“WE’RE temporarily closed due to unforeseen circumstances,” said one statement following the latest faux pas at a KFC branch in Umhlanga Ridge, KwaZulu-Natal.
Trying to explain the embarrassment Doug Miller, the company’s MD, later claimed: “We are aware of the incident at our restaurant in Umhlanga. We take our quality standards extremely seriously and are in the process of conducting a thorough investigation.”
Looking through the company’s website, I could not locate anything describing what Miller meant by “our quality standards”. All I found were four tabs on the home page labelled: ‘What’s So Good’, ‘Our Menu’, ‘Our Stores’, and ‘Our News’.
At the bottom, they have ‘Speak to us’ and ‘KFC listens’ tabs, in addition to ones helping customers locate a meal and a store, respectively. There is also a series of “So Good in Video” clips depicting various past KFC ads.
Nowhere on the website does it describe the company’s values or the quality standards referred to by Miller. There is no way for us to know what informs corporate conduct at KFC. Assuming that the company does have corporate values and that these are only shared with employees through an internal platform, there is no direct way of finding that out or of verifying how consistently the values get communicated throughout its supply chain.
Other than indirect reference to ‘quality standards’, none of the statements issued specifically tells us what these standards are.
Values-driven companies never hide their value charters. They communicate them widely throughout their value chain and ensure that all their stakeholders know about them. They do this because that is how they instil corporate conduct and it is on the basis of such values that they invite us, the public, to judge them.
Corporate conduct is also measured, rewarded and punished on the basis of established corporate values. To protect and enhance corporate reputation, reputation conscious brands insist that all of their stakeholder groups, especially employees and suppliers, know what values drive their business and what conduct is unacceptable or not.
Admittedly, it requires more work for a franchised brand to instil and monitor its corporate values – provided that these are clearly written out and communicated – than one whose brand is managed from a corporate office. Values-driven franchised brands rely on the honesty of franchisees to instil and live their brands throughout their operations.
But some franchisees are simply there for the money and will cut corners whenever they do not feel the watchful eye of big brother brand manager from ‘corporate’. They’re not famous for embracing brand values determined elsewhere, like salaried managers feel compelled to.
It should be worrisome for any self-respecting brand to have two incidents of the nature experienced by KFC happen within weeks of each other – and the more so because KFC sells food that is popular with children.
Whether or not the chicken that was being washed on the ground with hosepipes was indeed being prepared for disposal, as claimed by KFC, is irrelevant. The pavement sharpening of knives used to prepare chicken for human consumption is also hard to explain for a brand that claims quality standards.
Ashrana Chanderanberg, the uMhlanga resident who caught the pavement sharpening of knives on camera, reported that “residents of blocks of flats were often woken up by the agonising sounds of sharpening knives”, indicating that this had happened before.
Going by some Twitter comments alone, it is now clear that KFC will have to work harder to regain some lost clients who – in this age of social media – will go out there to discourage others from eating KFC foods.
READ: Being KFC’d on social media
KFC’s media statement claims “We have strict processes in place, even when it comes to food disposal and will not tolerate our stores not following them”. It goes further to say that “We have already dealt very firmly with the owner and responsible people involved”. But without actually revealing what firm steps were taken, this is also not good enough. It doesn’t seem as if KFC places much value on transparency.
All of this begs the question: do brands finding themselves in trouble rely on some library of standardised media statements to get themselves out of trouble? One often gets the sense that many of the statements are ready-made and simply pulled from a shelf before being sent out with little customisation.
Many of them seem eerily identical, as if drafted by the same writer or copied from the same crisis communication text book. They’re thus hard to take seriously; this makes it harder for them to generate the sympathy that troubled brands expect.
So, how long do ‘holding statements’ get kept in media team folders before being refreshed?