KFC cuts back-of-house training time 75% in North American tests

| by S.A. Whitehead
KFC cuts back-of-house training time 75% in North American tests

KFC has begun testing a system in the U.S. that cuts back-of-house employee training time down from four to five weeks total, to about one week. The chain's new voice training — being tested in a handful of U.S. and Canadian stores — is proving to not only be better for employees' on-the-job confidence but may also soon be a boon to the brand's bottom line. 

The program is just one of a series of tech-based training efforts the chain is implementing worldwide for its 300,000-plus employees. So while voice training technology is the brand's approach to North American employee training, Russia KFC has been using mobile phone-based QR code training with great success. While in Australia, employees use Yammer to get the job done. In each case, KFC Global Chief Digital Officer Ryan Ostrom said the technological approach was designed to meet the needs of each region's employee demographics. 

Ostrom took time out to talk in-depth with QSRweb about all the tech-reliant training initiatives this week, which we'll share with our readers here and in our newsletters. 

Q: The digital approach to onboarding, as well as ongoing training, has really become a focus for KFC. Can you tell us why the brand is tilting so heavily toward technologies for this function?
Our mission is basically, how do we make employees' everyday life easier and more rewarding ...  from training and engagement to everyday usage in the back-of-the-house in our stores. So, we (the chain's digital division) partner with HR on this ... because the future of QSR is digital across all aspects, from supply chain to HR to operations and marketing. ... At KFC, we have a saying that "the customer experience will never exceed the employee experience."

So, we really look at creating digital solutions that make employees lives easier and rewarding and we have solutions from voice (training) to mobile (based systems) to in-house social platforms that really drive real-time engagement, real-time learning and modernize the training aspects of our business. 

Q: Can you describe how the voice training you're testing now in North America works at a typical KFC outlet?

A:Imagine if you were one of our cooks and you were in the back-of-the-house with your hands in flour, making our hand-breaded chicken. Then, all the sudden you have a quick question to ask, like, "How do I rack the chicken or put it in the fryer?"

Now, with voice training, that cook can ask that question, and the device will not only answer with audio but visually show the solution as well. That allows our employees to get real-time education and learning not only on the cooking side but on things like how we pack our products. We think it's an easier way to get real-time support and information that goes right to the employee. 

"We have a saying that 'the customer experience will never exceed the employee experience.' So, we really look at creating digital solutions that make employees lives easier and rewarding."                                       -KFC CDO Ryan Ostrom

Q: Can you describe the physical set-up for voice training in-store specifically? 
It's not AR experience. It's mainly a video and voice experience that's all voice-enabled. So the employee can say, "KFC training" and then it will launch for them so they ask any question of that device. 

(If an employee asks) "How do I box this three-piece meal?" It will visually show on the screen the three-piece meal and how to box it up, as well as give you the audio input saying how to do it in real time. 

It's very portable ... and the screen size is I think 1 foot by 1 foot, and you can see the (video) throughout the kitchen. So employees actually toss out the question and (when it responds), it's live and loud, and the great news is the system handles the noise in the back-of-house so they can hear it well. 

Q: If it's more or less broadcasting to the back-of-house staff, does anyone who wants to listen in that area at the time also learn along with the person who asked the original question?
That's one of the good features about it — you can hear other people's questions — but also it allows other people to continue their work. That's what we really like about this. 

Normally when you have questions in the kitchen or you're training new team members, you have to stop someone else's job to ask questions and that slows down the entire process of our business. This allows employees to really remain focused on their current job and ask and hear the questions and answers too. 

Q: Can you provide some more information on the prototyping process taking place in the U.S. and Canada?
We've been testing for a couple of months, and we're just trying to see what types of questions the employees want to ask, what they want to learn and what way is the easiest or best way to drive that engagement. ... We work with our operations team to really understand what the top questions and information employees want to learn about are ... and we had the visuals and the applications built to answer our top 50 to 100 questions throughout the organization in the kitchen.

We don't want to make the employee's experience more complex, so we're trying to make sure we can simplify the process before we decide to expand it. 

Q: What has the feedback loop from stores during prototype testing been like?

A: It's great. What we're learning is that it usually takes our employees about four or five weeks to really be confident and efficient back-of-house, but with this (voice training) at the places we're testing, employees are getting up to speed in about a week now. It's just an easier and faster way to learn. 

Editor's Note: Part 2 of this series will focus on how the brand is using QR codes in Russia and Yammer in Australia to meet the on-the-job training needs of employees in those markets. 

Photos: Provided 

Topics: Back Office, Business Strategy and Profitability, Chicken, Customer Service / Experience, Display Technology, Human Resources, Kitchen Display, Online / Mobile / Social, Operations Management, Staffing & Training, Workforce Management

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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