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  • Nick Bonney

Sometimes Sorry is the Hardest Word...


KFC Says Sorry After Its Almighty FCK Up

A chicken shop with no chicken. An airline passenger with no seats for paying passengers...


Those nightmare moments where the fundamental service offering breaks down. The brand is unable to deliver their core brand proposition, the very thing it’s there to do.


Yet, often these are the moments where a brand also has an opportunity to shine. To show humility. To show they genuinely understand their customers.


KFC’s ‘FCK’ add was a stroke of marketing genius. From the clever and humorous play on words with the logo, to the very first line of the copy ‘We’re Sorry’, it showed a brand that was prepared to admit when it got things wrong. It also demonstrated a culture where the extra burden on staff was given as much prominence as the inconvenience to customers. In short, all the signs of a 'customer-centric' culture.


How stark the contrast to some other notable brands. Let's take the United Airlines fiasco last year. The shocking video of Dr David Dao being forcibly removed from the flight to Louisville gained almost instant notoriety. However, what made it even more shocking was that United had simply not learnt from its mistakes.



YouTube Sensation Dave Carroll

This was not the first time that United had been on the wrong end of a passenger PR disaster. Back in 2008, Dave Carroll sat aghast on a United flight as his beloved $3,500 Taylor guitar was flung on to the plane by baggage handlers, breaking the precious instrument’s neck. Now as someone who simply loves guitars, I can imagine the horror but for Dave this was is livelihood and so he decided to fight back.


The subsequent PR storm sprurned a YouTube hit (over 10m views) and a book to go with it. United had seen first hand the impact that this kind of negative publicity could have on their brand.


Contrast then Oscar Munoz’s reaction to that of KFC. Dr Dao was labelled ‘belligerent’ and ‘disruptive’ and no apology was forthcoming until being hauled before Congress. United has indeed showed more contrition over the tragic recent incidents with dogs on board but it feels like the company still has a long way to travel.


Building a customer-centric culture starts with great customer understanding but equally important is the ability to use that understanding to drive the change within the business – to fuel a culture which genuinely puts customers first. Does John Lewis offer the best service or does it provide its partners with the freedom to apologise and recover when things do go wrong?


There are undoubtedly lots of fantastic measurement tools available these days, allowing customers to collect, analyse and visualise data in ways that would simply have been unthinkable just a few years ago but equally important is the ability to make sense of that data, combining both heart and head techniques to understand the 'why'.


With the chase for 'Big Data', let's not forget that, particularly for service brands, a rich understanding of the sometimes irrational human emotions is key. If you focus just on the numbers, it could be you who's sorry...

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