When your business is based almost entirely around chicken, running out of that essential ingredient is a recipe for disaster.
Yet when KFC had to close more than half of its 900 UK restaurants this week, its crisis media management handling has had a lot to applaud.
And at a time when many organisations appear to be getting their crisis responses badly wrong, that is hugely refreshing.
So why has its response been so (finger lickin’) good?
KFC’s response to the incident has been bold – humour became a key ingredient.
The Colonel is working on it. pic.twitter.com/VvvnDLvlyq— KFC UK & Ireland (@KFC_UKI) February 17, 2018
That is potentially a very risky strategy, but here it worked perfectly. While a high-profile chicken restaurant running out of chicken is pretty farcical, the company appeared to realise that this was a very different crisis to those which have struck the likes of Oxfam and H&M recently.
Its first statement on social media started by saying ‘The chicken crossed the road, just not to our restaurants’ while a subsequent update began with ‘Some chickens have now crossed the road, the rest are waiting at the pelican crossing’.
This humour shows the human side of the brand and distances it from the robotic, bland statements that organisations all too often fall back on in times of trouble. It also suggests that it is a brand which knows its customers.
The first statement also used humour to explain to customers what has gone wrong. It said: “We’ve had a new delivery partner onboard, but they’ve had a couple of teething problems – getting fresh chicken out to 900 restaurants across the country is pretty complex!”
In a crisis media management incident, we would normally advise organisations not to try to blame others in their statements. But the light-hearted ‘teething problems’ messaging does not suggest that the new supplier, DHL, is being hung out to dry. It feels like an explanation.
More than humour
But its response has not just been about humour.
Look more closely at the statement and you will see that it cleverly reaffirms the brand’s commitment to quality. ‘We won’t compromise on quality’ the second sentence tells readers.
And there is also a nod to the staff who have been working to get the restaurants up and running, while presumably worrying what the loss of earnings mean for their employment future.
There is also action and reassurance scattered throughout the response. On Twitter, the first statement was headed ‘The Colonel is working on it’ and we are told the company is ‘working flat out’ to get up and running again.
A masterclass in crisis pr from KFC. pic.twitter.com/xJQnJzXReE— Andrew Bloch (@AndrewBloch) February 19, 2018
Shout out to the KFC comms team who, in my view, are absolutely smashing it through all this closure stuff. There will be case studies.— Andrew Jerina (@AJ_ay_it) February 21, 2018
Dedicated web page
As the chicken shortages continued, KFC created a dedicated web page to help customers struggling without their fix to find their nearest open restaurant. Here you will also find an apology – the one thing lacking in its social media responses.
It said: “We know that this might have inconvenienced some of you over the last few days, and disappointed you when you wanted your fried chicken fix – we’re really sorry about that.” Apart from the word ‘might’, that is a pretty strong apology with a genuine feel.
Importantly, the company also avoided the trap of putting out promotional posts during the shortages. Scheduled tweets, it appears, had been turned off and the only posts have been updates on the restaurant closures.
KFC’s response to the incident sounds a lot more transparent than that provided by DHL - the other company caught up in this particular crisis. Its response spoke vaguely of ‘operational issues’ and ‘working with partners to rectify the situation’. A very different approach.
The company took to social media again yesterday (22/2) to directly address rumours around staff pay, chicken rotting in warehouses and how it was possible for a chicken restaurant to ‘run out of chicken’
Under the title ‘there’s gossip in the hen house’ the messaging was clear, appeared transparent and showed the value it placed on keeping customers regularly updated on its efforts to resolve the issues.
This is good and clear comms, well played KFC https://t.co/OeH9avjTKB— Hats McTable (@jackrjthompson) February 22, 2018
This was supported by a full-page newspaper advert this morning (23/2) which contained a clever variation of the KFC name. The advert said it had been a 'hell of a week' (again sounding human), apologised to customers and thanked staff and franchise partners.
Such has been the seasoned nature of KFC response that you have to imagine its comms team planned for a scenario like this when it changed suppliers. The careful use of humour, the images that have been used for the initial statements and the dedicated web page all have the feel of a brand which knew its vulnerabilities and planned for them accordingly.
While the Colonel may not be prepared to reveal his ‘secret blend of herbs and spices’ there is a lot to be learnt from the way KFC has handled this crisis.
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