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Have You Heard the News?

squawking chicken

Last week I heard a disturbing piece of news. A deaf couple was mocked by employees at a Kentucky Fried Chicken drive-through window for their inability to hear. At least that is what their daughter tearfully alleged in a Facebook video that went viral. The video about the KFC experience has been viewed 1.4 million times and picked up by Fox, ABC, and NBC affiliates.

The 59-year-old was with her husband when she said a female employee at the window would not help her communicate her order. “She put her hands on her mouth. I said, ‘Ma’am, sorry, I can’t hear. I need to read your lips. Could you please move it?’ She keeps standing there,” described Cole. She said she ordered again and, to her horror, the young lady walked away and began laughing with another male employee.

I feel fairly certain that no one reading this post would mock a person with disabilities. Nor do I believe you need to be told that such an action is terribly wrong. If it happened as alleged it is a horrifying disrespect as best and a civil rights violation at worst.

But here’s the catch – the deaf couple didn’t capture the event on video so it is their voice against the employees. And they aren’t hearing any apologies from KFC. The owner of the franchise store claims to have determined that the incident did not happen as described by the customers. He has referred all media inquiries to KFC corporate’s media relations department. KFC corporate has, in turn, responded largely with….silence.

On Twitter Marlee Matlin, Oscar award-winning deaf actress and advocate, tweeted at the Fast Food Chicken saying, “Dear I am speaking up for equality. No one should be treated this way. “Deaf couple says KFC employees mocked them” Surely this would get a response. Sadly no. Their silence speaks louder than words.

Besides the offending action (allegedly) of a minimum wage employee, the question at stake is how should an organization respond to a customer complaint? The 23 billion dollar company chose to issue an official statement that the deaf couple “misinterpreted the situation” and has engaged in no further dialogue. My assumption is that they assume the news will blow over and everyone will forget. They may, in fact, be right but that doesn’t make it right.

It wasn’t long ago that Starbucks encountered a similar situation involving alleged racial bias. Except in that case the CEO of the company flew to meet personally with customers and gave multiple media interviews humbly speaking to the need for compassion and inclusion. Then they took broad sweeping action by closing all U.S. stores for one day to provide training for employees.

Both companies had upset customers due to actions of employees. In both cases, the event became a viral sensation on social media. Both companies responded through a calculated response. But which company would you want to do business with?

In your organization, whether you are the CEO or the frontline employee, take care to communicate with compassion. Customers must be seen as the most valuable resource of any business; they must ALWAYS have their voices heard with compassion. Because in the end… the customer always gets the last word.


1 reply
  1. Shannon
    Shannon says:

    Thank you for sharing and for the commentary! To further your point, I would add that the Starbucks store my daughter works at In British Columbia, Canada was also closed for a half-day sensitivity training, so I think it might be safe to say that Starbucks closed its stores all over North America! A class act. No more KFC for our family unless we hear they ‘learn’.


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