In the past month, I've had some very interesting experiences in my small Louisville, Ky. suburb with two of the world's biggest pizza chains. Both – one in which I was an actual customer – left me disappointed and wondering exactly how much staff training goes into brand ambassadorship.
The first happened the Friday night before the Kentucky Derby, an obviously busy time for all restaurants in the Louisville area. When my order was delivered, I paid the driver and gave him a tip, to which he responded with great appreciation because his ex-wife is "a (expletive) who is trying to get all of my money ..."
Apparently because of this driver's marital problems, he is now forced to work two jobs, including with this pizza unit, and he is frustrated because he feels like he's in a "no-win" situation and can't get through to her.
Yes, I got THAT much information out a simple pepperoni pizza order. I certainly wasn't expecting such a response and actually had an inclination to ask for my tip back, as well as a discount. I'm not an anti-profanity type; I just didn't care for such bluntness from a complete stranger who happened to be on the clock representing a global company.
Caught off guard, but feeling a little generous from the mint juleps, I let the situation slide and carried on with my dinner. The driver didn't seem to have malintent -- he was genuinely grateful for my tip -- he just had a horrible sense of professionalism.
Last weekend's incident, however, wasn't as frivolous and caused me to actually place a call to the manager of another major pizza chain.
It happened as I was driving on a two-lane, small-town road one Sunday afternoon. I was forced to slam on my brakes to let a pizza delivery driver disrupt an otherwise calm traffic pattern. I literally had to stop in the middle of the road while he swerved in-and-out of traffic, on the wrong side of the road, cutting people off and sprinting through a yellow light.
I wasn't the only one who was affected by this recklessness. About six other cars stood idle, their drivers appearing confused or angry.
When I called the store to speak to a manager about the situation, she mentioned she had already received two calls about this particular driver and would handle it upon his return to the store.
I appreciated her patience and had hoped that she would do everything necessary to remedy the situation as soon as possible. But it may have been too little too late for potential customers.
For me, the experience was frightening, and it made me think unfavorably about that particular store.
And once you start turning off your local customers because of something one of your employees did or said, it's hard to recover.
This makes me wonder how much training actually needs to go into brand ambassadorship. How much do employees need to be reminded about the very real concept of representing your company whenever they're out in the community, driving a branded car or wearing a branded shirt? What actions fall under zero tolerance? Too much information? Reckless driving?
I do think there are some things you just can't train. Impromptu foot-in-mouth ramblings about your ex-wife might be tricky to control, but frequent reminders of the appropriate boundaries of representation may help that driver think twice about being so candid next time.
Safe driving is an absolute critical lesson that can't be overstated and, for the sake of the store's insurance rates, the operator's investments and the overall brand reputation, needs to be a top, if not the top, priority.
Not only did that particular driver make me angry and not want to order from this store, he compromised his own safety, my safety and the safety of others. That's something no operator wants to hear.
Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with FastCasual.com, QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.