In Focus
EXECUTIVE INSIGHTS | Kevin Santos, Australia
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KFC future-proofs by kickstarting an ‘experience revolution'

South Pacific managing director Richard Wallis talks to QSR Media about the brand’s view on innovating amidst a pandemic and learning from its drive-thru-only stores.

How does KFC plan to make the brand look and feel the same across any channel in the next three to five years?

For Richard Wallis, the chain’s managing director and general manager for South Pacific, this is a fundamental question he and his team have in mind as the fried chicken chain works through the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and towards what he describes as an “experience revolution.”

“I do think experience is more important than ever. People are looking for a great experience and we’re going to have to be focused on making sure we innovate...both on access points and how they feel when they buy,” he told QSR Media in an exclusive interview. “We want them to feel like [it is] Christmas Day when they open a bucket of chicken or taste a burger.”

Similar to most of the brand’s contemporaries, this meant equipping the chain’s restaurants to have a better off-premise game and making it more seamless for the customer.

“We'll test how we make our drive-thrus faster. We'll test curbside pick-up, whether that works or not in Australia. We've got click-and-collect, but how do we make that experience easier? How do we make it fun while you're waiting? We'll test that,” he said. “We won’t wait for years to do it...we’ll collaborate with other countries.”

Delivery, click-and-collect and drive-thrus were already options that they had prior to COVID-19. When the pandemic hit, KFC was also one of the first QSRs to shut down their restaurants and put out their guidelines in keeping staff safe even before government requirements were implemented.

“We are just lucky, to be really honest, to have drive-thrus. It's a strategy we've had for many years...we saw it as something that would continue to be important for Australians in the future,” he said.

Drawing insights from drive-thru-only stores to redevelop
Lessons have also been picked up from KFC’s two drive-thru only restaurants in terms of building and redeveloping their restaurants. Wallis previously revealed plans to open more sites of this kind, but said they need to “build more into it” by potentially adding ways to incorporate other channels.

“The learnings from that will actually inform every single asset that we do, moving forward. That will mean we'll continue to build. In fact, we're building more restaurants than we've ever built before in Australia,” he said.

In contrast, Wallis said dark or cloud kitchens won’t be part of their strategy, arguing the brand already has high penetration in the market.

“We're a big brand. We believe people seeing our assets, how the restaurants are maintained and what it looks like is important,” he argued. “You're almost having a myopic view of how people access your brand by saying that it's all-digital or all-delivery.”

Elevating the experience for the customers, Wallis argues, also demands significant investment in their back-of-house. This means relieving team members of complex tasks that can be automated and potential adjustments to kitchen design. Certain projects were also cut to ensure staff could “do the jobs easier.”

“What we found is, if team members have a great experience working for us, our customer experience is magnified as well. You often focus on the customer, but the leading indicator of that is team member satisfaction. That's a huge insight for us moving forward.”

Global collaboration, retaining brand trust
Wallis, who has been with Yum! Brands for 25 years, entered the managing director role at the start of the pandemic. Due to the restrictions, he had only met his leadership team once and has been remotely working since.

“Knowing what happens around the world when you have a crisis actually helps us deal with these crises much better. The global positioning that we've got helps us deal with it. I think global collaboration accelerated,” he noted, citing late night calls with other KFC leaders and taking learnings.

Citing the digital foundations set up and the brand’s global scale, Wallis said has been “stronger” since. The brand, he said, is serving almost two and a half million customers a week in the country. Sales in their lunch and dinner dayparts improved, with a simplified menu advocated by their marketing team cited as a critica factor.

“We didn't change fundamentally,” he said. “We tried to limit innovation; [customers] are actually going back to what they trust and know - products that are core.”

“We are very well-positioned to capitalise on the next three to five years,” he added, also expecting leasing opportunities and potential consolidation within the industry.

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