Remember when people stopped going to Chipotle in 2015 because of an E. coli outbreak that originated from their restaurants? Well so does everyone else; and Chipotle has been fervently trying to recover from the damage that brought to their brand ever since. On the whole, those proactive steps that they have taken have gone a very long way to help them reconstruct their image. And other companies can glean some helpful insights from Chipotle in regard to the appropriate steps to take in order to rebuild consumer trust after an event that betrays it. Three notable points apply.
First of all, when bad news breaks, you cannot try to conceal it. Shortly after people began getting sick, the CDC shut down 43 of Chipotle’s stores and it’s stock dropped 9% in one day. You can’t sweep that under the rug; had Chipotle tried, their stock would have continued to plummet. That’s why they issued an official statement that accomplished a few essential things: communicated transparency (“we made a mistake”), offered a sincere apology (“we are sorry for our mistake”), committed to remedy (“we are serious about this, and we are going to fix it”), and reassuring your consumers that they can trust you (“despite our mistake, you can still trust us”). After issuing the statement, the company must then continually remind consumers of each of these. As you can see below, Chipotle emphasized these important parts of their statement on social media.
The second lesson that we can take from Chipotle’s response is to ramp up your efforts to connect with your consumers. This requires you to ramp up your presence on social media and refine the ways you connect with your target market. Around the time of the outbreak, food safety dominated Chipotle’s social chatter, according to research conducted by Brandwatch Analytics. This placed Chipotle in a difficult spot: they had to redirect attention away from the outbreak without appearing to divert the issue. Chipotle did this using data-driven research to understand their consumers on a deeper level and then acting on it. They assessed commonalities in their largest consumer groups and ranked those groups based on the proportion of consumers in each. This focus produced entirely new consumer groups that had gone previously unrealized, such as “Chipotle Moms,” which Chipotle tapped into using specific promotions and paid advertising.
The third thing that we can take from Chipotle’s response to the outbreak is how vigilant you must be if and when other instances of similar issue arise. If your brand gets tainted, even the smallest instances of similar problems, which previously might not have previously mattered, need to be addressed quickly and at great length. After the E. coli outbreak, Chipotle addressed even the smallest reports that reflected negatively on their food safety initiative with seriousness. For example, Chipotle shut down a store for three weeks after a customer posted a video of mice inside the store. This was two entire years after the outbreak.
Has Chipotle recovered from the E. coli outbreak in 2015? No, they’re still working to regain some of its reputation. But they have made considerable strides that have placed them back on the right track. Sometimes companies cannot prevent negative events from impacting their brands or even contain them once there is an issue. But Chipotle has given us a good example of some of the proper steps to take to get back on track and regain losses.