When a gas station stops letting customers use the restrooms because some people use them without making a purchase, or when a grocery store refuses to accept responsibility for mistakenly selling spoiled food, they lose business and create negative feelings in potential customers. What they are doing, says Domino’s Pizza franchisee Scott Flaherty, is marketing to the one percent.
That one percent of customers are the ones that you just can’t please. They are the people who will find something to complain about no matter how flawless your pizza, and who will try to do whatever it takes to wring a freebie out of you as often as possible. While it may feel proactive to treat anyone with a complaint as if they might be trying to take you for a ride, the other 99 percent of people don’t like to be handled as if they have an ulterior motive or a chronic bad attitude.
Treating customers as if they are the enemy might save you from giving out a few unwarranted pizzas, discounts or other comps, but in the long run that hostile attitude will cost you customers, and Flaherty isn’t the only one who thinks so. Keith Marshall of Atlantic Restaurant Consultants feels that true service is becoming a lost art.
“There is no doubt about the fact that great customer service increases sales and return customers,” Marshall says. “If you handle every problem with care and attention, you will probably find that for the most part, people can’t take advantage of you. Every once in a while you will have to fix a problem that isn’t real in the name of good service, but customers should always be approached with an attitude of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’
“Of course, the best thing is to execute your business so that you have minimal problems in the first place.”
Like Flaherty and Marshall, Gina Defilippis of Nick’s Italian Deli and Pizzeria knows the value of fantastic customer service. “We’ve been around for 22 years, and that’s in part because we do whatever it takes to make our customers happy,” she says. When a customer comes to Defilippis with a complaint, she doesn’t just throw a coupon or a free pizza at the problem. She and her staff work to correct the complaint. And when some of the local teens show up just a little short on cash for their order, Defilippis has been known to reach into her own pocket rather than send them away. “You’re not going to get repeat customers for 20-something years if you’re not giving them great service,” she says.
When a customer called to tell Flaherty that they’d bought several pizzas for their family, and that the sauce was runny and unappetizing, he asked them what night of the week they typically ordered pizza.
He then placed an order for the next week at no cost. He didn’t tell his crew about the special order, either. “These customers don’t need us to make them a perfect pizza once. They need to know that our pizza is great every time, without special treatment,” he reasons.
That is the kind of customer service that creates customer loyalty and, according to Flaherty, the family has ordered from him every week since. This kind of excellent customer service, Flaherty says, should be par for the course thanks to the Domino’s “Wow” policy. “If someone calls up to complain about a pizza, their guarantee is that if you are not totally satisfied, we will make it right or refund your money. I would hope that any owner would go to the same lengths,” he says. “It’s part of our Domino’s culture.”
This kind of corporate culture is what attracted Flaherty to Domino’s four years ago, and it is the way that Marshall says a business should be operated. Additionally, Flaherty also suggests empowering your employees to make customer service decisions.
“When things go wrong –– and they always do –– it’s how you react and how you take care of people that matters,” he says. “All of my employees have the power to fix problems without asking a manager or me.”
Marshall suggests adding one stipulation: “Employees in pizzerias are often young. They should be empowered to help the customers, but they need the support, development and training of the owner.”
Adds Defilippis: “You can’t please everyone every time, but we go out of the way, we take care of what needs to be done, and that’s it.”
Four steps to excellent customer service
1. Apologize for the problem. Be sincere. Try to see the customer’s side of things. Sometimes the problem seems artificial or minor, but listening carefully and apologizing can go a long way toward smoothing ruffled feathers.
2. Offer a reasonable solution to the problem. For example, replace an overcooked pizza or offer a different sauce if the customer hated the usual one. If you don’t see an immediate solution, or you’re not sure what the customer wants you to do, ask them what they would like. You may be surprised at how reasonable their requests are.
3. Go a step further. Offer a dessert, a free beverage, or a discount on their next pizza. Make sure that your customers know how valuable they are to you, and they will be back.
4. Correct the cause of the problem by training your employees on proper procedure and encouraging them to do well.
Dionne Obeso is a freelance writer in Hollister, California.