They sell similar products or services, are in similar geographies, or they have similar online storefronts--but for some reason or another, they just keep crushing the competition.  

Chick-fil-A is one of these companies. In 2016, its average sales per restaurant were $4.4 million. For comparison, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) was at $1.1 million. Chick-fil-A produced four times more sales per restaurant, and did it while being open six days per week instead of seven.  

Sounds crazy, because it is.  

Why is Chick-fil-A closed on Sundays?

Chick-fil-A has been closed on Sundays since 1946, a practice established by its founder Truett Cathy to allow employees a day of rest and worship. Even after his passing, his son Dan Cathy continues the practice. The corporate message on the topic says, "It's not about being closed. It's about how we use the time."

Here's the best part about Chick-fil-A, (beyond its No. 1 combo meal): The company lives out its beliefs and core values. This past Sunday, Chick-fil-A opened to dish out sandwiches to passengers stranded at Hartsville-Jackson International Airport in its hometown of Atlanta.

A major power outage halted and canceled flights for tens of thousands of passengers. Atlanta's Mayor Kasim Reed called the sandwich chain, and Dan Cathy and his team didn't even hesitate. Chick-fil-A released a statement: "We immediately mobilized staff and team members who live and work near the airport, and they are making sandwiches and delivering them to the EOC (emergency operations center)."

Chick-fil-A ended up distributing over 2,000 sandwiches and bottled waters to help in aid--yes, even on a Sunday.

Whether you love Chick-fil-A or hate them, here are a few crucial lessons you can learn from the company's example:

It starts at the top.

I talked to Jimmy Collins, a former Chick-fil-A president and the company's third corporate employee, on a recent episode of the Follow My Lead podcast. "Why don't others just copy Chick-fil-A? I asked. He said, "They can't. It starts with the founder or the person at the top. For us, it was Truett Cathy and now his son Dan."

Long-lasting differentiation starts and ends with the people at the top. Sure, anyone can come up with some innovative software platform or technology. But in today's fast-paced business world, technology is easily copied and quickly becomes a commodity.

Great leadership will always be a differentiator.

Don't cave to modern-day pressures, but be flexible.

It would be so easy for Chick-fil-A to cave to the pressures of today's environment and open all its restaurants on Sundays to increase corporate earnings. Instead, the company stays true to its core values and beliefs.

At the same time, its leaders know they don't exist just to make money. It's about people. So when an event happens like it did at the Atlanta airport, it's an easy decision to break a rule to help others.

Stick to your core values, and at the same time, be flexible. It's not a contradiction.

Customer experience matters.

So often, businesses forget the importance of the customer experience. Benjamin Franklin once famously said, "The taste of the roast is affected by the handshake of the host."

No matter your industry, the principle remains. Focus on your customer's experience from start to finish and they will keep coming back. Some of the best examples of this today are Facebook, Southwest Airlines, and Starbucks.

Of course, these companies don't have a patent on customer experience. Every organization has the ability to focus on customer experience. Some take it more seriously than others.

Be one of those companies. It matters.

Published on: Dec 19, 2017