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A Brand Lesson Via Chipotle: Creating a Culture of Heroes

It’s no secret I am a Chipotle fan. I live in a city where that sentiment seems to be shared by all. A place where you can find a Chipotle thoughtfully situated at both ends of the same suburb, with a line 20+ patient people deep at both. I love their purpose and soul. I love their clever branding. Their social team is at the top of my list of people doing customer happiness right.

And it’s that last point I want to talk about today.

As much as I love the line of 20+ patient people at both our Chipotles, I’ve gotten into the habit of placing my order online so I can pop in, bypass the line and pop out. Lunch hour maximization! It works like a charm. For the longest time, I used to skip the “additional comments” section on the web form, until the day curiosity got the better of me and I started wondering if anyone actually reads the additional comments. So, I tried it. I left a little message.


When I picked up my order, I noticed this…

heart bowl

IT WORKED! A SECRET RESPONSE MESSAGE! (Okay, for all I know they do this for everyone, but it still made me feel special and happy.)

Flash forward a couple weeks and I am hurriedly throwing together a lunch order. Additional comments? You’re the heroes of my burrito lunch. Off I go. Bypass the line. Hurry home and eat.

A couple hours later I notice a voicemail on my phone from a number I don’t recognize. “Who is this mystery caller,” I ask myself?

Alyssa, I don’t know who you are. (I don’t even know if I’m spelling your name right.) But I just want you to know that you are not only still the hero of my salad, you were the hero of my entire day.


I can’t think of a single brand that doesn’t want to be, as Chipotle puts it, “unconditionally loved,” but I can think of so many that just can’t seem to figure out where to begin. The answer is people. People on the inside, people on the outside. It starts at the top (and from within) and trickles down. It takes root when you create a culture where people can grow and be their (awesome) selves. You can’t create a brand that people love until you build a company your people love. And once that happens, they’re going to carry that love out into the world via burrito bowl lids, clever tweets and unexpected voicemails. You’re going to create a culture of heroes.

This is my Thursday nugget of wisdom for to you, brands. Go look at your team. Can you spot your Alyssas and your Joes and your Rustys? Are you giving your people permission to be awesome? And I don’t just mean telling them to be awesome, I mean actively giving them the resources, trust and support to be awesome. Are you fostering a culture that inspires your people to become honorary cupids who carry their love for your company out into the world?

If not, you’ve got some work to do.

After all, heroes aren’t born, they’re made.


  • ctsmithiii

    Amy, great post. I too am a “raving fan” of Chipotle. Been eating there every day for lunch for the last seven years (I prefer to eat in so I refill my iced tea). I’ve become friends with line workers, managers, regional managers, restaurateurs and even their director of social media. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to find any where for me to add value to their company — other than raving about them on social media.

    I’ve told line workers who are having a bad day that they’re working at one of the best companies you can work for, other than, maybe, Zappos.

    I’ve written numerous blog posts about the value of customer-facing employees, employee engagement and employee empowerment.

    Until c-level executives, and investors, realize that employees will only treat customers as well as they are treated, I’m afraid we’ll still see a high percentage of unengaged employees.

    Thanks for your post.

    • Amy

      True story! It seems like such an obvious duh, but I believe it continues to be such a hot topic because so many companies don’t (or won’t) embrace the truth behind it. A culture of unhappiness/disengagement is poison in the soil — you can’t grow anything good there. On the flip side, a culture of appreciation and fosters feelings of value and worth is like fertilizer for the soul of a brand. Everything you plant there will start to grow — and has the potential to create a truly beautiful thing.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • Ace

    Amy, this is an awesome post. You are the hero of my RSS fee!

    Customer service used to be an afterthought in the food service industry, and still is to a large extent. However, I have noticed that local mom & pop restaurants are learning that friendly and courteous staff can differentiate them from the bigger chains. The fast casual chains, like Chipotle, seem to be catching on. Customers will go where they feel welcome and appreciated, not just to a place that serves the trendiest food.

    You would think this was common sense. So why haven’t corporations caught on? A few empower their customer-facing employees as Mr. Smith commented. But aren’t ALL employees customer-facing? Don’t forget about the internal customers, like the guy in shipping or the packaging designer. They are customers to the rest of the company, but their jobs affect the customer experience just as much as the cashier. Think about why all those unboxing videos on YouTube are so popular.

    Until c-level executives learn how to treat their employees like assets instead of a column on some payroll spreadsheet, those employees will continue to be disengaged with both external and internal customers. Treat your employees like mediocre staff and that’s what you’ll end up with. Your top talent will go where they are treated as such.

    • Amy


      First of all, thank you for the thoughtful comment.

      I think you nailed it: “Treat your employees like mediocre staff and that’s what you’ll end up with. Your top talent will go where they are treated as such.”

      Part of the even bigger problem I see is that everyone KNOWS this is true. They’ve read the Fast Co. articles. They’ve seen the research. Everyone knows that empowering employees and keeping them happy is the best way to grow a great brand, but very few actually follow through in practice. Every company claims that their culture is fun, empowering, employee-focused, but that’s not something you can decide or mandate — it happens because of the seeds your brand plants. When you look at exceptional brands they are not throwing a one-day effort at their staff in a move to make them happy, they are constantly finding new ways to make them feel valued and appreciated. That cannot be a one-effort one off, it has to be the lifeblood of the culture. Businesses can say what they want, but employee retention says it all. The places where you find people at the C-level who have been with the company since high school? THAT says everything.

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