Home Cover Story CSR’s Role In Regaining Customer Confidence: The Chipotle Incident

CSR’s Role In Regaining Customer Confidence: The Chipotle Incident

By Sarat Pratapchandran

Image: Chiptole.com

Chipotle, the U.S. fast food chain is struggling to get its customers back after 192 people got sick in two separate incidents with an E.coli and Norovirus outbreak, blamed largely on locally sourced ingredients that went into its menu.

A week after the incident, founder, Steve Ellis, wrote a letter citing his company’s failure to provide safe food. Ellis’ also explained how his business is launching a comprehensive food safety plan to fulfill its core social responsibility mandate to provide safe, nutritious food to its customers.

“The fact that anyone has become ill eating at Chipotle is completely unacceptable to me and I am deeply sorry,” Ellis said.

Chipotle’s shares fell immediately after the incident, and usual lunch goers at its US locations are yet to regain their earlier trust in the brand known for its fare of fresh, fast, Mexican grill.

Here are five key takeaways that we can learn from this incident at a CSR level:

  1. The message is now the medium: Any negative story regarding your core mandate to society gets publicized at greater velocity and thrust than you can imagine. This dispels communication theorist, Marshall McLuhan’s oft-quoted phrase, “the medium is the message” meaning that the medium can influence how the message is being perceived by the public. However, in today’s society, an uncontrolled message can take over a medium, a mobile device, making individual voices raise concerns across linguistic, cultural and geographic boundaries in short time periods.
  2. Admit your mistakes early on: The first line of defense is to admit your mistakes especially in your social responsibility mandates. Chipotle’s Ellis wrote a letter to the public admitting his firm’s mistakes and also addressed steps the firm would take to correct the problem.
  3. Tell them how you will do things better: Businesses also have to explain why they need to do better, despite owning the mistake. More and more investors are taking a long-term view of business performance rather than short-term profits.
  4. Explain corrective measures: Try and offer clear, step-by-step instructions on corrective measures that you plan to take in maintaining your commitment to society. Reinforce and admit the mistakes you made and explain how your business will improve, all in very simple terms.
  5. Be clear: Regain customer confidence by offering a high degree of clarity highlighting your seriousness about being a social responsible business.

At the end of the day, you are seeking forgiveness. In the case of a business like Chipotle, you are talking about something that is critical to an individual’s health and well being. Getting pardoned can be an arduous journey, but with the right steps, it can be accomplished really well.

Sarat Pratapchandran_newFounder of Lettersnatcher.com, Sarat Pratapchandran’s career spans philanthropy, corporate social responsibility & content management. A graduate from Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, he worked as a journalist in India, the Middle East and the United States and now advises and mentors individuals at kanthari, an international organization focused on creating social visionaries around the world. Sarat is also on a personal mission to help 50 orphans by age 50.