How KFC builds its brand through engagement

Rob Phipps, chief people officer for KFC SOPAC, says the business actively aims to boost customer engagement through frontline staff

Learning and development is like the “bread and butter” of KFC, according to its chief people officer for KFC SOPAC, Rob Phipps, who said that L&D has evolved within the organisation to play an important role in customer engagement through frontline staff.

“If an employee is not trained, developed or looked after, then they’re not going to provide a great consumer experience,” said Phipps.

“We spend a tremendous amount of time teaching people the basics. We give them wonderful life skills, we teach them high standards, we teach them how to work effectively in a team, we teach them little things like turning up to work on time and presenting yourself well.”

KFC has invested some $15 million in training and development across the organisation, and Phipps said this has helped significantly with retention of employees (particularly in the younger demographic).

Key people metrics such as team member turnover have also improved by 24 per cent over the past 12 to 18 months (KFC now has one of the lowest staff turnover rates at approximately 50 per cent, in an industry otherwise known as the “100 per cent turnover industry”), while management turnover has also improved by 10 per cent.

Improving brand and customer engagement
KFC in Australia works to three- and five-year plans, and Phipps said the business’ big mission over the coming few years is to build “brand love more overtly” rather than just concentrating on overnight sales and profit.

“So, how do we create a relationship with our consumers that stands the test of time?” he said.

“In order to do that, we need to make sure that our people internally love our brand, so this is about transitioning from more of a functional state to one that is more emotional or engaging in nature – both for our consumers and also the people in our organisation. From a business point of view, that’s the big plan.”

A few years ago, KFC was struggling to realise consistent same-store sales growth – one of the best indicators of business success for KFC.

In response, a number of teams were brought together from across the organisation to examine this issue and help develop a framework for taking the brand forward, and there were four central themes that emerged from this process (building a retail brand, a world-class operations experience, a sound business model, and employing the best people possible).

In supporting this framework, Phipps said it was important to invest in and develop people in helping them engage with customers.

“We wanted to pull people together and make sure that everybody is singing from the same hymn sheet, so to speak, in order to drive business performance,” he said.

“Culture wise, we used the Human Synergistics Circumplex across our company-owned organisation to help people be more constructive more often.

“So we’ve done that as a process over the past three years and have no doubt that’s been a very positive thing in helping people to engage in conversations in a constructive way in order to get the best out of the business,” said Phipps.

For the full interview with Phipps and story on the growth of KFC’s brand and customer engagement, see the next issue of Inside HR magazine.