Industry News | June 30, 2011 | QSR Exclusive Brief

We're Sorry, Nashville

On March 3, Church’s Chicken announced that it would close all of its Nashville locations for 18 hours for an “intense customer service training boot camp.” The move was paired with an apology from John Bowie, president of U.S. operations at Church’s Chicken, who said in a statement, “We let our customers in Nashville down and for that, we apologize.”

The apology reportedly stemmed from a number of customer-service complaints at Church’s Chicken stores in the Music City.

Along with the apology, which was also expressed on TV and radio advertising in the market, Church’s Chicken invited customers back to give the brand “a second chance.” The concept launched a “Nashville Dollar Days” campaign, in which several menu items were priced at $1 on certain days.  

Although the company declined to comment further on the Nashville strategy, the apology earned the spotlight of several national media outlets.

New England Consulting Group CEO Gary Stibel says companies that admit error can certainly benefit by apologizing through their marketing—as long as the problem is solved.

“When you draw attention to a problem, you’d better have fixed it,” Stibel says. “Domino’s did it brilliantly. They understood what customers’ expectations were.”

Domino’s ad campaign in 2010 was as effective as it was unusual. The company took out a series of advertisements highlighting customer criticism of its pizza. After company executives shared customer statements like “worst excuse for a pizza I’ve ever had,” they announced a complete overhaul of the core pizza recipe.

The ad campaign sparked a wave of media attention—along with a 9.9 percent increase in same-store sales in 2010.

“Our team had done such a phenomenal job of testing this,” says Domino’s spokesman Chris Brandon. “We were really confident when we went to market with it that we had gotten it right.”

In 2008, Starbucks made a similar pledge to improve its product when it closed 7,100 U.S. stores for three hours to retrain baristas. CEO Howard Schultz said at the time that the company wanted a “renewed focus on espresso standards.” The company has been strong ever since, and sales continue to climb.

Even companies that have no hand in public relations snafus can benefit from an honest approach to fixing them. When two Domino’s employees made a YouTube video of themselves doing crude things to pizzas, the company’s leadership jumped in to respond.

“We were kind of the victims in that,” Brandon says. “[But] we very quickly had our CEO put together a video on YouTube making sure that consumers knew it wasn’t something we were going to stand for.”

By Robert Lillegard