Did you know that world renown fast food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) once did not have any chicken? And for a whole week at that! While the irony is indeed hilarious, this was a real crisis that occurred for the fast food giant fairly recently. However, thanks to quick thinking and an understanding of their own customer experience, KFC’s disastrous week became a hallmark example of excellent crisis management.
Back in early 2018, KFC had to close more than 900 stores throughout the United Kingdom due to a shortage of chicken. Thanks to the internet, and social media in particular, the story spread like wildfire; with mainstream media picking up the ironic story soon after. Many had their fair share of laughs at the situation, but behind the scenes, KFC was scrambling for a solution.
While most of us were thoroughly entertained by the situation, consumers in the UK were far less amused. Many loyal customers were angry and outraged when they drove to their local KFC outlet only to find the store closed. Many have made meals at KFC a routine, since the proliferation of their stores throughout the nation and quick service made it both a quick and easy source of food. Thousands of messages flooded social media with threats of defection to KFC’s rival, McDonalds.
In truth, the problem was not entirely KFC’s fault. They had just made changes to their delivery contracts; but due to “administrative problems” their new logistics company either cancelled or delayed most of their shipments. This did not matter to consumers though, because it was the KFC brand on the signs of the stores that were closed.
Many companies have messed up their crisis communications before and KFC could have easily become one of them. However, it a single stroke, KFC was able to not only lessen the backlash, but also retain almost, if not all of their goodwill with a cheeky, contemporary, and well-communicated apology (as seen below).
KFC’s smart response and willingness to take responsibility for the problem led the company to be widely applauded by customers and the media for its deft handling of the situation and became the poster child for how well to handle a crisis.
So what can we learn from this?
KFC’s masterful response did not resolve the issue 100 percent, but it did help to preserve the customer experience and ensure that their brand remains positive in the hearts and minds of their consumers. Here are several things that companies can learn from this case study:
Appoint a team and have a crisis plan ready
A PR crisis is a matter of “when” not “if”. The proliferation of the internet and social media guarantees that you cannot hide a problem from the public forever. Therefore, companies should always have a dedicated crisis team come up with an actionable plan before any crisis occurs. Everyone on the team should have clear job responsibilities and understand whether to be proactive or reactive in their media coverage. They should also be prepared to teach proper protocol to anyone within the company that could be approached to speak to the media.
KFC were able to react quickly because they already had a team ready to approach the public issue when it occurred. They might not have been able to predict running out of chicken, but with a plan in place and relationships pre-established with media contacts, they were able to act quickly with their public announcements.
Gather all facts and accept blame
Far too many companies make a statement during a crisis without have all the facts. If necessary, admit that your company is still digging into the cause of the crisis if you do not have all the necessary facts. Your tone should reflect sincerity and remorse towards those affected. If your company is to blame, own it, with the exception of certain legal situations where an apology is an admission of guilt. It is preferable not to start pointing fingers .
KFC addressed the public honestly and transparently, admitting that they made a mistake, and explaining how to fix the problem.
Identify and address affected parties
Always address anyone involved or impacted by the crisis, especially, customers, employees, stakeholders, business partners, and the media. Its always important to show gratitude to those who were unnecessarily affected. KFC made it clear that the individual restaurants were not responsible for the issue and thanked them for their hard work in trying to remedy the situation.
Explain in as much detail as possible, the steps being taken to remedy the situation. These statements and press releases should be prepared in a timely manner so you have content ready to go before you’re approached by the media.
Don’t limit communication to just the PR team
Whether all your employees are affected or not, they are your best advocates. A PR crisis will affect the brand as a whole, so be transparent with everyone in the company and keep them up-to-date with resolutions made, lessons learnt, and new policies being put into effect. Who knows, some might even be able to provide an innovative solution.
While logical explanations are often necessary, remember that those being affected by a crisis are human, and humans are emotional creatures by nature. Being able to empathise with your affected consumers is key to allaying their fears and concerns.
KFC did a near-perfect job of this. Their ad was humorous because it reflected the emotions of everyone affected by the disaster, without being offensive. It was also apologetic, with the first words on the ad being “We’re sorry.”
Be vigilant post-crisis
Keep all eyes and ears open on all communications revolving around the company and the incident. Address customer questions and comments on websites and social media where appropriate. Responding to negative comments amicably and respectfully can go a long way to repairing the brand image. Try to establish a system to monitor negative trends so that you can address them quickly and positively.