Chipotle’s Leadership Has A Significant Trust Problem

Amid a new foodborne illness outbreak, Chipotle’s leadership, including CEO Brian Niccol, is not only failing to protect all of its customers, it’s failing its brand.
Chipotle in Athens, Ga.
Photo: Brian Schulman, Chipotle

Does Chipotle recognize the continuous damage it is doing to its relationship with its customers, investors and the market at large, due to its problematic food safety challenges?

Do investors, the media, consumers or prospective customers feel that Chipotle has discovered why food safety has been an issue, discovered a way to resolve it and have implemented that response strategy, consistently and effectively?

These are rhetorical questions, but right now the answer seems to be a resounding “no” for both. A Chipotle restaurant in Ohio was the cause of more than 500 inquiries related to a possible foodborne illness outbreak among patrons of the reopened restaurant.

Chipotle saw its stock fall nine points on Tuesday as a direct correlation.

Because of its negative perception, Chipotle’s leadership, including new CEO Brian Niccol (started on March 5 of this year) is not only failing to protect all of its customers, it’s failing its brand and continues to look untrustworthy in the eyes of consumers. Moreover, the way its responding isn’t helping things either. The crisis communications are proving inadequate.

The lack of skilled corrective communications and operations process correction means failing crisis management and thus, failing reputation management. The restaurant chain has to regain its poise, realize what’s at stake for the brand, value its relationship with customers, investors and its market.

If it doesn’t happen, the media will continue to act as the watchdog and Chipotle’s business relationships will continue to suffer and the social media mob will fan the flames, causing further destruction to the brand. What should the Chipotle CEO and his leadership team, as well as the corporate board, be doing as a strategic, successful, ethical response?

  • They have to be more assertive in communicating through the media, with poise, remorse, understanding of the pain being caused sick customers, investors and its market and sincerely apologize.

  • They have to reveal a commitment to provide a safe dining experience and what they specifically will do to assure consumers that will happen.

  • They have to be accessible to media follow up, be transparent and forthcoming.

  • They have to expand their thinking on problem solving to improve on what has been shown to remain a critical process and brand weakness.

  • The company has to make amends with negatively-impacted consumers and investors in a language that shows deep remorse and commitment to healing a relationship that Chipotle says it values. They need to show business character as well as human character.

  • Then, the company must find answers to its process, implement them, significantly raise standards and meet them, without exception.

Doing the above will exhibit effective crisis communication, work towards successful crisis management and thus, improve leadership reputation.

The spotlight of disappointment and cynicism remains on Chipotle and will remain until leadership shows it cares about its customers and investors like it infers it does. Right now, management, process, crisis communication, crisis management and brand reputation is not an exhibition of competency.

Communication and problems must be solved, short-and-long term.

Chipotle doesn’t just have a food safety issue right now. It has a trust problem.

It’s time to get it right on all those points and communicate and problem solve with competency and excellence.

Read more: Unable To Recapture Early MoJo, Steve Ells Will Step Down As Chipotle CEO


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