Chipotle’s Baffling Crisis Response
November 3, 2015
November 3, 2015
Ever since an E. coli outbreak forced the Mexican fast food chain to temporarily shutter 43 of its stores in the Pacific Northwest, the company has taken a unusual communications approach to the crisis: Responding to media requests for comment and to individual customer tweets, while not proactively posting about the health scare anywhere on their website or social channels.
This has resulted in mixed reviews on how Chipotle responded to the situation impacting customers in Oregon and Washington.
The Good: On the restaurant’s Twitter account, Chipotle spokesperson Chris Arnold apologized, offered information and expressed compassion for the nearly 25 patrons (as of this writing) who have been sickened. Responses such as “We take these things seriously as nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our customers” and “Right now, the priority is to work through the investigation so this can be resolved, and we are doing that, cooperating fully with investigators” have struck the appropriate tone at such a time.
The Bad: It’s truly hard to fathom that a company which prides itself on being such a good corporate citizen has been less than forthcoming about the E. coli outbreak. There is no information on Chipotle’s website and it’s business as usual on Facebook and Twitter. As one PR trade points out, “Without an official statement…public misunderstanding is a distinct possibility.”
Also, why has Arnold been the voice of the company? His LinkedIn Profile lists him as the company’s “PR Director.” While he’s apparently worked for Chipotle for a dozen years and has handled himself well, it’s not a good look when the founder, Co-CEO and Chairman of Chipotle Steve Ells is nowhere to be found during such a monumental crisis.
The Ugly: The ABC affiliate in Portland, Oregon reported that Chris Collins, one of those suffering from food poisoning, claims the first cases of E. Coli were reported 8 days before he became sick. This has led him to believe that the chain could have done more to warn diners. And he claims signs on closed restaurants such as, “…temporarily closed due to a supply chain issue…” are less than sensitive to those who have been impacted by the crisis. It’s one thing not to issue a statement, but claims that Chipotle hid information or misled customers could land the company in hot water.
If I had to make a prediction, I would guess Chipotle will issue a statement this week. And while the popular purveyor of burritos will surely bounce back, its stock is already taking a hit. Their crisis communications strategy hasn’t helped.