How KFC India Could Have Saved Face After The Wormgate Episode

Our views on how KFC India could have saved its online reputation, following the worms found in the chicken at its Trivandrum outlet.


Our views on how KFC India could have saved its online reputation, following the worms found in the chicken at its Trivandrum outlet.

“Someone found worms in my fried chicken and pictures of it are everywhere now. My outlet has been shut down by the food safety guys who have already begun their investigations. I did put up a kitchen tour video on my Facebook page for my worried fans, in which I explained about all the safety measures we take but did not offer an explanation for the worms. I also hogged a piece at the end, after all I’m the Chief Food Innovation Officer. But, my fans seem to be really peeved about this. I don’t understand what the fuss is all about?”

If you are this man and you don’t understand what the fuss is all about, then you are in grave trouble. In fact, you could become the butt of jokes just as KFC India discovered right after it totally mishandled a wormgate episode on its Facebook page. Here’s what happened earlier this month and since then, there have been no updates regarding the incident.

Meanwhile, I see the page admin has been posting yummy pictures and updates from the Radio KFC Facebook contest. And I also see a standard response that the matter is under investigation, whenever a fan questions about the worms. KFC India is clearly being defensive and that doesn’t help save its face. And all this when it has expansion plans in the country!

Instead of taking a concerned approach on social media rather than one that reeks of indifference, the online reputation managers at KFC India have left me disappointed. While they did take a few damage control steps, there are quite a few blunders in the approach. Let’s take a look:

Address the issue beforehand

KFC_India_worm_episodePerhaps, a rival planted those worms or this is something even more sinister, but KFC India needed to address the issue on all its digital properties, sooner than it did. Yes, they did address the issue at hand in the form of a Facebook update but this came after a good number of days, during which the damage was already done – the brand was lampooned on Facebook and Twitter and even rechristened as KFW (Kentucky Fried Worms).

A brand is accountable to its community. Just as KFC expects its fans to drool over its yummy zingers and ‘like’ the post at once, it should also be ready to see them being spiteful about the worm incident. Had the statement come in just as the news media broke the story, it would have helped mitigate the damage right at the very beginning. Fans love what you serve them and worms were definitely not in the menu, so the informative update posted by KFC was a good thing but rather late in the day.

Bring in a face to the brand

Fans and onlookers weren’t content with what was posted by the page admin. There were reports of fewer numbers at KFC outlets. As competitors were feasting away their business, KFC came up with a video update from the Chief Food Innovation Officer, Vijay Sukumar of Yum! Restaurants that manages KFC in India. I was thrilled to bits! Here’s a brand with a face. And that is such a human thing to do.

But, in the entire video of 1:27 minutes, Vijay kept harping about the brand’s stringent food safety standards while taking us through a kitchen tour but not once did he make any reference to the worms found in the Trivandrum outlet chicken. He even took a bite from a KFC chicken bucket hoping to reassure us. But, all that ‘human face’ effort went down the drain. A man of authority talks to his irate fans to reassure them about the brand’s safety standards but avoids to address the very reason of his fan’s fury!

Choose their words carefully

The statement by the page admin comes across as a calculated one. When you are already angry about the breach of trust, how would you savour an official statement that begins like this –  “Hi we know some of you have been hearing and reading about the recent inspection conducted by the local authorities at our restaurant in Trivandrum. Nothing is more important to us than food safety. We take all claims about our food very seriously and we are thoroughly investigating this claim. Please rest assured that as a responsible brand, we are committed to following international standards and serving the highest quality products to all our customers across each of our restaurants.”

The tone chosen suggests that it is all about the brand and how affected they have been by the whole incident. They do not seem to be concerned about the customers at all. Sounds like a sales pitch just as the remainder of the statement!

Besides, the ‘Hi’ has been addressed with an ‘indifferent’ tone. KFC doesn’t seem to be talking to its fans or brand advocates here.

Regain the lost trust

KFC_India_lost trustYour community trusts you and you need to respect that. This might be an unfortunate incident and you are breaking your head how this could ever happen to you but the fact is that it did happen and there is ample evidence. So, you have to deal with it. While you are seriously ‘investigating the claim’, you need to seriously regain the lost trust of your fans.

The first rule of ORM is to apologise or acknowledge a disaster at once. KFC took a long time to come up with a statement following the online backlash.

The second rule is to offer a resolution or at least talk about the disaster. KFC’s kitchen tour video did not even make a passing reference to the worms found in its chicken. Avoiding an issue when you are directly accountable is the worst you can do. The brand could have reduced some of the damage by not making that video at all!

Fans have been quite fierce in their comments and the fury is still high on Facebook. Had the brand really put themselves into a damage control mode and followed the steps mentioned above, this fury would have died down by now. Regaining the trust of your customers is tough but not impossible.

As KFC India fights hard to reopen the outlet, I don’t know what it will do to the many articles that come up when you type ‘KFC India’ into Google.

Image courtesy: AnsonAlex