Customer Service Done Well and Badly

Back in August 2021 some firms had issues with obtaining supplies. Two companies in particular hit the headlines so let’s look at each in turn – they both involve chicken. Let’s see how they dealt with the issue and the impact on customer service.

KFC put out a press release saying that they were experiencing shortages of some products leading to items missing from the menu. However, they did not state which items and if it was all stores or just certain regions. This left potential customers confused – if they went into KFC would they be able to purchase what they wanted or not? How badly was the menu affected?

From a marketer’s point of view this hiding the issue from the customer has a negative effect. Why would they go to KFC if they couldn’t be guaranteed to have their first choice from the menu? They may as well go elsewhere (Cottage Chicken if chicken was still wanted or a burger place if it was just fast food that was needed). KFC forgot that customer service and experience should be at the forefront of their business.

On the other hand Nando’s have had to close some restaurants due to them having a shortage of chicken. They informed their client base using humour on Twitter (as it was back then, now X):

The UK supply chain is having a bit of a ‘mare right now. This is having a knock-on effect with some of our restaurants across England, Scotland and Wales. We are doing everything we can to get the PERi-PERi back where it belongs – on your plates!

Nando’s didn’t blame the supply chain, but acknowledged that circumstances were challenging in a colloquial manner: “bit of a ‘mare” a conversational phrase used to describe a nightmare journey or day.

They did everything they could, they offered Nando’s staff to their supply chain to fill gaps if that would be useful. They acknowledged that they were disappointing some customers with the phrase “on your plates!”. Everything about that tweet was about informing the customer but keeping the customer front and centre with the language used and the back of house things that are being tried.

Which company did the least damage to their customer relationship and experience? Which brand’s customers felt the most valued? With the KFC approach of trying to hide what was missing from the menus then the transparency was lost, but then also the almost arrogance that it wouldn’t matter if the customer’s first choice wasn’t available to them they would just pick something else from the menu instead of going elsewhere.

Also KFC didn’t recognise their suppliers as part of their team – they’d forgotten that suppliers are a stakeholder in the business. They also didn’t seem to have any plan B in place. That was the second time back then that KFC had supply issues and they always seemed to blame the suppliers instead of working with them for a resolution.

That viewpoint affects companies bidding for their business in the future – who wants to work for someone who will throw you under the bus at the first sign of an issue?

With the Nando’s method they remembered that the suppliers are an important part of their success. They recognised that the issue was a lack of human resource, so offered some of their own staff to help out. They didn’t said exactly how they can help – after all it was unlikely that Nando’s had a raft of HGV drivers working as cooks, but if it was on the production line then they could have restaurant staff or back-office staff help out.

Nando’s wanted to ensure that the inconvenience to the customer (and of course to their and their supplier’s bottom lines) was minimised, not that they could possibly please everybody of course.

This is an ongoing culture at Nando’s. The author knows someone who used to work in the Nando’s IT department, and he surprised her once when he was her waiter one day. He explained that all Nando’s staff, no matter how junior or senior, spend time working at a restaurant each year, so that they never forget who the most important person is in the company – the customer; and why they all do what they do – to ensure excellent customer service.

All communications affect the customer experience – after all the brand belongs to everyone in your organisation.

The next time that you are in a shopping mall or wanting chicken and have a choice of KFC or Nando’s which one will you choose?

[Originally issued 21 August 2021; edited 13/3/24]