• Always let difficult customers ''win,' says Moran

CHICAGO -- Working as a regional director for Domino's Pizza several years ago, Jim Moran had finished a store audit and was waiting for a ride to his next stop. While in the store's lobby, he overheard an employee tell a phone customer he was wrong about the price of a coupon deal he'd received.

The employee knew the deal wasn't one from Domino's, and he wouldn't budge to compensate him because he believed the customer was trying to "scam" him.

"I asked the employee to bring up the customer's address on the POS system," said Moran, speaking to an audience at the Chicago Pizza Expo, held July 31 to Aug. 1 at Navy Pier. He then showed the employee how much business the supposed "scamming customer" had given the store in the past year: 60 orders totaling $1,040.

"So I asked him, 'Shouldn't we let this customer win this one?' " Moran continued. "And he said to me, 'If word gets out that this guy did it, everybody will be scamming us.' "

Former Domino's operator, Jim Moran, speaks on customer satisfaction during the Chicago Pizza Expo.

The point of Moran's illustration -- that the customer is always right, regardless of whether they are -- was the fulcrum for his presentation, "Making the Customer Your Best Friend." He said that in every case possible, let the customer come out on top. Over the long haul, the cost of a pizza is worth nothing compared to a loyal customer.

During his 15 years with Domino's, Moran was an award-winning store manager and regional director for a 45-store Washington, D.C., franchisee. Today he coaches restaurant operators on removing the "us vs. them" mentality that often grows in the minds of employees who believe some customers demand too much. That idea, Moran said, breeds staff indifference toward patrons and thwarts operators' efforts to please those who ultimately pay the bills.

"Most customers leave your business because of an attitude of indifference or ignorance from employees," said Moran, who made employees answer the phones at stores he managed with the message, "Thank you for calling Domino's, where we love our customers. How may I help you?" To ensure that greeting was followed, he called stores at random and even tied managers' bonuses to the policy's enforcement.

Fan of foresight

To keep patrons for the long-term, Moran said, operators must think with a short-term mind-set by serving each customer as if he or she was the only customer. This once worked well for him when a customer ordered only a pizza, but called back to complain that he didn't receive his soda.

Attempting to solve the problem, Moran told the customer the next driver out would bring him a case of soda. When the soda arrived, the customer called back and admitted to Moran that he really didn't order soda to begin with, but that he was new to the neighborhood and wanted to see who in the area would provide him good service.

"Imagine how much more business we got from that customer," Moran said. "That's thinking long-term with a short-term cost."

Moran also stressed that operators must earn customers' trust if they're going to build and maintain relationships with them. He cited the recent McDonald's Monopoly game scandal as devastating to customer trust, and recalled how Domino's stores in Washington, D.C., had a similar near-calamity over a promise to give free pizzas if the Redskins football team scored seven touchdowns in one game.

That year was a tough season for the Redskins, and no one thought they'd hit the mark -- but they did, and customers came in droves. Multiple Domino's stores in the area ran out of food and "were shredded in the press" for the mishap.

But in an effort to win back their patrons, the D.C. stores -- some of the international chain's best-performing outlets -- ran another TD-total promotion a short time later. This time the stores prepared for the onslaught, which the game-winning Redskins surprisingly delivered, and customers weren't disappointed.

When customers become enemies of an operation, as was the case in D.C., Moran said operators must listen to their grievances first and solve the problem second. As an example, he told of a rainy night, when a customer's pizza was delivered much later than promised, and the angry man drove to the store and started cursing at the staff.

"Taking care of customers isn't about meeting expectations, it's about exceeding expectations."

Jim Moran
speaker, consultant

As Moran, the manager on duty, listened and let him vent, he said the staff scurrying busily behind him caught the customer's attention. He stopped ranting and said, "You guys are really hustling tonight."

Moran said, yes, they were because rainy nights usually are among the busiest -- though he chose not to point out that rainy nights are among the toughest for delivery drivers. He then offered the customer a gift certificate plus a full refund on his pizza, but the startled customer refused.

"He said he couldn't, that it wasn't necessary ... and then the driver who delivered that customer's pizza came in from another run," Moran continued. "And he walks up to me and the customer and starts apologizing and said, 'It was all my fault.' "

Fully impressed, the customer not only refused the refund and certificate again, he handed the driver a $10 bill and told the staff they were the great.

Private eyes

Another good way to turn customers into allies is to "make them your eyes and ears," Moran said, by appointing mystery customers. He recommended operators allow several good customers to eat for free for a couple of months in trade for filling out evaluation sheets detailing their experiences.

Such practices do keep employees on their toes, but Moran admitted that negative motivation isn't the best way to ensure they buy into customer-focused philosophies. Incentives, he added, must be positive, too.

He recalled a time when he rewarded an employee for his deft handling of a particularly difficult customer. After ordering one pizza, the customer called for a second, but phoned back later to complain that it wasn't up to snuff.

The employee could tell the customer was working him for a freebie, and to the customer's surprise, the employee said he'd be happy to give them another.

He also told the customer that, when the driver arrived, he would remove the uneaten portion of the pizza.

"The customer said, 'Well, we've eaten some of it ... all of it, really," Moran said. "But the employee said, 'We'll send another one by anyway,' and he did."

As it turned out, the story was retold to Moran in front of the store's staff, and as a reward, Moran gave the employee a $100 bill on the spot for his quick thinking.

"What sort of impression do you think that made?" he asked the audience. "Do you think some of the others got less concerned about customers trying scam them?"

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