Dance in the rain of a public crisis

Dance in the rain of a public crisis

It has been said on an inspiring canvas (or cushion) that life is not about waiting for a storm to pass, but learning to dance in the rain – and there has been some good industry dancing to be admired of late.

Last month, the UK was caught up in a crisis. Panic swept across the nation and police were called to restore public order, all for the fact that KFC had run out of chicken… sad but true. KFC had done the unthinkable, despite their many years in business and undeniable revenue, they had royally messed up, leaving the public to wonder what the cluck was going on. What followed on from this very public disaster was a masterclass in public relations, when they published a full page apology in national newspapers, that gained them headlines and fans globally.

Keeping the sense of humour that has characterised KFC’s communications throughout the fiasco so far, the ad rearranged the letters of its name to spell out ‘FCK’ on a chicken bucket. Text below the image read: ‘We’re sorry.’

“A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal,” the statement continued, before apologising to inconvenienced customers and thanking KFC employees. “It’s been a hell of a week, but we’re making progress.”

The ad pointed viewers to a website with more information about the status of local restaurants. The header of the site read: ‘The chicken crossed the road, just not to our restaurants.’

The chicken shortage kicked off after KFC switched its delivery supplier to DHL. DHL blamed ‘operational issues’ for a disruption in deliveries, causing the fast-food chain to close most of its UK outlets. Although it is rare for a business to get exposed on the scale that KFC had, we can all feel put out and embarrassed by scathing reviews or online statements made about an incident or issue in our restaurants. The interesting part of the chicken (or lack of chicken) story is, of course, not the fact that KFC ran out of chicken. It was instead the masterclass of communications KFC (or to be precise its PR firm) provided the nation, featuring lessons for every business in how to handle a crisis and the public’s perception when things go dramatically wrong.

You are not alone

It should be somewhat of a comfort that even the biggest, most successful brands can make mistakes. From American Airlines to Adidas, these heavy hitters have made headlines for all the wrong reasons in the last 12 months. Mistakes in business can be costly, embarrassing and can damage your brand, but if handled correctly situations can be turned around and become an endearing trait, and make people love your brand even more.

There’s nowhere to hide

Living in a world that is ‘always on’, there really is nowhere to hide. When a mistake happens, all it takes is for one person to take a photograph and tweet it for the message to go global, and put a brand’s reputation at stake. There is no point in burying your head in the sand when something has gone wrong. Instead, use this as an opportunity to show your transparency, honesty and integrity. Be human, hold your hands up and don’t be afraid to say you got it wrong.

Find the fun and play with it

If no one has been hurt, find your funny bone and be prepared to flex it. If the conversation has ended up on social media, be prepared to be ribbed and understand that you’ll need to roll with the jibes. Social media is a place to have fun, and not take yourself too seriously. However, the world may be watching for your response, so keep your cool, be prepared to laugh and don’t take the situation too personally.

Accept that it’s all your fault

This is a powerful concept that can be really hard to follow. KFC put its hands up, owned its issues and apologised for them. In the apology they mentioned that it was due to teething problems in switching supplier, but ultimately it accepted that it as to blame. It didn’t pass the buck and didn’t blame anyone but itself. Too often when reading responses of negative reviews online I see the business owner blaming something out of their control, and stating that it’s really not their fault. The honest answer is that no one cares that your staff didn’t show up or your supplier ran out of goods. The customer’s relationship is with you, the business. They buy an experience from you and expect, without question, for it to be delivered.

Customers don’t care (and that’s ok)

It can feel unfair and it can feel personal, but customers are not interested in excuses for a problem. Their transaction is with the business and if you fail to deliver, for whatever reason (including supplier failure), it’s your fault in their eyes. Understand this and you will see your customers appreciate you more on review sites. KFC stood up and owned its own mess. It could have blamed, correctly, everything on DHL and tried to defend its position. Instead, it showed gratitude and support of its partners (for you, think staff) and they understood that their customers didn’t care about the details. KFC took the blame, showed empathy and made it clear how it was going to fix it.

There was room for humour in KFC’s apology message, but ultimately it packed a punch because it felt genuine and regretful that they had let their biggest supporters down. There’s no denying that when you respect what your customers love, and apologise in a human and genuine way, people will forgive a cluck up (even a big one) and be back queuing for more of what you have to offer very soon.

Joy Zarine is a marketing and hospitality consultant from London. For over 10 years Joy has developed hospitality businesses to stand out, scale up and be remembered for all the right reasons. With a focus on guest experience and marketing, both online and in person, she has launched and developed multiple award-winning brands across the country.

Joy is also the author of the best selling book ‘The Five Star Formula. Create Incredible Guest Experiences That Lead To Five Star Reviews And An Award Winning Hospitality Business’. Find out more at