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'Snackable’ content helps KFC boost training


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QR codes are used throughout the kitchen to give employees quick answers to questions that frequently pop up in KFC kitchens.

The shortage of available, high-quality workers isn’t getting any better in the retail and restaurant worlds. Using the power of Amazon’s Alexa, as well as virtual and augmented reality technology, KFC is taking concrete steps to make it easier to hire and train new employees, while also connecting individual stores for the franchised equivalent of getting a cup of sugar from the house next door.

Bringing customer-facing technologies into the restaurant, KFC is using voice, mobile, augmented reality and its in-house social media platform to provide employees real-time training, hands-free question answering and store-to-store performance data in an effort to make it easier and more fun to work in the brand’s restaurants.

With one of the largest global store networks of any franchised chain, KFC is leveraging smart ideas from across the planet as it takes a thoughtful, tech-enabled approach to easing the ongoing labor shortage that’s making life difficult for franchisees across the country and beyond.

Altogether, the new training and employee initiatives being tested in the U.S. and Canada mean new employees can be “fully efficient on the floor” in one week, down from the typical four to eight weeks it used to take employees to be classified as “fully effective.” With back-of-the-house workers typically having sticky or floury fingers, bringing Alexa into the kitchen means questions that used to get kicked up to the corporate officer can be answered hands-free, on the spot.

KFC training

New tech like augmented reality reduces the time it takes new hires to get up to speed.

Ryan Ostrom, KFC’s global chief digital officer, spends a lot of his time thinking about the employee experience and includes plenty of hours breading and flouring the brand’s chicken in kitchens across the globe.

“We have a saying at KFC that the customer experience can never exceed the employee experience, and that saying has driven itself down into our digital vision,” Ostrom said. “A lot of what we’re working on right now is really focusing on that team member and how to make their every day easy and rewarding.”

Beyond the initial six-week training that many corporate team members go through, Ostrom said he and his team are in the kitchens on a frequent basis to better understand jobs, functions, workflow and how technology that’s become nearly ubiquitous in middle-class homes can have a business application as well.

“That’s key to everyone’s job at this organization all the way up to our president,” he added of time spent in restaurants. “We all do this on an annual basis, because it allows us to really understand what the team members do on a daily basis.”

Info on the fly

Starting with voice, Ostrom said the few-store tests are delivering positive results for employees who have quick questions or need basic support, but don’t have the time to stop cooking chicken. Rather than spending so much employee training time sitting in front of a computer, Alexa Echo Show units allow the brand to shift some of that training into more of a learn-on-the-fly experience that’s intended to be more enjoyable for the employees.

“It provides the employee two ways of an answer, so not only through the voice technology response, but also visually showing them the solution or answer as well,” he said. “If it’s too loud or too crazy or a lot of action is going on in the back of the house, the employee can still visually see what the answer is to their question.”

KFC

The brand’s famous recipes are now available on the fly.

Common queries include recapping a specific recipe or cooking process, as well as minutiae like how to pack its $5 Fill Ups, how to make a Zinger burger or how to properly rack drying chicken.

Through a partnership with KFC’s operations department, the company came up with the top 50 to 100 questions back-of-the-house employees often have in addition to the things we all ask Alexa, like how many ounces are in a quart.

Implementing the technology meant another partnership with Amazon, which helped the brand design the experience and modifying the technology for commercial applications.

Currently Alexa is only part of a pilot, but Ostrom suggested it would soon be scaled up to additional locations in the KFC system.

As they are the focus of the pilot, employees have also been surveyed about the technology, as well as what are common interruptions or challenges to their daily work.

“The average age of our team members is between 16 and 20 years old, and it’s all about real-time, snackable content,” he added. “It’s not a 10-minute video. This is 15 seconds of an answer and that snackable content is really key when you’re dealing with a younger generation.”

Originally developed by KFC’s Russian operations, QR codes are also being added in the kitchen, which allow employees to use their own phones to scan and understand how to use various equipment, which is similar to the Alexa testing and also intended to answer quick questions on the fly.

Down in Australia, KFC’s operations created an in-house social media platform that allows individual stores to talk to each other with simple questions, ask about new product impacts to drive-thru times or ask to borrow the proverbial cup of flour or sugar.

“We have more ideas than we can execute on,” Ostrom said. “It’s really about what will really fit into our vision, which is how do we make every day easy and rewarding for our customers and our team members—I live by that every day I come to work.”

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