Fast-food chain KFC has had one hell of a week. It ran out of chicken and had to close hundreds of its restaurants, much to the dismay of loyal fans. But the much-loved company has managed to turn what could have been a corporate reputation disaster into a piece of perfectly pitched crisis management.

Sure, their loyal customers were devastated they couldn’t get their regular KFC fix (who could forget the woman on the news who wasn’t happy that she “had to go to Burger King” instead!) She was clearly annoyed about the situation. And alarmingly Tower Hamlets Police had to tell people, via Twitter, that the KFC crisis was not a pressing police matter. #KFCCrisis turned into a trending hashtag on Twitter. While others joined in the conversation and were waiting (mostly) patiently for normal service to resume.

A lot of this is down to the fact that KFC is a much-loved ‘institution’, and also about how KFC’s handled the situation.

The company and its new suppliers made a monumental mistake, but quickly admitted what went wrong, saying the shortage was caused by a “couple of teething problems” after it switched to a new delivery partner DHL. With DHL saying the problems were caused by “operational issues”.

KFC and DHL apologised. Then the food chain went on to completely ‘own’ the crisis, engaging customers in its chicken shortage plight and with a series of perfectly pitched updates that had fun at their own expense.

KFC crisis and recovering its corporate reputation

The company may have temporarily run out of their product, a somewhat monumental display of corporate incompetence. But, as long as the problem doesn’t recur, the damage will be minimal. This is entirely down to how KFC has handled itself and shown just how well they know their audience.

KFC apologised immediately and unreservedly without blame. The whole issue it turned into a farce – using comedy to poke fun at its failings.

The chain used a full-page as in British newspapers to apologise for closing its restaurants. The ad showed an empty KFC bucket with the chain’s initials scrambled to say “FCK” alongside an apology.

“A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal. 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,” the ad said.

This cheeky apology was well received because it’s open, transparent, completely authentic and recognises everyone affected by the crisis. This crisis has actually raised KFCs profile wider, showing it to be a business that cares as much about its customers as it does its employees, franchise operators and suppliers.

Corporate reputations can recover quickly, if companies make themselves accountable and act quickly and this is exactly what KFC does.

The UK is KFC’s biggest market in Europe, with franchisees operating around 95% of UK KFC restaurants. The UK is one if its top 5 markets globally. It needed to act responsibly and fast.

At the time of writing it now looks like, for now at least, KFC in the UK is getting back to normal.



KFC crisis goes down in history as a great lesson in reputation management
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KFC crisis goes down in history as a great lesson in reputation management
Fast-food chain KFC has had one hell of a week. But the much-loved company has turned a product disaster into a piece of perfectly pitched crisis management.
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