Lessons from KFC’s brilliant crisis management

The last one week has been a rough one for United Kingdom’s top food outlet, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). The franchise has seen a myriad of complaints...

The last one week has been a rough one for United Kingdom’s top food outlet, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). The franchise has seen a myriad of complaints and anger from customers who met ‘closed’ doors while trying to get their usual fix of KFC chicken.

What’s the fuss? It so happened that KFC ran out of chicken. Yes, I know it’s unthinkable, but the kings of chicken literally had none to see to its millions of customers. The franchise which serves many across the UK was forced to close about 750 of its 900 restaurants in the country, while leaving 255 workers redundant.

It turned out that KFC made a decision recently to change its poultry delivery company from Bidvest, an expert food distribution company with distribution networks across the UK, to DHL which has just one. But this is not the news. The story is that after getting lots of flak from the UK public over its inability to satisfy their chicken cravings for such an extended period of time, KFC management saw it necessary to publish an apology on national newspapers admitting their error.
The full-page ad features an empty bargain bucket of the fast-food chain with ‘FCK’ – an anagram of KFC – inscribed on it. The text that accompanied the picture has been described by many as a “masterpiece in crisis management.”

In full, it reads: ‘We’re sorry. A chicken restaurant without any chicken. Huge apologies to our customers, especially those who travelled out of their way to find we were closed.

‘And endless thanks to our KFC team members and our franchise partners for working tirelessly to improve the situation.

‘It’s been a hell of a week, but we’re making progress, and every day more and more fresh chicken is being delivered to our restaurants. Thank you for bearing with us.’

Let’s take a minute to examine what makes KFC’s apology appeal to customers and PR experts alike:

“A chicken restaurant without any chicken.”
Almost as much as the content of a statement, the tone of voice is very important. It’s obvious that KFC’s PR handlers saw a need to communicate in the exact language of its customers instead of talking above them. The tongue-in-cheek, informal, self-deprecating manner of the apology, took the message home to many, highlighting the sincerity of the message. It lets customers know they are being listened to and their concerns are taken seriously.

“Huge apologies to our customers…”
PR experts mostly advise clients to avoid issuing an outright apology for misdeeds fearing this will create a lasting dent on brand image. But that is exactly what KFC did! They looked at the situation, recognised the enormity of the situation, and decided that only a sincere apology will suffice. They boldly went for it and it paid off big time – majority of their customers loved it, calling it the ‘most appropriate apology ever.’

Ashley Halliday, a Twitter user wrote: “Apology totally accepted @KFCUKI – Saying sorry means a lot in life.” It so happens that saying ‘sorry’ also means a lot in responding to customer complaint.

“Endless thanks to our KFC team members and our franchise partners.”
While it’s okay to say sorry to your customers, don’t ever forget to express gratitude to your staff and partners who are working hard to ensure normalcy returns. The staff are the first line of contact to customers therefore they’re of utmost importance to the recovery of KFC. With this statement, the restaurant has made it clear how much the staff members are valued. This public show of appreciation is a much-needed boost to their morale to do even more – just what KFC needs.
“We’re making progress… more and more fresh chicken is being delivered to our restaurants.”
To complete a well-crafted statement, KFC didn’t stop at admitting their wrong, they went ahead to highlight what they are doing to find lasting solution. For many customers across the UK demanding to know what the franchise is doing to sort the problem, KFC had a ready answer – the situation is being put under control.

This part of the statement is however somewhat tricky. The rule is to never misrepresent the situation. Don’t say the crisis is under control when it is clearly not. The public almost always gets to find out the truth, and if it’s at variance with your public utterances then your efforts are as good as useless. When KFC issued the apology, most of their restaurants were back in operation and it was obvious that concrete steps had been taken to remedy the situation.

Winning all the way. KFC may have lost lots of money over the logistic crisis it found itself but they are big winners on the long run. The masterful manner in which the crisis was managed, endeared the brand to many who do not reckon with it, while the buzz generated, serves as an important reminder about the value of the KFC to British culture.
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