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Forbes Magazine says, "The lifetime customer value to the owner of your neighborhood pizza joint is approximately $25,000. That's a lot of pizza—and the sooner the owner realizes that his or her customers have more value than the $20 pepperoni special they just ordered, the more successful the owner can be."

Providing exceptional customer service is your No. 1 priority. One way to be successful is by continually exceeding your customers' expectations – if you take care of customers, they will take care of you.

That goes double when handling customer complaints. It's an everyday fact of life that mistakes happen. They are unavoidable, but when they happen always try to be fair and respectful to your customers. Remain courteous but in control. Ultimately, you want your customers to be your best promoters¾not your worst. You want to do everything you can (within reason) to win back dissatisfied customers. A common mistake many store owners make is to be so set in their ways that they actually alienate their own customers. If a customer is unhappy, be humble not defensive.

Listen to what the customer has to say. Always be patient and allow the customers to air their complaints. Be attentive. View this as an opportunity to have a customer for life by proving your word. Express understanding of the problem and restate the customer's position. Don't shake responsibility. Remember... "The Customer Is Always Right," but mostly, don't sweat the small stuff. If a customer wants to substitute onions for olives on a specialty pizza, who cares? Sometimes it pays to throw away the rules and use your common sense.

This actual customer complaint is the perfect illustration of just how much stubbornness and poor customer service can actually cost;

Dear Sirs: I am a pilot with United. I stay at the Hotel right down the road from you and have ordered from you several times. I am at this hotel 4-7 nights per month. The problem is that you require a minimum purchase of $10 not including tax for delivery. Because I am single it is often not possible for me to meet your requirements- so frequently I get a person on the phone who simply will not deliver to me because I only want to order $9 worth of food. I am a good customer (was a good customer) but I now give up. I am frankly tired of one person willing to deliver one night and then the next night the person simply won't assist me. Your store is about a 3 minute delivery away from the hotel- I find it hard to believe that in this economy that you are willing to turn away good customers all over a policy that seems frankly out of touch with people who are single and who stay over in hotels. Look at how many items you offer that do not amount to a ten dollar fee?

I really urge you to re think this rule- In terms of me you have lost a customer who probably spends about 50-80/month at your store. But as I mentioned I give up. I will now search for other places that are willing to deliver without such rigid rules. Just thought I would bring this to your attention. You have very good food and I will miss what you offer. But I simply can't rely on this "one night you will and one night you won't" system. P.S._ I also always made sure the driver Rick was tipped well. I even offered time and time again to pay 10 dollars even if the entree only costs $7, but I still was not able to convince your sales people many times to make this work.

Thanks for your time and attention-Sincerely

This store owner is losing anywhere from $600-900 a year because of adherence to an outdated policy and over a difference of $1. They also lost the word of mouth this frequent flyer could have brought them with just a little good will. Next time he is in town he will find someone else who will be willing to take that extra step for him ,and they will be happy to take the business from this owner.

Don't send your customers to your competitors. This is a very competitive marketplace and you need to stay one step ahead by basing your operating decisions on the three main principals of restaurant management, Service, Quality and Price. I think this famous quote by Dr. W. Edwards Deming sums it up best, "Profit in business comes from repeat customers, customers that boast about your project or service, and that bring friends with them."

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Dave Robinett
    Bingo. The question is, "how do you know whether you have displeased or frustrated a customer?" We know that for every one that speaks up, like the pilot above, there are many more that "suffer in silence" and never return.

    Existing "cash register receipt survey invitations" do not cut the mustard. They might be good for discovering a systemic problem at individual stores among a very large multi-unit retailer, but they do NOT deliver much in terms of identifying specific problems that are causing low satisfaction ratings.

    Example: "our average rating on 'food quality' went down from 8.3 to 7.8 this month". That may tell you to investigate, but it does not tell you exactly what the problem is.

    Problems like "your lettuce is often brown" or "your gravy is runny" will never be captured in rating scales or close-end questions in a survey.

    Solution: capture verbatim comments from customers

    Inform customers through various means (tabletops, posters, receipts, emails) that they can call your comment line any time and leave a message. Make it clear they will not get stuck in a boring survey, but rather, they will be allowed to say what they need to say.

    The opportunity to leave a verbatim comment, if offered at all in surveys, usually comes at the end of the questionnaire..."anything else you'd like to tell us?". Our approach at mFeedback is to ask for "Comment" first (since that is really all the customer wants to do -- give their opinion -- and not answer rating scales). This is placing the Customer first (above the company's need for "metrics").

    Now that you have the Comment Line in place, you need to get people to use it. Rather than asking them to write their comment on a card (okay, but too much work for many customers) or asking them to dial a random 10 digit phone number (and another 14 digit 'validation code'), you can ask customers to simply...

    Dial #250 on their mobile phone, and say PIZZA PLANET COMMENT LINE

    This short dialing code is easy enough for customers to remember as they are walking out the door, and since it is based on the mobile phone, they will likely make the call right away. (Asking folks to go to your website later means very few do it, and those that do will comprise a biased sample).

    If you also obtain a #250 keyword for your Order line (dial #250 & say PIZZA PLANET), there will be a lot of synergy, since customers will be quite familiar with how to reach you.

    The reason this is relevant to the article above is that it does cost some money to have a good customer feedback system, but you have to realize that you are spending just a few dollars in order to preserve the lifetime value of an otherwise disgruntled customer. Having the comment line will allow you to be aware of any issues, and take action -- make it right with individual customers and more importantly fix problems that are affecting a lot of customers.

    Contact me if you'd like to know more about mFeedback:
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Marla Topliff
Marla Topliff, president of Rosati’s Pizza, has helped grow the Chicago franchise from 60 stores in 1999 to the 170 national brand that it is today. She supervises all aspects of marketing, customer service, store communications and vendor relationships.
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