Patrick, Remember: Focus On The Pizza Process, Not The Pizza People

I’ve been pretty happy with Pizza Hut for a number of years now.  For me, it has been hard to beat their $10 any large pizza deal for value and quality, and I’ve also enjoyed their dinner boxes.  I like others too – Domino’s, Papa Murphy’s, and a great local place called Stuc’s.  But in a pinch we tend to rely on Pizza the Hut.

So the other day we ate from Pizza Hut, and at the bottom of my receipt I noticed a question posed to me from them.  It said, “Were you WOWED today?”  The answer to this was no.  No I was not.  Here’s the flow of what happened:

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We were at a friend’s house and had decided to get pizza, and since we were starving and needed several pizzas, we picked Pizza Hut.  Quick and good value.  We popped online to see their deals, found some that we liked, and my friend gave them a call to place our order.  She was on the phone, told them the name and price of the deal she wanted, went through all the toppings we wanted, added on some sauce, was just about done… then it seemed there was a problem with the deal we wanted.  The employee on the phone said she couldn’t find it, and that it must be an “Online Only” deal.

Now, I had watched as we scrolled through the deals on the website, and yes I had seen some deals listed as “Online Only” but this was not one of them.  My friend smiled and sarcastically asked, “What, do you really want me to hang up and submit it online?”  The employee said “yes thank you” and hung up on us abruptly.  We were a bit taken aback, but said, alright, fine, let’s do this online.

So we pulled it up again, looked for the deal, it still did not say online only, but we went ahead and built our large 3 topping pizza and our dinner box.  I went to add one of the toppings we asked for over the phone, but it wasn’t available online.  What now?  Well, I called them back, asked them how to add a topping that wasn’t listed, and made sure they had the green olives the kids wanted so badly on their pizza.  So now we have two calls in to the store with no pizza ordered yet.  It wasn’t until the final checkout page that anything indicated that the deal we chose was an online only deal.

My wife mentioned that this recently happened to her when she was home with one of her sisters.  They were driving and called the Pizza Hut on the way to place an order, but were told it was an online only deal.  So they had to drive until they had a cellular network that they could hook their smartphone browser up to, pulled over and did the deal online.  In addition, while they were in the store waiting to pick up their pizzas, someone walked in, wanted an advertised deal, and was told it was online only.  The person walked out of the store, and they looked to have lost a sale.

I chose to go pick up the pizzas.  On the way over in the car, I was a dormant volcano of lean thinking ready to erupt on the manager when I asked for them, spewing nuggets of wisdom around focus on the customer and number of order touches before actually beginning to create my pizza and waste and frustration and surely this enlightening information would get back to corporate and they would change their policies…

When I walked into the store, I saw four employees and no manager.  I looked each one over, and determined that none of them would be remotely interested in hearing about my frustrations and good advice to become better, and that I would quite possibly waste a lot of energy and potentially make a scene.  Instead, I paid for my pizza, waited about two minutes and out came my order and I was told to have a nice evening.  And so I did.  I brought that pizza home like the hunter-gatherer that I am, and the two families chowed down and were full and satisfied.  And there were leftovers.

As I look at this situation I am reminded not to focus on the employees at the stores, possibly not even the managers.  They are clearly handed down policy around online only deals from a regional or corporate office, and their systems probably do not allow them to make what you and I would see as logical adjustments to that policy.  My hypothesis for why this policy exists is that their goal is to eliminate waste on their end and streamline the pizza ordering process to bypass an employee needing to be on the phone taking an order when they could be creating pizzas.

However, I would argue that this is likely not their tightest constraint to creating more pizzas.  In times when they are backed up beyond 15 minutes (say, halftime of the Packers game) my guess is that they simply do not have enough room in their ovens to cook as many pizzas as are ordered, not because they are taking too many orders over the phone and not making pizzas instead.

So while I applaud their efforts to focus their employees on more value-added work, I must criticize the method of driving customer compliance, by punishing us for using the phone and wanting to talk with a human.  If you are going to go this route you must make the system so simple, easy, and possibly fun, that it will drive customers to go there instead of picking up the phone.  A system that did not highlight an online only deal, did not have the toppings I wanted and knew they had, and caused me frustration does not meet those criteria.

The bottom line is that I got my pizza eventually, for the price I wanted, and it was tasty.  And yes, I’ll continue to order from them.  But I’m going to check a little more carefully for those two words “online only” in the future.

pizza the hut

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