OPERATIONS: In the pizza business, your telephone line is your lifeline

April 13, 2004

Jim Moran is a pizza and restaurant industry veteran, and an industry consultant and speaker with Restaurant Trainers, Inc.

Have you ever called a place of business and felt less than important because of the way you were treated on the phone?

Did the person answering the phone seem inconvenienced because he was in a position of having to talk with you?

Was the person incompetent and unable to answer your simple question, or simply indifferent to your needs?

And did he commit the worst of all phone mistakes: put you on hold for a long time—without asking you if he could do so?

Do you think anyone has ever called your restaurant and been treated the same way?

I know it happened at nine Domino's Pizza stores I oversaw when I was a regional manager years ago. (* I noticed PizzaMarketplace has been asking for war stories for its Web site, so here's one of mine.) I didn't think it was going on until I started checking.

Jim Moran

Back then, the proper way to answer the phones at my stores was: "Thank you for calling Dominos Pizza, this is Jim speaking. May I help you?"

Hoping to find our folks doing this, one day I began calling around to the stores to check. Employees at the first two stores I called answered the phone, "Domino's," very lackadaisically. The third store was even worse, as all I heard was, "Hello."

What made all three cases particularly aggravating was the fact that we had just launched a new special five days before—with television ads! So on one of the calls, I asked a valued employee, "Could I have the special that I just saw on TV?"

The response I got was a very encouraging, "Uh, hold on a minute."

Think that was bad? Well, it got worse. I was put on hold without being asked.

The proper way to put a customer on hold is to ask politely if you can do so, and then wait for the customer's response before putting her on hold. My guy just told me to hold.

Not a pop quiz

The frustrating part was that every manager at all nine stores knew about the upcoming special a week before it started. Not only were they given plenty of marketing material to put up and distribute in their stores, there even was a sign for this special hanging in the window of the stores.

After calling all nine stores and finding that just six of the people who answered knew the special, I was pretty steamed. When I complained to other regional directors, I was surprised to learn they thought six out of nine was pretty good, considering the special had been on television for only five days.


I called a special meeting with all my managers at 9 the next morning and told them the same story, including the part where I found out that everyone else was doing just as badly, or worse. Then I told them to write down the following: "Just because something is typical or commonplace, that does not mean that it is acceptable."

I then informed them of some upcoming changes. I said, "You know that manager in Germantown, Md., who everyone makes fun of because of the way he makes his employees answer the phone? Well from now on, we are going to be answering the phone the same way. 'Thank you for calling Domino's Pizza, where we love our customers. This is (blank) speaking. May I help you?'"

I told them we were starting a new game called 'Three Strikes,' in which several "mystery customers" and I would call every store to see whether the person answering the phone did three basic things:

1. Answer the phone with the correct greeting.

2. Know the televised special and the in-store special.

3. Avoid putting anyone on hold without asking permission.

If the phone answerers made it through an entire month without collecting three strikes--handed out if three different employees failed to do the three required tasks--I would add 5 percent to the bonus checks of the managers of those stores. However, those managers whose employees got three strikes would lose 5 percent of their bonus checks.

Believe it or not, I started seeing immediate results.

Some may think that was a bit harsh, but I don't. When you understand that, in the pizza business, the telephone line is your business's lifeline, great phone skills take on a new importance.

Read other commentaries by Jim Moran ...

* OPERATIONS: Top five operational trends for 2004
* OPERATIONS: Top five client mistakes of 2003
* OPERATIONS: Protect your investment and people with store safety policies
* OPERATIONS: Take pride in your product
* OPERATIONS: Monaghan's maxim was never to put the cart before the horse
* OPERATIONS: Pizza-centered school fundraisers pay dividends for all
* OPERATIONS: Rule #1 in pizza is, 'The customer is always right'
* OPERATIONS: Doorhanging is for drivers, not for kids
* OPERATIONS: Everyone wins on the 'one per run' delivery system
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Topics: Operations Management , Telecommunications

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