2010 January: Tripped Up

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“I ordered a pizza and it took two hours to get to us,” shares Texas resident Heather McBride. “I kept calling the restaurant to find out where it was and they kept telling me it was on the way. I had ordered from this place before. But, needless to say, I never ordered from them again.” A botched delivery can end a loyal customer relationship; but, when you’re trying to deliver dozens of meals to customers all over town, errors are bound to occur. It’s important to remember that how you handle a mistake can mean the difference between keeping or losing a valuable customer.

There are several steps that you can take to appease a frustrated delivery customer. First, make it easy for them to communicate and resolve their issue. At LaRosa’s Pizzeria, headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, they’ve instituted a simple way for customers to get immediate results. Even with 62 locations and up to 30,000 deliveries a week, LaRosa’s allows customers to quickly reach a supervisor with the touch of one button. Executive VP of Marketing, Pete Buscani, explains: “What we’ve done to expedite any issues is when a customer calls to report that we forgot something, the customer is able to go right to the supervisor, just by pressing 2. It’s a very short phone tree.” Then the supervisor can look at the order, see what happened and handle the issue.

Second, stay calm and apologetic. The old adage, “the customer is always right” is doubly true when the customer is stuck at home with an incomplete or inaccurate order. Munish Narula, owner of Tiffi n Etc., an Indian-style pizzeria in Philadelphia, has trained his staff to handle these scenarios. “First, if a mistake does happen, we make sure that we take responsibility and apologize,” he says.

Third, correct the mistake. “If they forgot a dish and (say), ‘I paid for it, I want it.’ Go get it. No questions asked,” says Craig Laban, food and restaurant critic for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

At LaRosa’s, “if something is forgotten, our first response is to just have the driver bring it out,” explains Buscani.

A particularly tricky situation arises if an order is sent to the wrong customer. Giuseppe Borruso, director of operations and research and development for Abitino’s Pizzerias in New York City, relates. “If we send a chicken Parmesan to somebody who ordered a different entrée, that would be an extreme problem,” he says. “Then, of course, one customer’s happy because he got more food — but the other customer didn’t get it. So, we have to please the second customer. So, we’ll bring out the right order. The first customer got a big meal on us –– we’re not going to recall it. Leave the food with the customer and send a new fresh one to the other customer.”

But what if correcting a mistake is not possible or not enough? Laban explains: “The problem is, you’re all sitting down to eat and it’s a convenience food and then you’re totally inconvenienced. So what I really think people need to do is make some gesture like a credit to your account or a gift certificate. You want to make people feel like you value their business.

And there are all kinds of gestures restaurants can make. Good restaurants go out of their way to make amends.”

Adds Buscani: “Let’s say the customer is a business and they were eating lunch and they can’t wait 30 minutes to get the item that’s missing Then we move to a credit. We value the credit to what was forgotten or what happened.”

At Tiffi n Etc., they have several options. “When we bring a missing item, we’ll bring a complimentary item as well,” says Narula. “But that is not always best. Option Two is to offer a complimentary main course with their next order. This does a few things. It tells the customer we care, they feel like they’ve been compensated with something of better value, and it ensures they will come back and place another order.”

Coupons help ease the ache of mistakes at Abitino’s, where they’ll send a $5 or $20 coupon to the customer. Borruso says on some occasions, they’ll send a ‘Be My Guest’ card inviting a second guest to the dining room for free. “We are always trying to show appreciation to a customer whose order has been a little mishandled,” Borruso says.

These overtures go a long way to retaining a temporarily frustrated customer. “The little money you spend to make a gesture will come back exponentially in devoted business,” Laban declares.

In New York City, customer Julie Marie shares this enlightening story: “I remember once I ordered dinner from a restaurant and they forgot my salad. When I called to tell them, they sent it over without question along with a slice of pie. I thought that was very considerate and went a long way to ease my frustration. I don’t remember them as the place that messed up my order. I remember them as the place that sent me blackberry pie.”

Ensuring Accuracy
There are many ways to minimize delivery mistakes. The first step is receiving the order correctly, so consider having employees dedicated solely to taking phone orders. This minimizes errors from distractions and multi-tasking.

Online ordering can also help. “The thing our guests like about online ordering is that they feel like they’re in complete control,” says Pete Buscani, executive vice president of marketing at LaRosa’s Pizzeria in Cincinnati.

You can also maintain quality control by checking and double-checking the order. At LaRosa’s, a dispatcher checks the order, packages it and gets it ready for the driver, who checks it again before leaving.

Labels are also very helpful. At Tiffi n Etc., “everything is labeled, from main courses to bread to sauces” says owner Munish Narula. “Once the pizza box is closed, you don’t want to keep opening it. Also, a lot of our sauces look similar, so it makes it easier. When we are checking the food, labels make it easy.”

Mary Byrne Lamb is a freelance writer focused on issues in business, marketing and food service. She lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.