OPERATIONS: Rule #1 in pizza is, ''The customer is always right'

Aug. 7, 2003

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

The columns I've written for PizzaMarketplace have centered mostly on operations and marketing -- things I help other restaurant companies improve on -- but before I write one more word, I want to point out a rule of business I haven't mentioned in past pieces. It's this:

Rule #1 is that The Customer Is Always Right!

If your company does not understand and practice this rule, then the energy you're putting into operations, marketing and employee relations are largely wasted, because those

Jim Moran

customers you've worked so hard to reach will soon be gone. What follows is a good example of how that happens.

A couple months ago, I was on a consulting job in New Orleans. For lunch we went to a "smoothie restaurant" and we bought that day's special, which (I am simplifying the special to protect the guilty) encouraged us to "buy a medium and receive an upgrade to a large."

The next day we returned to see the same special displayed on the window and the counter. We placed the same order, but this time we were served the medium size. When we asked why, we were told that it was yesterday's special. Of course, we pointed out the signs -- which they promptly removed! The manager then insisted that we could not get the special and would not compensate us in any other way.

Later, I asked two employees how much customer service training they had received before being allowed to serve customers. Their answer was telling: "None."

They had received a few days of training at a "training store" two miles away, but no customer service training.

That company spent a lot of time training on operations, which is important. But to the 10 people I was with, operations mattered little because customer service was so obviously lacking. The 10 all said, in fact, that their smoothie service experience was so rough they'd never come back.

Think long-term

Much of the advice I give my clients centers on a single theme: focusing their efforts on long-term success. Sadly, most restaurants find themselves focusing on short-term survival, which, ironically, often leads to their long-term demise.

The good news is companies that dedicate themselves to long-term success generally achieve it. Rule #1, which I mentioned above, is an essential element to that success -- regardless of the business you are in.

One of my favorite examples of a company following Rule #1 -- to near obsession -- is the Nordstrom department store chain. Several years ago, a man walked in to a Nordstrom store with a used tire and asked for a refund. He said he bought the tire at that store several years ago and the guy who sold it to him promised it would outlast the customer's truck. If the tire didn't live up to its billing, the salesman said the man could bring it back for a full refund.

The Nordstrom employee asked the man if he had a receipt. The man said that it had been many years and he had lost it, but he was willing to show him the truck to prove it had outlasted the tire. The employee said that wasn't necessary and asked the man how much he paid for the tire. The man said, "About $35." The register was opened and the man left with his refund.

If you've ever been to a Nordstrom, you know full well the company doesn't sell tires. This particular unit, however, was located on a site once home to a Sears store, and that's where the man bought the tire.

Now, if that customer was right, then the customer is always right. It cost Nordstrom $35, but how many times do you think that story has been told since? Do you think that type of advertising is worth $35? Do you think Nordstrom will continue to have long-term success even though many of its competitors are going bankrupt in the weak economy?

While it's tempting to view the currently soft economy as a convenient excuse for sagging sales and profits, it truly should be viewed as a business environment in which service becomes a selling point. Quite simply, companies that don't serve their customers well -- and I mean really taking care of their needs, not just mechanically delivering a pizza to the door -- will be weeded out.

In the pizza business, where the core product is pretty similar from operation to operation, service becomes a primary and unique differentiator. And knowing how poor service levels are in our industry, every operator should capitalize on the opportunity to delivery memorable service by practicing Rule #1 with passion.

Is that good news for your pizzeria, or bad?

The answer lies in Rule #1.

Other articles by Jim Moran ...

* OPERATIONS: Doorhanging is for drivers, not for kids
* OPERATIONS: Everyone wins on the 'one per run' delivery system
* OPERATIONS: Cross-training lowers labor cost, boosts morale
* OPERATIONS: The secrets of running low labor

Topics: Operations Management

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